This week’s Gospel passage is so well-known and beloved that it has even garnered its own cliché, “walk on water.” The dramatic scene of Jesus walking across the water and Peter walking on the water toward Jesus is the highlight of the passage.
There is, however, an act of faith made by the disciples just prior to Jesus’ miraculous traverse across the waves. When Jesus commands the disciples to get into a boat and precede Him to the other side, a tremendous act of faith has already occurred. Historians and even meteorologists remind us that on the Sea of Galilee, storms did not simply appear. Fishermen of the day were expert weather forecasters and could predict the arrival of storms well in advance. In a way, then, the disciples’ obedience and trust in Jesus’ command to cross the sea and precede Him to the other side was already an act of faith. Their expertise and mental reasoning would have already warned them that danger lurked out on the water.
This image serves as an effective metaphor for our own lives of faith. At times, we sense the Holy Spirit moving us to undertake seemingly unreasonable works for the Church or to grow in virtues that reason alone would figure impossible, given the culture in which we live and our own weaknesses and limitations. And yet, Jesus knows exactly what is best for us and that we ought not to fear as did the disciples who saw Jesus walk across the water.
A dynamic part of every miracle involves the surpassing of nature. Raising the dead to life, curing blindness, feeding the multitudes, and walking on water defy the laws of nature and transcend them. When the disciples become fearful of Jesus as He walked on the water, thinking Him to be a ghost, it is Our Lord’s immediate response to take courage and not be afraid that restores temporary confidence in their hearts. Peter, unconvinced of Jesus’ real presence, tests Him with an additional sign to command him to come out to Jesus on the water. When Peter takes his eyes off of the Lord, perceiving himself to be powerless in the face of the elements, trouble ensues. This sequence of events reminds us of our constant need to remain focused on Jesus, even when outside factors appear to overpower our own abilities. Without Jesus, our own abilities limit us. With Jesus, even walking on water is possible. The God who created the universe out of nothing is well-qualified to direct our lives and allow us to overcome seemingly insurmountable difficulties.
We do well to ask ourselves if it would take something as dramatic as Peter’s experience to teach us to trust Jesus. Can we be more fervent believers with lesser manifestations of Our Lord’s omnipotence and love? Can we “set out to the other side” on Jesus’ command even when our paltry human calculations tell us not to trust Him? Jesus desires deep faith — a necessary component of being saved.