“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. –Matthew 14:28-29
Sometimes I think we can be too hard on Peter. We remember the part of the story where he started to sink and forget about everything else that Peter did.
Peter and his friends were in a boat far out at sea during the night when they saw what looked to them like a ghost. They got scared, but Jesus called out to them, “Have no fear. It’s me.”
In a moment of courage, Peter told Jesus to command him to come to him on the water. Jesus extended the invitation. Peter got out of the boat…and started walking. The Bible says that Peter walked on the water and came toward Jesus. We can cheer for Peter at this point. He’s a champion. How many steps did he actually take? No one really knows. But regardless, he didn’t need to explore the entire Sea of Galilee. He only needed to close the distance that stretched between him and Jesus.
And he made it…almost. Sure, Peter got distracted by the strong wind, but this didn’t happen on his first step, or the second, or maybe even the third or fourth. By the time Peter started going down, he was within an arm’s reach of Jesus.
I wonder if the reprimand in verse 31 from Jesus, “you of little faith, why did you doubt,” isn’t a statement about Peter’s attempt to walk on the water, but rather about those last two or three steps he missed out on until he stood at the same place as Jesus.
Two more steps and he would have made it.
I’ve always wondered what happened after Jesus reached out to rescue Peter. Matthew doesn’t say Peter needed CPR to remove water from his lungs or that he slumped over the edge of the boat barely alive. I think Peter regained his footing on the water’s surface. A little wetter, maybe, but this time he made it. He stood at Jesus’ side.
Verse 32 says, “After they had gotten into the boat.” Maybe Peter required some assistance from Jesus to move from the water to the boat, but either way, he and Jesus made the move together. Jesus was at his side in case he took a tumble, but Matthew doesn’t mention a second sinking.
Peter’s story encourages me. His faith actually grew because of that moment of panic. How often do we feel like the words written in Psalm 69:1-2? “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.” When the waters were coming up to Peter’s neck, Jesus took hold of him and helped him.
“It is I. Have no fear,” Jesus said earlier in the story. Winds and rough waters don’t change Jesus’ level of power. His presence upholds us and keeps us from drowning. Our faith in him conquers all fears.