There are moments of pure splendor when all the world seems right, and light seems to beam into every aspect of life. And there are the mundane, the mediocre times, barely noticed for their sameness. Then there are the times of trial, tragedy, where the real self is far more visible and the truth of who we are is no longer hidden. That is where Jesus comes walking towards us, just like He walked over the water to Peter. (Mt 14:22-33). His words are not solutions to problems or rules to be followed. Instead, he announces himself and speaks words to remember: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Fear is a paralyzing force; it is also fuel for fury, a foundation for the fight or flight response. And here, in the Gospel, long before the arrival of psychology as a discipline, here is Jesus inviting us to look at fear, at skepticism, doubt and trust. That basically is an invitation to look at who we are, how we interact with self, God and others. What matters here is the reality of being human, of recognizing who and how to trust. It is about daring to believe. But most of all, it is about the fact that Jesus is coming towards us in the midst of our greatest challenges. That sort of love knows no fear, holds no grudges, only becomes deeper over time. And He keeps on coming.
Often, Peter is characterized for a lack of faith in this story, that he fails in faith. As he sinks, Jesus saves him, chides him gently, and invites him into a new phase of life as a disciple. But doubt is so very human; it finds roots in the inability to trust. Trust is the foundation for love, for relationships. Intimacy cannot take root without trust, and trust is the factor that dispels doubt. In essence, Jesus was inviting Peter to a deeper level of trust. It was no longer about being together, fishing, handing out loaves and fishes. Instead, Jesus and Peter came face to face. And he gave Peter the evidence and support that he needed to grow in trust. Jesus fully recognized Peter’s humanity in those moments. The Gospel is the promise that Jesus fully embraces our humanity, our strengths and weaknesses, our triumphs and our failures. He sees who we are, and He remains present, the God who waits for recognition.
This is a far cry from the capricious gods of the pantheons of Greek and Rome. It is a far cry from the image of an all powerful puppet master who dangles danger before us and plays with human life. This instead is about a God who cherishes and cares, who willingly waits for wonder. This is a God who practices compassion and allows for each human journey to be one of discovery and exploration. This is the God who waits. And each of us are the ones He awaits. Each of us matters to Him. Each of us is Peter. We have only to see Him.