Saturday, February 7, 2015

Life is Walking on Water

Life is walking on water.

"Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’" (Matthew 14:22-31)

Like the disciples in this Gospel passage, we find ourselves on a journey. We're in the human "boat," and the wind and the waves of our lives are preventing us from getting anywhere.

It's dark. We're frustrated. There's weird stuff going on all over the place. We're barely afloat.

But then suddenly, we are surprised by a man. Not only is he moving freely. He's doing the impossible. He's "walking on the water" -- all the human problems that frustrate our plans and our designs are raging and he is right there in the midst of them. Yet they do not trouble or hinder him at all. He has complete freedom and mastery over everything that's threatening to sink us, but when we see him we are scared.

This is to be expected.

Jesus's disciples were scared when they first saw him walking on the water. They were first century Palestinians, children of Israel, not terribly well educated, and maybe a bit superstitious. In any case, they were "spiritual" men, so they were understandably scared that a ghost was approaching them.

"What the heck is this?"...they wondered. "It's not human; that's for sure!"

We are twenty-first century cosmopolitans -- global villagers -- and most of us know that there must be something more than just this physical world that we see, hear, and touch. Something is "out there" that we might "see" in strange moments, like after we die. Or this "something" has to do with certain deep experiences we have from time to time. We know this, because -- after all -- we identify ourselves as "spiritual" people.

But right now, we're in this capsizing boat -- the "boat" that is the place where we are actively engaged and concerned with life, where we place our hopes and expectations for here and now, where we look for concrete solutions. This is not the place for "being spiritual," we think. This is the place where we need to get down to business.

And business is not going well.

We are also superstitious, in old fashioned ways perhaps, but surely in subtler ways that we wouldn't readily acknowledge. We are afraid of something new happening in our lives, something good and beautiful that really challenges us and changes us but that is also beyond our calculations and our control.

So what are we going to do with this "someone" we now see, who is accompanying us in our lives, who seems to know us better than we know ourselves? What are we to make of this? How can we bear it?

And then he speaks: "Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid."

He is a man walking with us, a real "someone," a friend. We see that there are some among us who recognize him.

And we recognize him too. In his face we see the promise of life, the hope that moves us, the fulfillment that we have been trying to reach as we flounder in the waves of frustration and failure.

We recognize all of this in his human face.

This man is walking with us, and he is walking on the water that we fear is going to drown us. This man is with us and he is our friend. He is also offering us a possibility beyond our calculations and beyond our own power.

He says to us, "Come."

He says, "Trust me. Walk with me. Stay with me and you will walk on this water, you will do the impossible, you will walk and you will go onward and persevere even amidst the highest waves and the wildest winds. Come with me!"

He says even more to us through this Gospel story. He says, "Even if you get scared and start to sink -- you who are so small in your heart, with so little faith and so little trust -- I will catch you! I will not leave you alone. Trust me!"

This is the decision we must make every day. We hear him say, "Come!" And we must decide, we must choose to trust him, and to take that first step onto the water...

...and then the next, and the next. Step by step, moving, halting, struggling, sinking, letting him catch us and pull us up again, and then taking the next step....

Life is walking on water with him.