By Beth Demme
You know the passage in Matthew where Jesus walks on the water? Jesus and the disciples feed over five thousand people with only five loaves and two fish. (Matthew 14:17-21) Jesus then herds the disciples into a boat and sends them across the Sea of Galilee. Later, Jesus was ready to join them and “he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear.” (Matthew 14:25-26)
Jesus reassures them, saying “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter responds, “Lord, if it is you command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus says “Come” and sure enough Peter walks on the water. We don’t know how far Peter walked but “when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”
I love Peter’s boldness (or idiocy?) in saying “Lord, if it is you.” Maybe Peter’s use of the conditional even made Jesus smirk a bit. As someone who appreciates sarcasm, I kind of like the idea of Jesus pausing for a bit of internal monologue: “If it’s me? Who else would it be? Am I myself? Goodness, I hardly know! Who am I, really?”
What really strikes me about this passage, though, is that Peter doesn’t say, “come get in this boat with me Jesus.” It’s subtle, but important. If I were in Peter’s position, I’m afraid I would have told Jesus, “Lord, come over here and get in this boat!”
I would have completely missed out on the opportunity to receive an invitation from Jesus.
My tendency is to tell Jesus the plans I have and tell him to get on board. That’s different than Peter’s impulsive, but better, approach: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you.”
In my life, this plays out in two important ways—in trying to discern life choices and in trying to understand/explain God.
For a long time, I told God what I wanted the next season of my life to look like. I had a pretty convincing litany of reasons why Seminary wasn’t part of that plan. That was me telling God, “get in the boat!” When I realized I had stopped listening for what God wanted for my life, I changed my prayer to “God, let me come to you.” Aaaaaaand, suddenly I had a long list of reasons why Seminary IS the plan. (Side note: I’ll start at United Theological Seminary in a hybrid online/on-campus program this Fall!)
Second, I tend to tell God to get in my boat when it comes to theology.
I have a lot of ideas about who Jesus is and how God works. If I’m honest, it’s scary to risk those ideas by thinking of God outside or beyond my theological boat. If it turns out God isn’t in the boat I’ve created, how will I know if God exists at all?
The first of the Ten Commandments is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7) For me, this means learning to let go of the “gods” of my own creation, of my own limited theology, and my own (unintentional) misreading of the Bible. It’s easier to say, “God, come get in the boat I’ve created based on Bible reading, classes, personal experience, and thoughtful reason” than it is to say, “Lord, command me to come to you even if you are outside my boat.”
Holding my theology with a somewhat open hand feels risky, but can I meet the one true God any other way?
Again, I’m encouraged by Peter’s example, and Peter’s failure. When Jesus says, “Come,” Peter climbs out of the safety of the boat and walks on the water. Peter then notices the strong wind, gets scared, and begins to sink. But that’s not all he does. When he begins to sink he cries out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately, Jesus saves him.
Getting out of my own boat is a little easier, knowing that if I, like Peter, start to sink, I can cry out and God will save me.
What about you? Are you more likely to tell God to get into your boat or are you open to God’s invitation to come to him? Do you think God will save you if you start to sink? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.
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