In today’s gospel we read about Jesus walking on the water in the midst of a tempest. The Sea of Galilee has a temperament of wind and storm that can turn on the unwary sailor. The seas and wind are building. Is this just the front of a more powerful trailing storm? It’s the dead of night and one can’t see the horizon. Maybe concern is giving way to apprehension and is arriving at the door of fear. All of this and more makes me think about the passage and the role of the power of fear in this gospel and in our lives. There is a lot to fear these days.
Peter was among those who saw a ghost coming towards them in the storm. With the other disciples, he was afraid. He became emboldened and encouraged when he saw Jesus. Then out there on the waves, Peter doesn’t sink because he takes his eyes off of Jesus, but because he grows afraid: “But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened.” And, frankly, his fear is humanly justified. It’s a storm, raging powerfully enough to sink the boat, let alone drown a single person. He has a perfectly good reason to be afraid.
There is a lot in our individual and communal lives that can strike fear in our hearts. Fear that is debilitating, paralyzing, confusing, and draining. Fear makes it difficult to move forward in life, let alone with confidence. Fear makes our world small. Fear blinds us to the reasons for hope. When I hear Jesus say, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” – I do not hear rebuke, rather I heard sorrow and lament for our blindness.
I am always struck by Peter’s pre-wave-walking question, “Lord, IF it is you…” I wonder if the fear, already present in the boat, has shaped and hedged Peter’s response. Peter might have said, “Lord, it’s you! I want to be with you – command me to come to you on the water!” “Might have” – shoulda’, woulda’ coulda’ , but he hedged his question. In a perfect world – one replete with faith and courage – we are over the gunwales, over the rails and racing on the waves to Jesus. But it’s not a perfect world. It’s our world where there are reasons to fear and faith is human. It is a world where fear blinds us and binds us.
1 Peter 3:15 tells us to always be ready to give an answer for the Hope we have within us. Even in the rising tide of fear. But you must have the answer before the tide rises; before the fear blinds you.
What is the Hope that I carry within me? It is in the promise of Jesus. Jesus is always there, will always call me – and will always answer my call to stretch out his saving hand. Sometimes it will be the hand that accompanies. Sometimes it will be the hand that lifts me up. Sometimes the hand that restores me and returns me to the boat. Always the hand that does not let go. That is the Hope I carry. What is your answer?