“You of little faith; why did you doubt?”
Our account of Jesus and Peter walking on water would appear to be a miracle account. Certainly, if you or I were to walk on water we would consider that miraculous.
But, as in so many of our accounts of Jesus’ actions, there is a much deeper meaning and message than simply a demonstration of our Lord performing miraculous actions and deeds.
This evening sea voyage for the disciples as described in our Gospel lesson comes in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 men plus many women and children. We read that Jesus, after the feeding, instructed the disciples to get in the boat and “go to the other side” as he dismissed the crowds and retreated to a quiet place on the mountain to pray.
Thus, as the disciples set out on their evening voyage across the sea, their minds were undoubtedly struggling with the events and signals of the day past. Mesmerized by Jesus’ teaching, the crowd had remained well up until a time when they would have grown very hungry. Quite shockingly, Jesus had insisted that the disciples would feed the people. And so, from the crowd was produced a meager offering of 5 loaves and 2 fish – a remnant of physical sustenance. Jesus took the loaves and fish, gave thanks for them, blessed them, and gave the loaves and fish in their bounty to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. All were fed and satisfied and twelve baskets of broken pieces were gathered from that that was left. From this earthly remnant of sustenance, in the hands of Jesus Christ, freely offered and blessed by God, all were fed and satisfied.
It would seem that walking on water would not be such a big deal in comparison.
As Jesus approached, Peter stepped out of the boat on faith – faith representative of the faith of all the disciples – “little” faith as described by Jesus. Even so, as long as Peter walked upon that faith, with eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus, his path was clear and sure. Distracted by the storm, taking his eyes away from Jesus, allowing his anxiety to inhibit his faith, Peter began to sink.
“You of little faith; why did you doubt?” It was not a quantity or quality of faith that Peter needed to continue his straight path upon the water toward Jesus; it was the faith the size of a mustard seed – a remnant of the faith that had so bountifully fed perhaps 10,000 people on the previous evening.
We look to the preservation of this remnant of faith. The greatest extent of darkness cannot extinguish the light of one tiny candle. Our remnant of faith is not to be extinguished.
Evil, death, and sin cannot extinguish the good of God. The saga of the sons of Israel illustrates this truth. As we continue our journey through the history of God’s people in our Old Testament lesson from Genesis, we read today of the cruel jealousy-based actions of the older brothers of Joseph – the favored son of Father Israel.
At this point in our story, Jacob has been renamed Israel by God as a sign of the irrevocable covenant between him and God. Jacob and his wives Leah and Rachel along with their two handmaidens have born twelve sons to Jacob – Father Israel. Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife died after the birth of her second son Benjamin; her first son being Joseph; Joseph’s preferential status in the house of Father Israel was overtly obvious.
We remember from our childhood the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors. The element of the story we likely did not hear about as children was the bitterness and jealous reaction of the other sons of Israel to this favored sibling. We probably did not focus on the arrogance and irritating cockiness of Joseph who lavished in his superior status as the favored pretty boy of his powerful father.
Our Old Testament lesson describes the brothers’ revenge on Joseph – a cruel and evil scheme. But, amazingly, the outcome of this cruel scheme will be converted by God’s good into the preservation of the House of Israel. Joseph, spirited to Egypt by these slave traders, the unwitting vessels of transport, will find himself preserved through faith for the specific purpose as the remnant. Joseph will remain faithful to the God of his Fathers in spite of the obstacles he will face in Egypt.
As for the disciples, there are storms encountered by Joseph and his brothers; storms are quite common in the lives of God’s people. But, God will stand by through the storms and the remnant will continue to be preserved by faith.
Jesus does not always calm the storms of our lives, but he never leaves us to weather them alone.
Just as God redeems Jacob and his sons of their evil deeds – taking the evil deeds and bringing good from them, just as God through Jesus reaches his hand out toward Peter to save him from sinking – So, God redeems us through his Son Jesus Christ and, with our eyes firmly fixed on his will, lifts us out of the raging waters of chaos. In faith, we take that hand that is reaching toward us.
We have only to stay focused on his face in the storms and to take the hand reaching down to us as we are slipping beneath the swirling tempest, only to hear and respond to the most frequent and most difficult demand that God asks of us – Do not be afraid.
The remnant is preserved. Why do you doubt? In times like these – in our country, in the world, in the Church, in our family life, hold fast to that remnant that unites us in God’s good; nourish that remnant. Keep focused on the presence of Jesus Christ with outstretched hands; keep walking toward those outstretched hands.