The Business of Walking on Water

God has a plan

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

When I was young, I would worry that I might end up missing God’s plan for me. What if I totally miss the signs? And will I be up for whatever God asked? What if I didn’t like God’s plan? I know, way too many what-ifs. But as you can tell, it all resolved somehow.

I suppose other people’s success can be very intimidating for one just starting out. When looking at a magnificent mountain range, the soaring heights can seem so unattainable, so far beyond reach. Some will ask if the journey will be worth making. For them the mountains are only obstacles to a destination. If the destination isn’t worth it, there’s no point to climbing the mountain. Some will be excited to see the amazing view from up there. The mountains are not obstacles to them, but pedestals from which to survey the world at their feet. And some will be content to just enjoy the view from where they sit, down in the valley. Climbing a mountain serves no purpose when it has no foreseeable impact on their lives.

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But life is a journey that requires movement. Sometimes the journey will take us physically to a different place. Have you ever paused to measure the distance between where you are now and where you came from? These days, with access to travel and opportunities for education and employment, I imagine few people end up that close to where they were born. And if they do live close to where they started, they probably did some traveling in the years in between. Even a boomerang will travel a measurable distance even if it ends up where it started. It just makes sense. I haven’t actually seen it work. I have a couple of boomerangs at home. Anyone want a try?

And looking back upon your journey, you might be amazed by what has happened and where you’ve been. It is humbling for me, even if I don’t have a lot to look back upon, to see where my journey has taken me and the many people I’ve met. The jury’s still out on what I’ve actually accomplished. And I wonder sometimes what could have been if I was not so fearful, or hesitant, or cautious, or if I was more confident, or courageous, if I had more faith. But don’t mind me. I overthink things sometimes.

Peter was brave to trust Jesus that he call out to him over the water. Now Peter was a fisherman, and was familiar with the sea of Galilee. But the water was not calm, and the wind was blowing hard, and the boat was not sitting still, and it was the fourth watch of the night (meaning somewhere between 3:00 and 6:00 AM), and everyone on the boat was hysterical with fear thinking they were seeing a ghost walking on the water. What would you do if you were among that crowd? I’d probably be hugging the bottom of the boat. All these factors would make me fearful too. But not Peter. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Of all the things the gospels say Peter ever said, I don’t think anyone else was thinking this. And Jesus said, “Come.”

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Perhaps Peter felt he had to prove to the other disciples that he was fearless, that he and Jesus had a special bond, that he was management material. Whatever his reasons, the other disciples witnessed a valuable lesson in trust, and saw their Teacher and Lord with new eyes. “Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’”

And that company of frightened men would eventually accomplish some pretty amazing things in in the first century of the church’s existence. The Acts of the Apostles and the writings of early church historians recount how these men preached the gospel with eloquence, how they performed powerful signs and wonders, and how they gave fearless witness to their faith in Jesus for generations of Christians to come, laying a solid foundation for the church we today call home. It doesn’t matter that the gospel tells of Peter alone walking on water. They all may have as well.

The prophet Elijah is a familiar character in the bible. At Jesus’ transfiguration, Elijah and Moses appeared with him, representing the prophets and the law. But while he walked the dusty roads of the northern kingdom of Israel, contending with the king who had led Israel into idolatry, and despised by his own people, Elijah must have felt helpless and ineffective many times. And when the prophet fled to a cave at Horeb, the mountain of God, God revealed his presence in a tiny whispering sound.

There was fire, an earthquake, and a strong wind in the story of Elijah. And in the gospel there was wind, a storm at sea, and darkness. These are all images of chaos. I remember saying once that God is in the chaos. I didn’t mean God creates the chaos. Rather, God is Lord over the chaos, bringing calm and stillness and order to the chaos.

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Great signs and wonders can be powerful proof of God’s favor and approval. But God can also be found in the seemingly insignificant and ordinary. We need only listen with trusting ears and see with believing eyes. And when we examine our own journey, we may find God reaching out to us in much the same way. When God asks us to put faith in him, he also supplies the strength and courage we need. As with Peter, it is not surprising if we falter, or if we doubt. But Jesus still calls out to us, and we will not be able to walk on water unless we step out of the boat, unless we venture into unknown territory. When we are overwhelmed, when we feel helpless and ineffective, Jesus offers his hand. He will not allow us to fail.

You may have experienced crisis or chaos in your life, and you’re still here. You survived! You probably were walking on water. You just didn’t know it.

Peter and all the apostles, as well as Elijah, and many holy women and men through the ages started out fearful and cautious and weak. But they trusted, and God accomplished amazing and wonderful things through them. If we are willing to trust Jesus who calls us across the water, if we can welcome God’s plan with joy even if we don’t know all the details, we will behold God’s wonderful deeds, and walking on water will come simply and effortlessly, only because God has so many more wonderful plans for us. So trust in God, and you will be able to walk on water, too.

Rolo B Castillo © 2014