Getting Out of the Boat…

As a young child I recall being afraid to swim after seeing the movie about a great white shark that was striking terror along the shores of the fictional town of Amity Island. As I think back on it now, I find it rather funny because at that time the bulk of my swimming was in an in-ground pool. Still though, there was a drain at the bottom of the pool and my young mind could envision the possibility of some creature getting in through it and pulling me down into the great abyss that was the deep end of the pool. As impossible as it might have been for what I imagined to occur, as a child I was genuinely afraid of this; it was very real to me.

In the Gospel passage where Jesus walks on water, the disciples are described as being “terrified” and we are told, “they cried out in fear,” at the sight of what they initially perceived to be a ghost. They had already been startled by their boat being rocked around by powerful winds in the pre-dawn hours of the day. Then, with an already heightened sense of apprehension, they see something walking toward them… on the water!

Whether young, old, or in between, we all have things that frighten us. Like the disciples, we are all prone to becoming even more unsettled once already unnerved. This is why it is so important to strive to be centered, and to recognize when we are not.

The disciples learn that it is Jesus who is walking toward them and they hear his words, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Perhaps they are at least temporarily reassured. However, Peter checks the situation out a little further. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Peter believes if Jesus commands something of him, no matter what it is it will be possible for him to do it… and it is, but only so long as Peter stays focused on the Lord. Once he becomes distracted, just like us, he falters. Still though, he does not sink all the way, and neither do we. When we call out, the Lord is there to catch us, to set us on our feet again, to show us the way, and to save us from all that would seek to do us in.

Sometimes it can be challenging to know in what direction to proceed and how to receive and respond to the world around us. Rest assured though, when our inner compass is set on the Lord, we can and will find our way.

After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.

During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”

Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.

Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.” – Matthew 14:22-33

Painting by the late Fr. Bob Lindsay, SJ

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