User’s Guide to Sunday, Aug. 13
The Gospel today is about faith and about focus. It teaches that although storms and struggles inevitably arise, we have a choice as to whether we focus on them or on Jesus.
The message is clear: “Keep your eyes on Christ!”
Let’s look at this Gospel in four stages:
- “Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he … went up on the mountain by himself to pray.” Jesus, in drawing back from his disciples, exhibits the mysterious truth that God sometimes seems to hide his face. “How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). But if God is hiding, it is usually in plain sight. In the end, where can we run from God? Where could we possibly go that he is not already there?
- “Meanwhile, the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.” To the degree that we do not see the Lord, we will be anxious about many things. In the perceived absence of God, fears increase, and shadows grow longer. There is an old saying, “Stop telling God how big your storm is. Tell the storm how big your God is.”
- “During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea … they were terrified. … Jesus spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’” The Lord presents them with a choice: Either focus on the storm or focus on him. He is not just telling them not to be afraid. He is saying, “It is I; be not afraid.” If they will focus on him, they will not be afraid.
- Peter accepts the Lord’s offer to focus on him and not the storm.
And, like most of us, Peter has some success and some failure. Note the process:
“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.” It is truly remarkable courage that Peter receives by shifting his focus to the Lord.
“But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and began to sink.” Here is where Peter gets in trouble: He shifts his focus back to the storm.
“He cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” Even in his fall, Peter still does the right thing: He calls on the Lord. His faith is weak, but his instincts are right. If you’re going to fall, fall on Jesus!
“Immediately, Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter.” Peter fell short of the goal, but he has made progress. More growth and the Holy Spirit will be needed to quicken his faith.
“[Jesus] said to him, ‘O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?’” Notice that the Lord does not say Peter has no faith, but that he has little faith. Peter must continue to grow.
“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.’” Difficult though this trial has been, it has increased their faith. They still have a long way to go, but they’re on the way.
We, too, have a decision to make: Will we focus on the storm or on Jesus?