Jesus waits, steady on the shifting water, his feet caressed by slow lapping waves that hide the depths of darkness below. He sees the fishing vessel and looks for Peter. Under that sparkled sky, silently expectant, the Son of Man knows the miracle will happen.
Or does he? Humans are untrusting and untrustworthy creatures, lacking in faith, enchained by the mundane, blindly obeying the laws of physics, of society, and of religion, even though they are blessed by choice, freedom, possibility, and hope. Humans frequently, even usually, let God down.
But Peter, grasping at last the fullness of Truth, rejecting finally his fear, breathing deeply as if for the first time, grips the boat’s gunwales and steps boldly onto water. As called. As required. And stands, eyes wide, pulse smooth, in the impossibility of God’s grace.
This one moment, this one choice, this one decision, this eternal memory, lives in the hearts of believers forever, empowering all risk takers, rule-breakers and faith seekers for generations to come. For the ones who speak for change, for the ones who stand for justice, for the ones who work for peace, for the ones who won’t give up – for all of them, for himself, for God – Peter walks on water.
It doesn’t last of course. Behind him in the boat, the other disciples, the friends of Jesus, quake in fright, trembling in terror, shouting loudly that it isn’t possible, that Peter will drown, and refuse to join in and step foot out of the boat. And Peter, although he wants to believe and struggles to make the moment last by desperately clinging to his splintering faith, begins to doubt and starts to sink.
Jesus’ hand snaps forward, quickly reaching, firmly catching, and pulls Peter back from the abyss. Gasping and still wide-eyed, believing and doubting together, all at once, Peter, the repeatedly redeemed one, the frequent failure, standing for all humanity, looks not at the water, not at the boat, not at the stars, not anywhere else, but at the hand of God that holds his own.
And the question that returns ever again, that nags and persists always and forever, to each generation, to each individual, to me, is this: if God asked me to do the impossible, if God beckoned me to come to him, if God suggested that I embrace the absurd, if God required me to ignore all human wisdom, all experience, all history, all law—if God called me to walk on water—would I trust in his hand and give it a try?
*The original title is “God’s Hand.”
Reprinted from Soul Side: Articles of Faith, by Catherine Cavanagh (Gaithersburg, MD: Butternut Press, 2010) Used by permission of the author.