Infant Peter —Rising and Sinking, Sinking and Rising

Jesus is very gentle in his leading. As master, his lordship is patient and filled with kindness. We are much harder on the followers of Jesus than the Lord himself. We are hard on Peter. We are much harder on ourselves as a follower of Jesus than Jesus is hard on us. He does place an unimaginable demand on us; but he then treats us like lambs or infants. 

Take Peter walking on the water for an example. Take Peter falling into the water. Hear Jesus speaking over Peter’s sea-soaked head, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 12:31). At the same time, he is saying this, he is lifting Peter out of the water with his helping hand — at the same time! This echoes what he said to everyone listening to the Sermon on the Mount, “And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? (Matthew 6:30). We do not hear these words about anxiety in Matthew 6 (verses 25-34) as harsh rebuke. We hear them issued in kindness. We hear them — almost — as if they are whispered — whispered into our worried thoughts — issued in kindness. 

These words of Jesus to Peter echo what he said later when the disciples were arguing, “You have so little faith. Why are you arguing with each other about having no bread?” (Matthew 16:8). Don’t you get it yet? Remember the 5000 eating manna in the form of fishes and loaves. We are small children and we do not get it until we have heard it many times and it has had time to sink in. 

We are too hard on Peter when he doubts and sinks like one of the million stones paving the floor of the Sea of Galilee. We will realize this if we just take notice that there is a ship full of disciples still sitting in the boat — not out there with Peter walking on the water. While those disciples have not stepped into violent wind and forceful waves, those disciples are following Jesus, too. He had commanded them all just a short time before the howling wind and crashing waves to get on this boat and go to the other side of the sea (Matthew 12:22). He compelled them to hours of wearisome rowing against waters coming against them like bulldozers. They were following Jesus on the water when they were sitting in the ship on the stormy sea. When they saw the man walk through the rising midst they were terrified. They thought it was a ghost. But Jesus said to them all, “Take courage, do not be afraid. It is I.” Jesus was using the words that would remind them of what Moses heard when God confided his own personal name: “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). 

But Peter was wanting more. He was as safe as the others sitting in the boat; but he was ready for more. He was willing to express a little more faith. He asked, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Jesus is so gentle with us as followers. He waits for our willingness; and he does not condemn anyone sitting in the boat. He does not condemn Peter. These are not condemning words. They are no more condemning than Jesus’ words about worry in the Sermon on the Mount. That are challenging words. They are are words that offer us much much more than we have. But they are words swaddled in patience and in love. They are words that wait to be met on the water of the sea in the daring willingness that comes with aging of spirit and maturity of faith. Jesus is as caring of Peter as he is the disciples still sitting in the ship. 

On another day he will say to all the disciples when they are arguing over bread, “You have so little faith!”; but it is Peter who is the one on that not-too-distant day who declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this [sinking—rising] rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hell will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:16-17). The disciples in the boat are OK. They are following Jesus on the water. Peter in the boat is OK. Peter on the water is OK. He is following Jesus when walking on the water — faltering and sinking — as we do when we follow Jesus into new and exhilarating spiritual experiences. And Jesus says lovingly to us in our faltering faith and fearing the storm, “Take courage, do not be afraid. It is I.” And Jesus says lovingly to us in our water-walking but still faltering faith, “Take courage, do not be afraid. It is I.”     

So then — ask Peter’s question. It is a prayerful request in the form of a sentence. “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Then listen to his bidding. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). And don’t worry about sinking. Jesus is ready to take your hand and pull you up until you learn how to walk. 

Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants” (Matthew 11:25). 

W. Stephen Williams.  © All rights reserved 7/10/2023