When Matthew tells the story of Jesus walking on water, the main theme of the episode is that Jesus is the Son of God whom it is entirely appropriate to worship. He tells us: “Then those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God’ ” (Matthew 14:33).
But if that is the main theme, a sub-theme of that story centers on the fears bubbling up in Jesus’ followers. For them, seeing Jesus do this miraculous water-walk is a fearful experience. “When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear” (14:26). In response, Jesus speaks words to them that are aimed at eliminating their fears: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (14:27).
When Jesus invites Peter out onto the waters,
and Peter does step out, he is overwhelmed by the wind and waves surging around him: “when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!'” (12:30). In answer to Peter’s cry, we know that Jesus reaches out and saves him. But there is something else to note here. Jesus rebukes Peter with these words: “You of little faith…why did you doubt?” (14:31). Jesus equates fear with doubt, thus setting up a tension between fear and faith.
Fear is something all of us face in our lives. Like Peter on the waves, our surroundings crash in like waves and roar around us like the wind. There are so many things that strike fear in our hearts: economic difficulties, challenging relationships, global instability, and more. But when we look at Peter’s situation, we realize that more often than not, our fears are related to two things: our surroundings and the future.
Peter and his friends were boating in rough waters and buffeted by raging wind. When Jesus summons Peter out, he walks right onto those waves and into the wind. However, it is one thing to see challenging surroundings from afar; it is another to be among challenging surroundings. Fear takes hold of the challenging surroundings we often find ourselves in.
Nonetheless, Peter was walking on those surging waves. Yet, something must have happened as Peter looked around himself. He must have realized the possibility that a person like him could easily be overcome by his surroundings and go down like a rock to the depths. Fear rises up in future possibilities, latching onto as yet unrealized potential negative futures.
So, how does faith overcome fear? Though it may sound simplistic, the answer is found in what Peter did at first. Peter heard the voice of the Lord and then came near to the Lord. When we are in the midst of challenging surroundings and potential negative futures plague our minds, we do well to listen to Jesus’ voice and draw near to Him.