Today’s gospel is about faith and doubt. It invites us to a good reflection on the lake stories that are found in all four gospels.
At times we read a lake story from the public life of Jesus and it strikes us that that it would be much more appropriate if it were told after the resurrection. We see this in Luke 5 where we have the story of the call of Peter and the other disciples, dramatised in the story of the great catch of fish. If we examine this text from the beginning, we notice that this is the first time that Jesus and Peter meet. Yet when they get the great catch, Peter calls Jesus ‘Lord’ and he says, “Depart from me. I am a sinful man, O Lord.” These words do not belong to a first meeting but would be very apt after Peter’s denial and disowning of Jesus.
In Mark 4, Jesus calms the storm on the lake and then says to the disciples, “Why were you afraid, have you still no faith?” This would be a very suitable question after the words “all of them deserted him and fled” (MK 14:52)
So, the rich centre in the gospels is hearing Jesus coming to us and saying, “It is I, do not be afraid, only believe”, but it is also worth noting that often we are told “At first they did not know him” – a common occurrence in the resurrection stories that remind us that faith is a journey and not a once-for-all instant response.
In our passage for today, Peter is the main actor, which is typical of Matthew. In this scene Peter goes from foolish bravery, “order me to come to you on the water”, to abject helplessness. Notice that as the crisis becomes more serious the prayers get shorter, “Lord save me!” Notice too that Peter says “If it is you” which maybe shows doubt, a point that is picked up by Jesus, “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Many years ago I was talking to a priest friend of mine who was a good theology teacher. On telling him that I found myself more and more praying for faith, he answered me gently and peacefully, “There is nothing else worth praying for.”