...a bunch of so-called Biblical scholars (our youngest son once referred to me as his "so-called father" in a grade school writing assignment. Apparently he wasn't always thrilled with my performance as a father!), anyway, back in the 80s these scholars set out on a "quest for the historical Jesus." They were going to determine once and for all how many of the stories and sayings of Jesus really happened.
My impression is that by the time they got done taking their metaphorical scissors to the texts, their version of the Gospels looked more like a slice of Swiss cheese. More holes than cheese.
In fact, all that was left was one verse.
Okay, that is not a fact at all!
But I remember reading that right from the start they cut out any verses that had anything to do with miracles; on the grounds that the miracles couldn't have happened - because miracles can't happen! So POOF! Just like that, all the miracles of Jesus were gone!
So you wouldn't find this story in their version of the Gospels...
The story of Jesus walking on water.
...and Peter, not so much!
The story begins with Jesus catering a meal for over 5,000 people with some poor kid's 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes (would the story have had the same impact if all the kid had was a peanut better and jelly sandwich and a bag of chips???). After everyone had eaten and were satisfied, Jesus said to the disciples, "You guys go on over to the other side of the lake, I will catch up with you later!" (an interpretation the Jesus Seminar people definitely would cut from their Gospel account, it not being at all likely that Jesus called the disciples "you guys"!).
So the disciples get in their boat and start rowing across the sea. And right from the start, the wind starts trying to blow them back. Which is often how it goes when you are trying to do what God wants you to do!
Sleepless and exhausted after a night spent battling the wind and the waves, in the dim, early dawn light they see something... a ghost?!... coming towards them on the water!
They freak out!
I would be freaking out too!
But then they hear a familiar voice, "Don't be afraid, it's me!"
I can hear the gears in their heads whirring as they are trying to process all this.
And that's when Peter blurts out (Peter was always blurting things out!), "Lord if it is really you, tell me to come out on the water with you!"
"C'mon out! The water's fine!" (once again I can hear the Jesus Seminar scholars' scissors snipping away!)
And you know the rest!
At some point Peter becomes Wiley Coyote.
At least that's how our Pastor Dave imagined it, that moment when Wiley Coyote realizes he is impossibly suspended hundreds of feet above the canyon floor... and... WHOOSH!!! Down he goes!
...or for Peter, was it more like sinking slowly in quick sand???
But he cries out, "HELP!!!! JESUS! SAVE ME!"
And then of course, Jesus reaches out his strong arm and pulls him up.
And as Jesus is pulling Peter out of the water he says to him, "Oh you of little faith? Why did you doubt?"
...was Jesus chuckling just a bit as he pulled soggy Peter out of the drink? Wanting so badly to say, "Peter, Peter! You goof! Why do you make it so hard on yourself?!
"Did you really think I was going to let you drown?"
But why DID Peter sink?
Well, other than he was Peter...
If it were me, I think it would be because I would have thought that, somehow, I have something to do with me walking on the water. It is MY faith that is holding me up. As long as I can work up enough of it, and as long as I can hold onto it - as long as I am worthy enough... I will be okay. Only at some point - the Wiley Coyote moment - I would realize that if it is up to me... I got nothin.'
What I wouldn't be seeing, and what Peter didn't see, is that it isn't me at all.
It is all Jesus.
And none of me.
All the power is coming from Jesus. ALL of it. ALWAYS.
It never varies.
Would Jesus ever, ever let me drown?????
...a small fishing boat out on the Sea of Galilee.
Only this time it is crowded shoulder to shoulder with all those Jesus Seminar scholars. The wind is whipping, the waves are rolling... and in the misty light, they begin to make out that apparition coming to them across the water.
There is a collective scream! (Which would actually be kind of fun to hear!)
"Do not be afraid!" Jesus says.
"Jesus??? Yeah, right! Can we see some sort of identification?"
"You don't believe in me?" Jesus says. "Well, there is simple way to find out. Step out onto the water and come join me!"
And so one by one the scholars step out of the boat...
And one by one...
WHOOSH! Down they go! Like lemmings over the cliff!
But here is the thing. I don't believe Jesus would let them drown either. He just wouldn't. He loves each one of them as much as he loves Peter. As much as he loves you. As much as he loves me.
The power is not in them, or in their faith or lack of faith.
It is all in Jesus.
And he will not let them drown.
Now, of course it would have been much more fun if they had actually believed and trusted in him. They all could have had a blast dancing out on the waves. THAT part was up to them. The power to walk on the water was always there, but they had to trust in it.
Peter COULD have stayed dry. That part was up to him. If he had just trusted in Jesus - and not himself.
And that's the part that's up to me. The more I trust in Jesus, and not in myself, the more I can walk in HIS power.
The power is ALWAYS in Jesus, and Jesus is asking me to learn to trust in it.
But this is the thing I have come to see. Even if my faith falters, and I start to sink, Jesus will never let me drown. It is like Jesus is asking me to step out in faith and follow him - but he will ALWAYS be there to catch me when I fall. He will let me get wet... and in reality, there may come a time in this life when I am completely swallowed up, but ultimately, eternally, Jesus will never, ever let me drown.
The reality is I live and breathe in the eternal love and faithfulness of Jesus.
(With me there is always a but!)
All of that is well and good, and as I am sitting here writing this, I know with all my heart that it is true. BUT... still I have times of doubt. Still my faith falters. And the thing is, Jesus was standing right THERE - and Peter's faith faltered! What chance do I have?!
And it's not that I doubt that Jesus loves me and will never let me drown. It's those times that wash over me when I doubt that he is there at all!
It seems I am always coming back to this!
(Boy, I sure hope you have more faith than I do!)
But once again, it all sounds well and good - but how do I know it is TRUE? Because, in the midst of my doubting, it never seems like it is! I can't help but think it is this elaborate construction, its own little "Christian" world, where everything all fits together and works together wonderfully... but then, so is Narnia an elaborately constructed world, where you can step into a wardrobe and be transported to a magical place, where everything all fits together and works together wonderfully. It just isn't REAL.
And I guess that question - whether or not it is all REAL - is what those Jesus scholars were searching for. It sounds good. But is it it really TRUE?
And as I struggle with my doubt, once again I ask myself, as I would ask the Jesus Seminar scholars, this one thing.
Did Jesus rise from the dead?
If he didn't, well, I'd say those Jesus scholars might want to pack up their books and look for more relevant work, say, in the tech support industry. Because if Jesus didn't rise from the dead Christianity is nothing but a fairy tale.
But if Jesus DID truly rise from the dead...
...then he really IS who he said he is. He really IS God. The Gospel is TRUE! Whether I believe it or not, no matter how much faith I have in it - or don't, or how much my faith falters, IT IS TRUE.
And so, of course, since Jesus IS God, then walking on water is a piece of cake! ...and feeding five thousand people with five loaves and two fish, and healing blind men... and saving me!
...I can begin the day imagining Jesus tugging on my arm and saying to me, "Take my hand, let's do something wonderful today!"
I can walk in faith, knowing that whatever Jesus calls me to do this day, the power to do it will come from him. And even when my faith falters, Jesus is always, always with me, and he will not let me drown.
And when I want to roll over and go back to sleep, Jesus nudges me saying,
"C'mon! Let's go walk on some water!"
(PS. Most of this came to me at 4:00 in the morning, ironically about the same time in the morning Jesus came to the disciples - as things often strike at that time, including the occasional cat landing on my head!)