This gospel passage that we’ve 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. While no one disputes that this event actually happened, you’ll find a lot of interpretations of what we’re supposed to learn from it.
Some will tell you it’s a metaphor about the Church, the “barq of Peter,” being tossed about during turbulent times; others will apply spiritual lessons, with analogies about what all the different details actually mean – the boat, the storm, the time of the event during the “fourth watch.” It’s rich for study.
But I’d 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’s 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.
We just completed our novena to St. John Vianney. If you were here last Sunday at the 11:30 mass, you heard the beautiful homily of Fr. Rodnev, ordained just last month, describing his own vocation journey – how he was planning to be a psychologist at Yale, when he heard Christ’s call, “Come,” and decided to take his own leap of faith, his first step out of the boat of his own security, and walk into the unknown.
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.”
Two people whom I think understand that are John and Dianne Knight.
Several years ago, Dianne gave birth to their son Paul. She remembers vividly the first few moments of his life. As the doctor was cleaning him, she said, “I think there may be trouble with his eyes.” A few days later, they learned that their son had been born blind.
As time went on, they noticed other problems. They had him tested and discovered that he had a cleft palate, and autism, and a hormone growth disorder. He is also mentally retarded.
Theirs has been a painful, arduous journey. But it’s also been a journey, of great joy. For all the difficulties – caring for him, feeding him, dressing him, bathing him, for all of that, they have known a love beyond measure.
“This was grace,” Paul’s father, John, has said. “This is how God gripped us. This is how God is merciful to us. He has given us something precious through our son. Our son is a gift. Because he has given us this little boy who is so different, he has worked on my heart. I want to tell that story,” John has said. “This was grace.”
About a year after Paul was born, his mother Dianne noticed some changes in her own body. She thought it might be from nursing him, so she went to the doctor.
Breast cancer. Stage IV breast cancer.
“I came home and told John,” she said. “And we cried. I knew this was going to be difficult. But I knew the Lord would be with us. I knew He would take care of us. I know the Lord loves my husband and my children more than I do,” Dianne has said. “He will take care of us.”
There, I think, is a faith, and a courage, and a trust to rival Peter’s. In the turbulence of their lives, they heard the Lord. They heard him call “Come.” They heard him say, “You don’t think you can do this. But you can. And you will.” And they went into the storm. And they have stayed afloat because they have kept their eyes on Christ.
The Knights have not given into despair, or hopelessness. Every day, they know, is a gift. They now run a disability ministry at their church in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and speak to others around the country about the challenges they are facing. John Knight also has a blog, The Works of God.com, where he continues to share their journey.
To hear them speak about their life now is to be moved by their generosity and their hope.
It puts so much else into perspective, too. We think our lives are hard? Think again.
Ultimately, there’s a beautiful lesson in their lives for all of us.
Christ alone is our guide, our rescuer, our hope. There is everything we need to know, and remember, and cling to.
This gospel calls out to us, just as Christ called out to Peter. “Come. Have faith, have courage. Leave what you knw 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 climb out of the boat.