August 9, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Matthew 14:23-33 (NRSV)
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Jesus can use flawed people who cry out to him for help.
Yesterday we briefly visited the story of Joseph in the Old Testament as we thought about God’s ability to extend grace even in the rockiest of situations. Today we look at the Gospel passage the lectionary gives us for this week—the story of Peter trying, succeeding, and failing at walking on water.
Sometimes what I wonder what it would have been like if Peter had ever been able to meet Joseph. They have much in common—enthusiastic go-getters who didn’t always think before they talked or acted. The Gospel stories make it clear that Peter loved Jesus and wanted to serve him. They also make it clear that Peter didn’t always go about that in the smartest way. We think ultimately of his denial of Christ, a story told in Matthew 26 as well as in the other gospels; but this story in Matthew 14 is an earlier and more low-stakes example.
At this point Jesus was ready for a time of sabbath. He had been preaching and healing for some time; he had received the sad news of the murder of his cousin John the Baptist at the hands of Herod; and, despite the fact that he wanted to be alone after hearing this news (Matthew 14:13) he had just performed a tremendous miracle, the feeding of the five thousand, for the crowds who had followed him anyway. The Scriptures are clear that Jesus—who was fully human, remember, as well as fully divine—needed times of rest and drawing apart. So at the beginning of this passage he tries again, going up on a mountain to pray.
The disciples, meanwhile, get in the boat—why, we don’t know—and begin to sail away. Perhaps Jesus told them that he needed a longer time of rest. Perhaps they were sleeping in the boat and it got loose by accident. At any rate, they found themselves out on the lake in the middle of a storm; and Jesus, presumably refreshed and renewed, saw that they were marooned out there and came to help them. Walking across the water.
And so Peter tries to walk out to meet Jesus. And he actually makes it partway, trusting in the word of the Lord who has summoned him to come (Matthew 14:28-29). Then, for whatever reason, he lets his fear get the better of him—as he will do much later, and to far sadder effect, in Matthew 26. He sinks. “Lord, save me!” he cries out. And Jesus does.
There’s far more to Peter’s story, of course. Only a few chapters later Jesus will reward his blurting out “You are the Messiah” with an affirmation that someday, somehow, Peter will be the rock on whom he builds his church (Matthew 16:17-19). And then, a few chapters after that, Peter will sadly disappoint and deny his Lord.
But that isn’t the end of the story either. One day, Jesus will do more than just walk on water and calm raging storms; he will destroy death itself. And John 21 tells us that the resurrected Jesus will extend forgiveness to his flawed but enthusiastic follower Peter. And in the movement that springs from the preaching of the crucified and risen Lord, Peter will be one of the foremost leaders.
It seems, doesn’t it, that Jesus can use flawed people who cry out to him for help.
How have you served the cause of Christ?
Where do you need to ask Jesus to save and restore you?
Where do you need to learn to trust the Lord?
If there is something holding you back from the Kingdom that you need Jesus to heal and restore, lay it before him and trust him to do so.
Lord Jesus, we acknowledge you as the Messiah. We acknowledge you as the one who has power over winds, storms, seas, and even death itself. Please save us, restore us, heal us, and empower us for your Kingdom. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling Archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: What’s Your Storm?
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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