And early in the morning [Jesus] came walking toward [the disciples in their boat] on the sea.But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” – Matthew 14:25-31
Have you ever noticed that getting Peter out of the boat was all Peter’s idea? I used to imagine that Jesus invited Peter to step out onto the waves in some sort of test or affirmation of Peter’s place among the disciples. I thought of it as a demonstration of how great Peter’s faith was. Now, I begin to wonder if it wasn’t more a demonstration of how great his foolishness was.
I mean, come on, who comes up with the idea to climb out of a perfectly good boat onto a stormy sea? This does not sound like the kind of person I would want in charge of things. Peter seems downright reckless.
For that matter, why would Peter even want to try walking on water? What made him think that would work? I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like to try things that I think might not succeed. I don’t like the idea of failure or feeling foolish. Most people don’t.
Peter isn’t like me. He doesn’t seem to mind the idea that his closest friends are about to see him do something that might not work out perfectly. He’s not worried about impressing Jesus with how much he’s got his act together. Peter comes up with a hare-brained idea and rushes straight into action.
But Jesus chooses Peter! Peter becomes the disciples’ ringleader even while Jesus is still living, even more so after the resurrection and ascension. Could it be that faith and foolishness are closer than I thought? Is it really true that Jesus might prefer fools and failures?
Paul certainly thought so when he wrote to the churches a few decades later: Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. – I Corinthians 1:20-25
Foolishness, faithfulness, and failure, I realized, have something in common: at the core of all of them, I am not my own hero. At the core of faithfulness, failure, and foolishness, I depend on someone or something other than myself to rescue me. After all, faithfulness—no matter what I might like to think—isn’t about me stepping boldly out of my comfort zone. It’s Jesus crossing hell or high water to come pull me out when I’m in over my head.
Jesus Christ keeps faith with us, or, to put it another way, he keeps his promises. Our failures, our foolishness, our tendency to leap out of boats or keep our feet firmly planted on dry land—none of these things matter except that in our failures and foolishness we can most clearly see that Jesus Christ is faithful to us. The people who understand faithfulness best aren’t people like me who try to keep it all together and look like a success by my own standards. It’s the fools and the failures who know faithfulness best of all because they know they need the hand of Jesus reaching out and holding tight to them. Come hell or high water, our savior has a strong grip.
Jesus, hold tight to me when I am in over my head. When failure or foolishness threaten, be faithful to me. Hold my hand. If I trust too well in myself, give me cause to trust better in you. Amen.