Oh you of little faith … why did you doubt?

Updated: Jan 30

“Oh ye of little faith …”

“Why did you doubt?”

Raise your hand if you have ever been in a situation like Peter found himself, having boldly gone where you want to go, but when you get there you realize you have not been prepared to be there.  You realize you are “out of your league.”

<look for raised hands>

Raise your hand if you have ever wanted to do something foolish like Peter, but instead you couldn’t make yourself do it?  Maybe, instead, you watched someone else volunteer to go first … leaving you thinking, “Man, if he pulls this off I’m going to kick myself for not beating him or her to the punch.”   How often have you watched someone do something you were afraid of doing, seeing that someone embarrass himself or herself, so you think, “Whew, glad I didn’t try”?

<look for raised hands>

Often our own failures and knowing that others have failed is what keeps us from trying a second time, or even trying at all.  Thus Tennyson wrote, “Tis better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.”

When we are seeing failures in our Scripture, we have to see where passion plays a role.

It is hard to figure Peter’s motivations some times.  He did seem to be an emotional person.  He cut the ear off the guard at Gethsemane, out of anger.  He denied Jesus, out of fear.  A resurrected Jesus asked him three times, “Do you love me Peter?” almost as if questioning his ability to be in touch with his heartfelt emotions.

In the Gospel story today, we see Peter jumping up to show loyalty to Jesus, and then crying out in fear from what he had done.

I believe Peter wanted to be the leader of the disciples and I imagine all the disciples looked up to him … but ….

Perhaps Peter was trying too hard.

I get the feeling that Peter was a little older than the other disciples; and a little older meant being a little more respected.  As the eldest disciple, Peter would be allowed to do things first, as it would be improper for a younger man to act openly before the elder had his chance.

We see that importance of the firstborn of Biblical patriarchs being a repeated theme in the Old Testament.  Just a couple of Sundays ago we read how Laban told Jacob, “We just don’t marry the younger daughters before the older ones around here.”  Birth order mattered.

Esau, the first of twins to be born, was supposed to get the birthright of Isaac, not Jacob.  David, as the youngest, was out tending the flock, while his father, Jesse, let Samuel look over his seven older boys, as he sought the one God wanted him to anoint.

Today, we see how young Joseph had angered his older brothers, by telling of a couple of dreams he had.  Those dreams angered them to the point they wanted to kill Joseph.  He was Israel’s favorite son, while being the youngest … prior to Benjamin.

As adults, we feel it is important to be examples for the children.  We volunteer to do things so the younger folk can see what responsible people do.  As the eldest child, that often means helping the parents with raising younger siblings.

Age does matter, and that is why I get the feel that Peter had that “firstborn” mentality about him.  After all, Peter had been a follower of John the Baptist, so he had “disciple experience.”  Peter was one of the first to follow Jesus, in the initial group of four … so, he only had to be older than his brother Andrew, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee, in order to be the elder disciple.

Peter might have even been older than Jesus, causing him to constantly feel the urge to act as if his age made him a better disciple.  He might have wanted Jesus to ask him for advice, from time to time.

But, when Peter stood up in the boat to show the others that it was okay to walk on water, because Jesus was doing it, he soon realized he was in over his head … even if he only sank up to his knees before Jesus pulled him to safety.

Does anyone remember the old cartoons Tooter Tortoise?   Each week Tooter would visit Mr. Wizard and tell Mr. Wizard what he wanted to be.  It was always something different, something exciting yet dangerous, like a cowboy, a fireman, or a policeman.  Mr. Wizard would always wave his wand and say a poem, sending Tooter off to his fantasy land.

Mr Wizard

Invariably, Tooter would find out that being a knight, or being a bullfighter, or being a football player was harder than it seemed.  In fear, he would always cry out, “Save me, MR. WIZARD!!!”

Then, Mr. Wizard would say another poem and wave his wand and “Poof,” Tooter was saved.

Likewise, Peter acted foolishly, and we read him crying out, “Lord, save me!”

“Twizzle, Twazzle, Twozzle, Twome; time for this one to come home,” as Mr. Wizard would say.

tooter turtle

<make waving motion, like waving a wand>

In the Gospel reading today, the focus is mostly placed on Jesus walking on water.

This story is told by both Matthew and John, but not by Mark or Luke.  Such an experience should have been remembered by Mark (the ‘biographer’ of Peter) as one of the disciples who was on the boat, sent by Jesus from the place where the multitude was fed.

All four Gospel writers told of the miracle of feeding the 5,000, but only two told of Jesus walking on water.

Matthew’s perspective was from within the boat.  John’s perspective was from the shore, where Jesus had remained after he sent the disciples back across the sea, while he dispersed the crowd of 5,000 men and then went into the mountains to pray.

It was dark, according to John’s account.  It was early in the morning, according to Matthew.  Agreement between the two would put the time somewhere between 2 and 5 AM.  I imagine both were telling the truth.

I can be found asleep at that time of morning.  Maybe Mark was a heavier sleeper than the other disciples, so maybe he slept through Jesus walking on water?

But, then again, maybe the more important element of the story is not Jesus walking on the sea, but how Jesus rescued twelve fearful disciples.  While the event is real, maybe Matthew recalled it as a witness that was in a half-asleep state … like a dream surrounding reality … not cognizant enough to fully understand what took place.

