Sometimes, when I read the Bible, I fail to ask the most obvious questions of the text. This self-incriminating truth was brought home recently while I listened to a sermon about Peter walking on the water. While the preacher was making his point (about acting on faith, I think), I found myself asking, “What was Peter thinking?” I didn’t mean (start scholarly tone now) “What existential question was the apostle attempting to answer by requesting a miraculous experience in this time of personal and corporate crisis?” (end scholarly tone.) Instead, I meant “Whaddya, nuts?” Think about it: it’s a dark and stormy night on the sea. The disciples have been battling the wind for a long time and they’ve got to be getting tired. Suddenly, one of them starts screaming something about a ghost on the water. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, imagine what it would be like for someone who does to think they’re seeing one. Especially when thoughts of dying were probably on the surface of everyone’s thoughts. Then, above the rushing sound of the wind, the voice of Jesus comes across the water to them. He’s saying something about not being afraid. Dark night. Stormy sea. Ghostly figure. Don’t be afraid. Right.
It seems to me that a reasonable person would NOT have asked the ghost on the water anything, but rather redoubled his efforts to put as many waves between the ghost and himself as possible. A different, yet also reasonable, response would have been to say, “Master, save us!” Peter himself had already experienced one storm with Jesus. He might have at least said, “Thank God you’re here Lord! Tell the winds and the waves to pipe down like you last time.” Those sound like reasonable response to me. Instead, Peter asks if he can take a walk on the water.
How long did it take for the other disciples in the boat to realize what exactly was happening? Once Peter threw his first leg over the side of the boat, did anyone grabbed his arm and say, “Whaddya, nuts? That could be an evil spirit out there calling you to your death! Can’t you see the wind and the waves?” What about when Peter pulled his second leg after him and stood up straight on the water? Did anybody shout, “Get back here before you get yourself killed!” Or, did they all simply stare slack-jawed at the insane scene of Peter gingerly stepping across the tops of the waves heading toward a wind-blown Jesus?
Sometimes, obvious questions have obvious answers. Peter was thinking exactly what he said; if it’s Jesus out there, he can command me to walk on the water and I’ll be able to do it. After all, as noted earlier, Peter had already been with Jesus on a stormy sea. He had seen Jesus, roused from a nap in the front of the boat, stand up and order the wind and the sea to heel like a faithful dog. And when they did, Peter, like the others in the boat that time, asked himself “Who is this man that he can command the wind to stop and the sea to calm down?” Only God has the power and the authority to control nature. Here’s Jesus controlling nature. Peter put two and two together, so to speak, and came up with the obvious answer to his own obvious question: Jesus is God, the Son of God. And now, with Jesus standing on the water calling to the disciples, it was time for Peter to check his sum. “If it’s you Lord…”, he says.
Peter was right. He was thinking it was the Lord calling to them from the sea and it was. Peter was thinking that Jesus was God and could suspend the laws of nature for his salvation and he could. Usually with this story, we concentrate on Peter’s moment of doubt and his sinking into the sea, but not this time. This time, let’s leave Peter walking on the water, confirming the obvious answers to the obvious questions.