Saturday, 2 March 2013

Little Faith

And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him to the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the middle of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spoke to them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be you, bid me come to you on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said to him, O you of little faith, why did you doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth you are the Son of God. (Matthew 14:22-33)
To tell the truth, I don't really understand this story. It is so different from the stories Christians tell, how they followed God and He gave them strength and peace and led them all the way and they all just lived happily ever after, or even if it was hard, they were able to move forward, overcoming trials and hardships with God's grace poured out fresh every morning.

In fact, when this one starts off, I think I know where it's going: The disciples are in a storm-tossed ship and it looks like Jesus just doesn't care, but really, he's off praying. When he comes to them walking on the water, Peter puts his faith in Jesus and goes leaping out of the boat; he walks on the water, just like Jesus, and isn't it just amazing what God does when we put our faith in Him? But wait - it's not triumph that meets Peter. He takes one look at the wind-tossed waves, and he's scared. Even though he's a fisherman, he doesn't try swimming on his own - he starts yelling for Jesus like a little kid (which is what a good follower is supposed to do, even if it's a tad embarrassing, right?) and everybody is watching Peter sinking and yelling, and Jesus hauling him out of the water by the hand. To make this who scenario extra disturbing, Jesus doesn't praise Peter for jumping out of the ship in the first place, nor for calling for help instead of trying to take care of himself. Instead, he says, "O you of little faith..." What is going on here, anyway? You'd think God would have un-inspired this part right out of a book that was going to be communicating His character and influencing people for thousands of years.

Don't misunderstand me - God is faithful. Though I have cried and choked those words out a few times, I know they are true. But sometimes God is inscrutable...and outright confusing, if it comes down to it. In the end, it is strangely reassuring to me to think about Peter (dear, wholehearted man!) setting out to meet Jesus on his own terms and then failing in front of everyone and being chided (however gently!) by Jesus for having "little faith".

Ultimately, I don't know what this story is supposed to mean. But three chapters further on, Jesus is saying something else about "little faith":
He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20)
 So there. I don't know exactly how this all fits together, but I do know that God is not afraid of telling the truth, even when it makes him look bad. All his stories are not triumphant and sweet. He is more than we think He is. Sometimes He doesn't calm the storm. Sometimes He allows our best intentions to meet with failure.

Yet He promises to do something, someday, with even our "little faith".

Father, I don't know what is right, and so I can't fix myself, but please come and teach me how to see. Make me wholehearted and purposeful. Re-order me. Like Peter, I am sinking in the waves. Like Peter, I have so little faith. Take my hand. And in the end of it all, let worship rise to You.

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