At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Before I address today’s gospel, I would like to share one of my very favorite stories of Anthony de Mello, entitled “We are three, you are three” (The Song of the Bird, 72-73).
It is about a bishop stopping…
at a remote island for a day… who comes across three fishermen who explain to him that centuries before they have been Christianized by missionaries…
The bishop was impressed. Did they know the Lord’s Prayer? They had never heard of it. The bishop was shocked.
What do you say then when you pray?
“We lift eyes in heaven. We pray, ‘We are three, we are three, have mercy on us.’ The bishop was appalled at the primitive, the downright heretical nature of their prayer. So he spent the whole day teaching them the Lord’s Prayer… Before he sailed away he had the satisfaction of hearing them going through the whole formula without a fault.
Months later, the bishop sailed by the same island and recalled with pleasure the three men on that distant island who were now able to pray thanks to his patient efforts… While he was lost in the thought, he happened to look up and noticed a spot in the east.
The light kept approaching the ship and, as the bishop gazed in wonder, he saw three figures walking on the water. The captain stopped the boat and everyone leaned over the rails to see this sight.
When they were within speaking distance, the bishop recognized his three friends, the fishermen. “Bishop!” they exclaimed. “We hear your boat go past island and come hurry hurry meet you.”
“What is it you want want?” asked the awe-stricken bishop.
“Bishop,” they said, “we so, so sorry. We forget lovely prayer. We say, ‘Our Father in heaven, holy be your name, your kingdom come…’ then we forget. Please tell us prayer again.”
The bishop felt humbled. “Go back to your homes, my friends,” he said, and each time you pray, say ‘We are three, you are three, have mercy on us!'”
These three fishermen had perfected the art of walking on water. They felt no doubt, unlike Peter, their forefather.
As Paul and I were reading the gospel this morning, we each found a line that touched us more than any other. Paul was struck by the sinking of Peter; I noticed his call to Jesus, ‘if it is you, then command me…’ Peter had to make sure it was truly Jesus walking on the water and not just any ghost. Once he was certain, he began to walk and instead of keeping his eyes on Jesus, he looked at the raging see, got scared, and started sinking.
We all know the story. It caught our imagination the first time we heard it in catechism class. Since then, every time it is read, we are waiting to find out how the priest will spin the story to inspire us.
As we were reflecting on the passage, I suddenly realized how grateful I am to Peter for being so human, for my being so like him. Thank you, Peter, I exclaimed. I could see the waves, hear the wind, smell the salted air, feel the darkness all around. After all these years of having read it and heard it and prayed it, I was there with them on the boat. In illo tempore… Peter looked at me with a kind smile for thanking him. Truly, we are all in the same boat together. The two thousand years keeping us apart have been erased. We are indeed all part of Jesus’ followers. We belong to Him.
I don’t expect to ever achieve the art of walking on water. I wonder what’s the most difficult, to walk on water or to be kind to others, feed the hungry, clothe the naked…
In His name.
Illustration: Philipp Otto Runger, Christus auf dem Meere wandelnd, 1806-7