Readings: Kings 19: 9a, 11-13a; Psalm 85, Response: Lord, Let us see your kindness and grant us your salvation.; Romans 9: 1-5; Gospel – Matthew 14: 22-33
“Walking on water” is defined as doing something impossible or extraordinary. The term and the definition came from today’s Gospel. Often we would think of Jesus as the one walking on water, which is the case, but let us reflect on Peter’s walking on water.
There are three themes that I suggest for our reflection: Faith, focus and failure.
Faith is presented to us from two perspectives. In both situations Jesus elicits this faith.
First was when the disciples, who were already fearful as their boat was being tossed by the strong waves and winds, do not recognize Jesus walking on water. Their fear reaches an irrational level, and they mistake Jesus for a ghost.
Jesus then elicits their faith to overcome their fear. “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Thus they are calmed and Peter begins to recognize Jesus. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
The beginnings of faith; notice how it is conditional—“if it is you … ”—but very much centered on Jesus. It is this faith that moves Peter to walk on water.
“Come,” the Lord tells Peter, and Peter is able to walk on water, something impossible and extraordinary.
The power of faith makes us walk on water; faith that is elicited by Jesus. It is the faith that overcomes fear and helps us discover something in us that makes us do things we never imagined we are capable of.
Focus plays a key role in our faith. This is dramatically portrayed in Peter. His initial response in faith to Jesus’ “come” made him walk on water.
But the moment he got distracted and lost his focus on Jesus—“when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink … ”—fear took over again.
How often does this happen to us? In a world filled with many distractions, benign or malignant, not only is it difficult to maintain focus, but it is also a challenge to develop our faith.
Just think of the phenomenon of how much of a person’s sense of self-worth is anchored on his/her “likes” or number of “friends” in social media.
Perhaps this pandemic, which has forced us to use online platforms, is a way to neutralize such distractions. These have become channels of prayer and spirituality, helping us focus on God, on Jesus once more.
Focusing on Jesus is focusing on mission, our mission to follow him. Focusing on Jesus is, in Ignatian terms, seeing him more clearly, loving him more dearly and, thus, following him more nearly.
Living out our mission, always sharing in Jesus’ mission, with fidelity, constancy and prudence, is what keeps us focused. It is what empowers us to walk on water.
Failure is the final element of genuine faith in Jesus. Faith in Jesus is not just empowering us to walk on water. It empowers us to believe in ourselves and, equally important, to take risks, to get out of our comfort zone by overcoming one of our greatest fears, conscious or unconscious: A fear of failure.
The relationship between Jesus and Peter is a testament to this faith that empowers. Peter, impulsive, “all-heart” Peter, had his share of “monumental failures.” We see it here in this story.
We know how he was rebuked by Jesus in his bold statement that he will not allow Jesus to suffer or how he declared he would defend Jesus to the death. We know, too, how in the end he denied Jesus three times.
But Peter was not overcome by his failures. In a sense, he did not fear failure. No matter how many times he failed, he just kept on trying.
This Sunday’s story poignantly tells us how Peter overcomes failure, “ … beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”
Peter’s courage that conquers fear of failure comes from humility, the humility to accept one’s failure. It is the depth of faith that in the moment of life-threatening failure, we cry out, “Lord, save me!”
Thus faith comes full circle.
Faith. Focus. Failure. These are blessings, graces we need. We need them now more than ever.
We need the faith to overcome our fears, focus to overcome distractions that erode our faith, and failure that leads us to humility and to a relationship with Jesus that makes us realize that he indeed is our Lord and savior.
A final story about Peter’s journey of faith: “Peter said to the crippled man, ‘I don’t have any silver or gold, but I’ll give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus the Messiah from Nazareth, walk!’ Then Peter took hold of his right hand and began to help him up. Immediately his feet and ankles became strong, and he sprang to his feet, stood up, and began to walk. Then he went with them into the Temple, walking, jumping and praising God.” (Acts 3: 6-8)
In the same way Jesus took Peter’s hand when he cried for help after failing, Peter took this man’s hand, helped him up and healed him. He leads him to praising God. Faith comes full circle. —CONTRIBUTED