Ninth Sunday after Trinity
By Simon Fisher
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
And 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 and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
9th Sunday after Trinity, 2020
In today’s gospel first Jesus walks on water, then Peter walks on water. Then Peter sinks into the water, and then Jesus saves him. And in all this the grace of Christ, and the right response of his faithful, are shown.
Jesus walks on water for a reason. He wants to come and be with his disciples. He is on the land; they in the boat. Something has gone wrong with their plans: the wind was against them. They are supposed to have joined the Lord on the other side of the lake; instead they are cut off from him. But by his own power he is going to cross that barrier to come and join them.
When we were cut off from God, he came to join us. We were as far from him as heaven is from earth, as far as what is eternal from what is temporal, as far as holiness is from sinners. But God in Christ crosses those barriers to be God-with-us, on this earth, in this age, in our human nature.
And as he wants to draw near to us, so he wants us to draw near to him. To recognise him when he comes: take heart, it is I, do not be afraid. And as Peter recognises him in the flesh, though seeming like a spirit, so he wants us to recognise his word in the Scripture, his sacrifice in the Blessed Sacrament, his face in the faces of the baptised, and in the faces of the poor.
And he wants us not only to draw near to him, but to ask for this blessing: to say, with Peter, if is you, Lord, command me to come to you.
Jesus walks on water to come and be with Peter; and to come and be with Jesus Peter walks on water as if it were solid ground. The disciples does what he sees the master doing, because he wants what the master wants, and he is given the power to do it, because he trusts in Christ. And if you and I want what Jesus wants, and if we trust in him, we too will walk the walk that he does.
Peter walks, not in his own power but in the power that Christ shares with him. This is how grace is at work: not as superpower but as the life of God shared with us in all its fullness. Master and disciple draw close together, in the end even hand-in-hand, and everything that the Lord has he is ready to share with Peter, even as far as calling Peter, and you and I, a child of God.
Of course, Peter is still weak, like us, and afraid, and his fear sometimes outweighs his trust and desire, and begins to sink, and he cries, Lord, save me, and Jesus reaches out and holds him tight. Peter is saved, not only from the water, but from the temptation to think that he can stand in his own strength. And his cry is a cry of faith in the one who has the power.
Peter is weak, like us, but his weakness is not a failure: it is another opportunity to put his trust in Jesus, another chance to call upon the name of the Lord, and be saved. And our God, who in Christ has come close to Peter, is only the more willing to hold him as tight as he needs.
With the disciples, then, let us always fall down to worship the God who chooses to draw near to us, whatever the barriers between. With Peter let us draw near to God with faith and ask confidently for the gifts that make us able to grow in likeness to Christ. As beginners in Christ let us continually cry with him, Lord, save us, for we know our need, and the power of God. And here is solid ground indeed to walk on, and there is no other.