25. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
26. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
27. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
28. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
29. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
30. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
31. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? –Matthew 14:25-31
For me, this is one of the most beautiful depictions of that well-beloved story. The Lord invites Peter to come to Him by walking across the waves of the water. This miracle really happened. Peter walked on water with Jesus. Can you imagine that? Taking a step out of the boat, and when your foot should sink through…you find the waves are supporting you. You meet the Savior’s gaze as He invites you to walk through the storm to Him.
Peter’s faith is something incredible. All his life, he had been a fisherman; he knew the sea better than anyone. He knew how to read the waves and how to steer the boat. He knew which side would yield more fish. He knew when to let the sails out and when to bring them in. Surely, he knew that if he took a step out of that boat in a storm, he would be lost.
But he trusted in Jesus’ invitation, and he walked on water.
However, we know the story. He takes a few steps, and then begins to feel the wind and “he was afraid”. Now, this part of the story always gets me. Peter began to sink. When I hear this story, I am often quick to judge Peter, like “How could you doubt? You were already walking on the water! The Savior of the world is right in front of your eyes.” However, many times, I also ask the Savior, “Why did you let him fall?”
Hadn’t Peter already demonstrated his faith? Wasn’t it enough that He was trying? Did Christ not have the power to tell the wind to go away, or the waves to keep him up, or the sun to shine in this moment? Of course He did. So why did He let him fall?
My mom spoke with another mother who was anxious about her child’s inability to walk. Her son did not have any physical limitations and was already more than a year old, yet would not walk. My mom watched as the boy moved around the room. Each time the child tried to stand, his loving mother would rush to him and be at his side to lift him up. He never had a chance to try. His little growing legs were not developing because he always relied on his mother to help him up. When it was time to do it on his own, he was too weak and too scared to try. My mom counseled her to give him some space, and let him try to do things on his own.
After a few weeks, my mom returned to the home and was not surprised to see that the little boy was walking almost perfectly on his own. The mother recounted, “It was so hard to watch him struggle. He would look up at me as if I had betrayed him. How can you watch me suffer like this? But little by little, I would encourage and guide, and soon he was strong enough to walk on his own. Of course, I kept him safe, but I realized that because I really loved him and wanted him to grow, I had to step back and let him struggle.”
God is a perfect Father. And He is our Father! He wants us to be happy, but even more important is that He knows what will make us happy. I think of Christ looking down at Peter, like in the painting, and seeing his fear as he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Of course, He could have prevented the storm, or given Peter the ability to stay up. But Peter was learning. Peter’s spiritual legs were growing stronger as He learned day by day to trust in the Lord and take another step.
I wonder how many times I have looked up to the Lord with that same question. “How could you let this happen to me? I know you could have prevented this. Wasn’t I doing so well with your help? Why did you let me fall?” As if He has in some way ever betrayed me, or abandoned me, or given up on me.
Even the Savior himself, as He suffered on the cross, in his greatest moment of agony, looked up and asked, “My God, my God, Why hast Thou forsaken me?”
Maybe it is a test that each of us must pass through. Maybe we, as His followers, must also taste a piece of that suffering. We must also feel alone. Abandoned. Forsaken. We must also feel that we are slowly sinking below the waves, perhaps with fear that if we do not reach up, we might drown.
But we cannot forget that Jesus Christ is there. As Peter reached up with all the intensity of one who knew the ways of the waves and knew that he was indeed losing the battle…“Immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him”. He was there as he struggled. He was watching and waiting and suffering with him. Just as He now suffers with us.
There is a beautiful painting called “The Hand of God” by Yongsung Kim. You can see this painting and his other beautiful works on his Facebook page.
When I look at this painting, I see compassion in Christ’s eyes. Compassion means “to suffer with”. When we are falling and feel like everything is over our head, we can have comfort knowing that we are never ever alone, for there is One who already suffered it all with us, and for us. And He is reaching for us below the waves.