22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
So I know that this passage isn’t about me. It’s about Jesus, and Peter and the rest of the disciples. And maybe it’s about Matthew’s audience, as they searched for meaning and hope while they read these texts in dim lights behind closed doors.
But I cant’ help but put myself in the text. And I can’t help but get annoyed.
This text kinda makes me nuts. At least, at first. It’s the hoodoo voodoo Jesus, Jesus-the-magician, the pull the rabbit out of the hat, the dove from the coat, and walk on water Jesus.
Maybe it’s because of my technology driven context — my post man-on-the-moon, post flying in airplanes across the world, post hovercraft, post skype-with-the-grandparents-on-my-iphone context, but I just am not all that impressed by Jesus walking on the water.
Or, maybe it’s because I don’t really believe it, if I’m honest. I’m with the disciples - “It’s a ghost!” And I don’t really think ghosts are real. They’re having a delusion. They’re seeing things. They all ate the wrong brownies. I just have the hardest time really believing that Jesus in the flesh actually did walk out on the water to the middle of the lake.
But here it is in our text, and in two others - in both Mark and John - so something must have happened, something beyond science, beyond reason; something beyond the laws of physics that the Gospel writers didn’t even know existed, something happened. The disciples have an experience of Jesus doing something as crazy as walking on water.
And then there’s that reprimand. That reprimand really gets to me. The reprimand that I take so very personally - “O you of little faith! Why did you doubt?”
As if it should be so easy to believe in a God who has become human and is now walking on the water and will come to feed us and to heal us and to die the most horrific of deaths just to “save” us and then will rise from the dead and tell us to spread the word and change the world forever.
Easy peasy. Sure. All of it is true. Piece of cake.
O you of little faith! Why do you doubt?
I want to get all sassy and pull out my snappy fingers and be all like, “oh, let me tell you why I doubt.”
Well, Jesus. Let me tell you why I doubt.
I doubt because they are beheading children in Iraq.
I doubt because all our country can think to do about it is drop more bombs.
I doubt because doctors and nurses who have given their lives to treat folks with Ebola are now dying from the disease.
I doubt because airliners flying at 30,000 feet can get shot out of the sky.
I doubt because two groups of folks who come from the same ancestor are bombing each other over a measly 139 square miles of land.
I doubt because there are homeless women out there who are desperate to get pregnant so that they can get some healthcare, some food stamps, some clothing and a section 8 voucher.
I doubt because a young man with a new baby gets a brain tumor.
I doubt because if our country spent what we spend on dieting on food assistance programs, we could eradicate hunger.
I doubt because for some reason, I’m living inside, with healthy kids and a supportive husband, and there is nothing that I have done to deserve it.
And I get all angry because I’m tripping over toys and my boys have to share a room and there’s not enough room. All the while there are families sifting through landfills trying to find something to eat, some scrap metal to sell or to use for a roof, some pieces of cloth to wrap around their blistered feet.
Why do I doubt?
Just look at this mess, Jesus, look at it, all around us, choking us, making us fearful and angry and hopeless and so full of doubt.
This passage makes me want to get all defensive. To shout, “get off my back, Jesus. I’m doing the best I can.”
O you of little faith.
Jesus uses this phrase two other times in Matthew’s gospel.
In chapter six, he says, “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you — you of little faith?”
And in chapter eight, in the middle of yet another storm, with the disciples freaking out - again - “He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’”
“O you of little faith,” he says to the disciples, you who get to see him and feel him and touch his wounds and eat with him and see it all. O you of little faith. Well, if the disciples had such little faith, where does that leave me, 2000 years later, all full of modernity and the scientific method and the Age of Reason and the laws of physics and Hiroshima and concentration camps and preemptive strikes?
I ain’t got much. Hardly anything at all.
I’ve got just about enough faith to throw in a fountain and make a wish on.
I’ve got about enough faith to buy groceries and give ten bucks to the church.
Enough faith to wake up in the morning and drink a cup of coffee and build a block tower with my son.
Enough faith to drive over to the South Side, all tired and grouchy, and show up to serve a meal to a bunch of folks who seem really needy and really ungrateful today.
About enough faith to decide to not say that mean thing I was thinking about that guy who cut me off in traffic, enough faith to live one more day.
But the thing is, if you look at the whole of the Gospel of Matthew, and you look at all that “littleness,” you start to see things. Just one chapter earlier, in Matthew 13, we get all this kingdom talk - how it starts in tiny things like mustard seeds and yeast and pearls. And then in Matthew 17, we are told that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we will be able to move mountains.
Jesus seems to praise all those littles, those tinies, those seeds and pearls and yeasts of faith.
O you of little faith. O you of just a little bit. O you of just a mustard seed of faith - or even less than a mustard seed of faith.
Maybe this isn’t always a reprimand, but rather, a term of endearment.
You stinkpot jones. You stinker. You little punk. You silly kid. O you of little faith.
And he shakes his head. And he smiles. And sighs. And does what he was going to do all along - calms the storm, heals the demoniac, brings the kids onto his lap.
O you of little faith. You are silly and human and broken and fearful. And your little bit is enough. It’s enough.
It’s enough faith for 1/2 a second. Just long enough to ask, “Jesus, is that you?”
Just long enough to take a step out of the boat.
Just long enough to call out to Jesus when we sink - ‘cause for sure, we’re gonna sink. Enough to call out to God when we see the buildings crumbling under the weight of another hurricane or another earthquake. When the polar ice caps are melting and when we are waiting for the diagnosis. It’s enough faith when we see the tents under the bridges and all the minorities in the prisons.
It’s enough when we’ve been battered by the waves and the husbands and the post traumatic stress disorders. It’s enough for the day. It’s enough for this moment right now.
It’s enough to open this church one more week, to keep showing up, to keep wiping down the windowsills and to keep vacuuming the carpet. It’s enough. For now. For the next step. Enough.
“O you of little faith,” Jesus says. “Take heart. It’s enough. Don’t be afraid. Come. Why do you doubt? Come anyway. I’m real. I’m true. I’m here. Take my hand. It’s enough.”
Thanks be to God.