John, after all, tells a rather plain story, so “matter of fact” that one can see the possibility of amphibology (or double meaning) in effect, when he wrote, “They see Jesus walking on the sea.”  “They” were the disciples, who were in a boat.  John was walking with Jesus along the shore.  The disciples were on the sea.  So, “They see Jesus walking,” but not from land (where John was), but from their perspective, “on the sea.”

Some optical illusions seem like something they are not.

Some optical illusions seem like something they are not.

If you recall the morning after Jesus was resurrected, he appeared as an unrecognizable man on the shore, by the sea, while the disciples were fishing.  Jesus recommended they cast their nets to a specific place, which they did; and they caught so many fish they struggled to get the boat to shore.

That was when Peter realized the unrecognizable man was Jesus, and he, “jumped into the water,” the same as he did in today’s story, after he recognized Jesus walking.  This means Peter’s role, as lead disciple or captain of the boat, was to jump out of the boat when it neared land, so he could tie the boat to a mooring.

Jesus walking on the water might then have been an optical illusion.  Matthew said they thought they saw a ghost, and were frightened.  John confirmed they displayed fear, but not from a ghost.  In reality, John might have seen their boat close to the shore, so close to shore that Jesus walked towards the boat on a dock, while carrying a lantern in the dark.  That could have seemed like a ghost, walking on the same plane as the water’s waves.

John, from his perspective still on the shore, not the dock, wrote, “Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.”

Everything then happened as written, but the disciples were so drowsy, even with the wind and waves, that they imagined things that were not totally real.  They were almost ashore, but they did not know it.  They were fearful, so when they saw an illuminated Jesus coming towards them, they did not realize they were almost at the dock.

The importance of this reading is not so much the walking on the water, but what Matthew recalled Jesus saying to Peter (and to the others).

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Before modern man grew big brains and became seemingly godlike in its ability to understand the Holy Bible, primitive man saw four basic elements in the world.  Those four were: Air, Earth, Fire, and Water.

If you have a pencil and a piece of scratch paper, then write this down, because you can always use this information to help your brain interpret and understand Scripture better later …

Remembering that everything written was penned by those little brained people of antiquity.

Air is symbolic of ideas, thoughts and words, communications, etc.

Earth is symbolic of material things, things of value that can be touched, and in general, all the physical world.

Fire is symbolic of energy and action, especially those things that motivate us, change us, transform us, and urge us do things, even if it means running from someone else’s actions.

And finally, Water is symbolic of emotions, our feelings inside that make us love, hate, rage, care, worry, and be at peace (etc.).

Whenever you read Scripture and see these elements appear, individually or collectively, there is symbolic meaning meant to be gained.

In the story of Jesus walking on the water, when the wind was against the disciples, and they were far from land, three of the four basic elements are at play in this story.

We read the boat was “battered by the waves,” which means they were very unsettled emotionally.  They had just earlier handed out food to 5,000 men, which was a miracle that shook them.

The wind being against them means their minds were causing doubts that led to their emotional instability.  Their minds could understand symbolic washing away of sin, but not the magic of transforming five loaves of bread into “full meal deals” for possibly 12,000 human beings (including women and children).  All ideas were against all rationale they knew.

Being “far from land” means the disciples could not find anything of value to grab hold of for security.  They were in their fishing boat, and fish was how they had earned a living before; but they were not doing as much fishing as they had been, following this guy Jesus around.  They wanted to be on solid ground, but that seemed so far from their reach.

They had little faith and a lot of doubt.

In the Old Testament reading, the sons of Jacob-Israel had no faith in Joseph.  They referred to him as “this dreamer.”  Joseph, they thought, did not understand his place as a boy among men.  They threw Joseph in a pit that was dry, which says they were devoid of any emotions that would keep them from selling their own flesh and blood as a slave, to strangers.

Paul warned the Roman Christians that righteousness does not come from the Law – the Air of written material.  Instead, righteousness comes from the heart – the emotional center, our Living Water source.

Paul said that righteousness says you “confess with your lips and believe in your heart.”  Peter said to his vision of Jesus, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water,” but once he got out of the boat, “he noticed a strong Wind,” becoming “frightened.”

There is no brain big enough to tell you how to be righteous.  No Air ideas can command you.  No Wind is going to make you realize you are outside of the laws of physics, causing you to sink any chance of emotional commitment to someone else’s ideas.

You are righteous because your heart says, “Do this out of love of God and Christ.”  You are not righteous because someone tells you what to do.  If you act righteous because of your heart, then the big brained people can see what you do and draft a Law about what makes you righteous.  However, “righteousness” is not about “monkey see, monkey do.”

Religion is more than the Earth that is represented by a church and the physical rewards that God sends our way for having faith.

Religion is more than the Air that is printed on your handouts each Sunday, or what words I speak explaining those words.

Religion is more than the Fire that causes us to act rashly, foolishly, and without preparation, simply because we cannot be still and we want instant transformation and gratification.

Religion is all about our emotional connection to God and Christ.

God speaks to us through our hearts; but to hear what God has to say, we have to be calm, still, and at peace.  We have to trust our feelings and have faith that Christ will lead our thoughts and our actions in this world, for truly righteous purposes.

To have a lot of faith, we need to calm our sea.


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