Matthew 14:22-33 | 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Would Peter Paddleboard?
I can identify with Peter’s venture onto the water. Last summer, I saw my son on a paddleboard and wanted to try—just like Peter: “Oh Jesus, you are doing something so cool! I want a turn!” So Joseph handed me the board and I headed out. I did great until the wind whipped and sent me straight towards a dock where two women sunbathed. I sailed right into them and tipped over, fortunately falling into the water and not onto their dock. Since Jesus hadn’t summoned me onto the water, He didn’t extend a hand to pull me out either. I struggled back onto the board all by myself.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t give up. I practiced all summer. I learned to navigate the wind and to position my body when a surprise gust came up. I learned to make turns and to dock successfully. I learned both how to get back on the board when I fell and when to stay off altogether because conditions exceeded my skill level. Paddleboarding (at a beginner level) has become my new favorite water sport.
Faith looks easy until the wind whips and it gets scary. Just ask Peter. Sometimes all it takes is a gentle gust to send us flying. Everything’s going along ok, we get to church nearly every Sunday, have regular time with God, we think we’ve got this. Then one little thing upsets the schedule or someone says something we don’t like. Suddenly our boat flips and we’re treading water, growing more and more tired.
At that point, whether we realize it or not, we have a decision to make. We can wear out and sink. Or we can strengthen our treading muscles continue in the water. Or we can climb back into the boat and learn to navigate the winds.
One thing I don’t much like about myself is how quickly I give up. But I didn’t with the paddleboard. I even spent the winter working on my core so I can both maneuver the board more effectively and get myself back on the board more easily when I fall. Because I know I will. That’s what we have to do with our faith—recognize falling is inevitable and we’ll need muscles to get back in the boat. For our faith, I think those muscles look like Peter’s call to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” (v.30)
Peter gets a bad rap for taking his eyes off Jesus and losing faith, but Peter knew what to do when he sank. His faith muscles were actually in great shape and he activated them as needed. I like to think Jesus had Peter back on the water many times over the next couple of years. Faith, like everything else, takes practice to get good. Eventually, Peter did. After all, he became Jesus’s “rock” (Matt. 16:18).
Many times I choose treading. I let the metaphorical paddleboard float away and, while I don’t give up, other than becoming an efficient treader, nothing changes. But Jesus wants us back in the board. He wants us to tether ourselves to it so when we fall, it stays close by. Our fall may be spectacular, but He’ll always help us back on.