August 13, 2023
This gospel passage that we have just heard may be among the most haunting in all of scripture. It has a lot to say about fear, about faith, about trust — about daring to do the impossible. I would like to look at just six words in the middle of this passage – six words that can change our lives. They loom large in this gospel – and across everything we understand as Catholic Christians. It is one simple phrase: “Peter got out of the boat”. Faced with a storm, and a vision of something that was incredible, Peter didn’t cower. He didn’t hide. He did just the opposite – something seemingly counter-intuitive. He asked Christ to summon him. “Come,” Jesus said. And so Peter, full of trust and obedience and courage, got out of the boat. For a few moments, he did something he didn’t think possible, until he lost heart and began to doubt. And he began to sink. Jesus, as he always does, reached out to rescue him. Christ understood that what he was asking of Peter was challenging. But he was there for him. And he is there for us, in all our uncertainties, and doubts, through all our storms. Well, whether we realize it or not, each of us is being called. Each of us is being asked to leave our comfort zone for Christ. “Come,” he is saying. “Do what you think you can’t.”If we keep our eyes on him, we may find ourselves doing something extraordinary. Put another way, as the title of a book once put it: “If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.” The fact is, like Peter, all of us are summoned to walk on water. This Gospel reminds us: we are here to answer the call of Christ, to follow in his footsteps, no matter how improbable or impossible it might seem. We are called to defy our human nature, to do what is risky; even if that means walking on water. How do we do that? How do we even begin? It begins by saying “Yes” to Christ when he calls — and then stepping out of the boat. It begins by leaving what is steady and secure and going into the unknown. To walk on water means to trust God totally and to follow his will for us. That means to love fearlessly–loving God and our neighbor. Praying faithfully, living thoughtfully, and giving selflessly. But that’s just the beginning. Walking on water is nothing less than facing the daily challenge of living the Gospel. It means defying the world and being, in every way, countercultural. To walk on water means to stand for the weak, the voiceless, the suffering. It means to stand for life, all life. To walk on water means to bear witness to mercy and justice in a merciless, unjust world, a world where the winds howl and the waters surge. How often do we feel the winds are against us? How often do we feel that answering the call of Christ, his invitation to “Come,” is just too hard? How often would we rather cling to what is safe and sure and just stay in the boat? The Gospel turns all those doubts on their head. Make no mistake: following Christ, answering his call, entails risk. Being faithful can be fraught with danger. Standing up to the winds of our age, or going against the tide, can be frightening. Look at what we are up against. At the time of turmoil and uncertainty, war and violence, no message could be more reassuring. We are facing the winds of pandemics. We are encountering winds of racism and hate. We are encountering winds of domestic violence and abuses at homes; we are encountering winds of various natural calamities. We are facing the storms of illness, death and destructions. Half a world away, our brothers and sisters are buffeted by winds of poverty and persecution and even martyrdom. To walk on water means doing what is hard; what may even seem hopeless. It means trusting enough to answer Jesus when he says “Come.” It means following the way of Christ, even when the world might think that’s foolish. But to walk on water also means discovering, as Peter did, that Jesus won’t let us sink. His hand is outstretched, waiting to catch us. Remember this: as we stretch out our hands for the Eucharist, Jesus stretches out his hand to us, just as he did to Peter. We reach for the Lord, and hold fast to him — our strength, our guide, our hope. And he holds fast to us. And we pray. We pray to have the courage to say “Yes” when Christ calls. We pray at this moment to be the kinds of disciples Christ wants us to be, the kind of Christians the world needs right now. We pray for God’s grace, so we can step out of the boat — and begin walking on water. Today Jesus calls out to us, just as he called out to Peter. “Come. Have faith, have courage. Leave what you know and dare to believe.” Trust in him. Turn to him. Hope in him. We may feel the water around our ankles and the wind at our backs. But fed by the Eucharist, and uplifted by God’s word, we can do what we never thought possible if we keep our eyes on Christ and, like Peter, have the courage to get out of the boat. Always remember we are not alone. Christ is with us.