Walking on Water

O man of little faith, why did you doubt? (Matthew 14:31)

Not long ago I came upon a small boy perched nervously on a child’s bicycle. “I want to get off!” he cried to his mother, who hovered nearby. She tried to reassure him that he wouldn’t fall, because the bike had training wheels. “I don’t care,” he wailed, “I’m too scared.” This little scene brought back memories of teaching my own two boys to ride a bike, poised as they were between the desire to ride and the fear of falling. I remembered trotting along beside each of them as they made their wobbly way down the sidewalk, begging me not to let go of the bicycle seat. But, of course, if I didn’t let go, they would never get the hang of riding a bike.

Jesus found himself in much the same position when he was trying to teach his disciples how to do the things that he did. He didn’t surround himself with disciples so he would have an audience while he performed magic tricks. He wanted them to go and do likewise. When they asked him to send the crowds away to get something to eat, he told them, “You give them something to eat.” But how were they were supposed to feed thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish? Jesus took what little they had and somehow fed the multitude, with plenty left over. On other occasions he healed the sick, cast out demons and raised people from the dead, telling his disciples, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do.”

Christians believe Jesus was the Son of God, so performing miracles should have been par for the course for him. But what about the rest of us? According to the biblical creation story, we are created in God’s image and given dominion -- or lordship -- over the earth. However, Jesus took it one giant step further, quoting a verse from Psalms: "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, you are gods'?” Gods? The whole notion seems absurd. And yet how else can Jesus’ disciples be expected to do even greater works than he did? We tend to think that Jesus was one of a kind. But that is not apparently how he thought of himself, nor did St. Paul, who described Jesus as “the first-born among many brethren.” Being first-born undoubtedly has pride of place, but it is not the same thing as being an only child.

We fundamentally misunderstand Jesus’ mission if we think he is telling us, “I am God, and you are not.” His real message seems to be, “I am God, and so are you.” The essential difference between us and him is that he knows who he is, and we do not know who we are. We are like that small boy perched on his bicycle, too scared to move under his own power.

Everybody remembers the gospel story in which Jesus walked on water. We forget that he encouraged Peter to get out of the boat and do the same. Peter actually took a few steps before the wind blew up. He got frightened and started to sink. “Lord, save me!” he cried – surely the most heart-felt prayer in all of Scripture. Jesus reached out to save him. “O man of little faith,” he scolded, “why did you doubt?” The other disciples in the boat were properly amazed, not the least because Peter was fished out of the drink by a man who was standing on the water at the time. According to the gospel account, the disciples worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” They had not yet grasped the fact that so were they.

Matthew 6:31-44
John 14:12
John 10:34; Psalm 82:6
Romans 8:29
Matthew 14:22-32

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