Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” –Matthew 14:22-33
Most of the time when this story is told, the focus is on Peter and how, when he saw the wind and the waves, he stopped looking at Jesus and started to sink. So, then, the point is: keep your eyes on Jesus even when it’s scary, and everything will be okay.
But while I guess that’s true, that’s not the point of the story. The point of the story isn’t to teach us something to do, it’s to teach us something about Jesus. So instead of shaking our finger at Peter for his weak faith, let’s stand back and be amazed by Jesus.
And we should be amazed, because, c’mon: Jesus is walking on water. How cool is that? I tried that at the pool once. It didn’t work; I went straight to the bottom. And yet Jesus, seemingly without any effort, is just trotting out across the lake, not minding the wind and the waves at all. Who needs a boat when you’re Jesus? Seriously, this is a pretty impressive miracle.
But I think even more impressive than the miracle is Jesus’ heart behind the miracle. His friends had been trying to row across the lake all night, and were being battered by wind and waves and were getting nowhere. They had left the shore that previous afternoon, expecting to get to the other side by night time. What was supposed to be a relatively quick trip across the lake had turned into a nine-hour nightmare. They must have been exhausted, hungry, and maybe even a little frightened.
Jesus sees them struggling, and so what does he do? He goes to help them. That’s what this story is really about. It’s about Jesus caring about his friends who are in trouble. And it’s about Jesus coming to do what they couldn’t do for themselves. They thought they were on their own, out of Jesus’ reach. They were wrong. They thought they could get to the other side with their own strength. They were wrong about that too. Peter thought he could walk on the water without keeping his eyes fixed on Jesus. And, yep, he was wrong about that, too.
The disciples had forgotten that Jesus was the One who had fed 5,000 people with a couple loaves of bread (in fact, that was what had happened just before this story, that same day). They thought Jesus could take care of all those other people, but that he couldn’t take care of them. But Jesus wanted to show them that they were never beyond his reach, that they needed him just as much as all those hungry people, and that he was perfectly capable of taking care of them too. And Jesus wanted them—and us—to know that even if the situation looks bad, we’re never, ever alone.