‘Shortly before dawn, Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified.
‘It’s a ghost!‘ they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’
‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘Tell me to come to you on the water.’
‘Come,’ he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he say the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,‘ he said. ‘Why did you doubt?’
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.‘
You’re asking me about the walking on water thing? Not many people ask me about that. It’s not what I’m most famous for. Ask me about the time he gave me my new name, or about the of times he took me on one side to teach me something, just me and him, those are times I’m proud of.
And I know, I know, there’s the bit just before he died… people don’t ask me about that either, but for an entirely different reason.
Jesus chose me, you know.
I was just a fisherman. A good one. I could have made a good living, you know, but Jesus told me I could be so much more. He knew me; somehow he saw me in a way that nobody ever had – he knew what I was like. He knew that I didn’t go far in school, that I’m better with my hands than my brain – that I often let my mouth get the better of me, but he saw beyond all that. Where other people saw roughness, he saw potential.
Ah. I let him down over and over again but he never stopped believing in me. I’m not going to let him down now. I have a job to do.
Me and the boys – we’re going to tell the world about our Lord. We’re going to build a church. It’s going to be big, you know. Nothing can stop us.
The walking on water thing? Oh alright.
It was back in the early days. It was that day that he’d fed thousands and thousands of people with one little lad’s lunch – did you hear about that? Out of all those people only one kid thought to bring a snack? Anyway, Jesus did one of those miracle things that we all loved and we had a real party. It was that night.
He sent us on ahead in the boat and he stayed and talked with the crowd for a while. I don’t know where he got his energy but he always had time for people. Even when he was exhausted, he was never impatient and dismissive as the rest of us were. He stayed and chatted and prayed with them and we could see from out on the lake that the crowd was breaking up as the sun went down. We assumed he was going to go off by himself for a while then meet us round the other side.
We sat and ate leftover bread and talked about the stuff that Jesus had been saying. He never failed to surprise us. It had been a good day. We were excited and inspired. And full.
I think I fell asleep. Most of us did, I think. I’ve spent years in boats in all weathers and it’s not a problem for me to catch forty winks even when it’s a bit choppy out there. Not so for all of us; I remember Matthew looking a bit green – he never was much of a sailor. But I was drowsy and confused when Andrew shook me awake.
‘What in heaven’s name is that?’ he said, pointing. Actually, it was a bit cruder than that, but I won’t repeat exactly what he said in polite company.
There was something floating, some distance away. Whitish, caught in the faint glow from our lantern, sort of hovering above the water. We couldn’t see because it was dark, not even first light yet. I remember squinting into the darkness and realising that we should take a bit more care because the wind was up. The boat was pitching about and one minute I could see this white thing and then the next it was gone as the waves threw us high and sucked us low. The others were all pale and staring.
It was unnerving. What on earth was this thing? It seemed to be getting closer. The lads were all terrified. I wasn’t, of course; not much scares me. But it was a bit weird.
I can’t remember who it was that first spoke, but I remember that pandemonium broke out just afterwards. Someone said, ‘It’s a ghost!‘ Before I could say, ‘Oh, pull yourself together, there’s no such thing as ghosts! Did your mother teach you nothing?’ some of the guys backed away from the nearside of the boat to the other so suddenly that it yawed over that way and threatened to throw us all overboard. Everyone started to shout. Young John tried to hide and there was someone screaming like a girl. I think it was Bartholomew. Good set of lungs on him.
The white thing was closer now and I could see that it was a man. His clothes were blowing in the wind and there was spray everywhere and his hair was across his face, but it was a man, and he was walking on the water. He was coming towards us.
And then, a voice. A familiar voice. Still too far away to recognise him by sight, and yet I could hear the voice we’d been listening to all day as clear as anything even over the howl of the wind and the flapping of the sails and everything.
‘It’s me. Don’t panic. It’s only me, do you hear? Calm down.’
I have to say that at that moment I was amazed. This was a new thing. Turns out that he didn’t fancy the walk to the other side after all.
It was the Lord. Walking on the water.
I didn’t think at all, it was almost involuntary. I heard myself shout,
‘Is it you? Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come out there too!’
Caught up in the moment? Maybe that was it. You had to have been there.
Afterwards Andrew and James told me that they couldn’t believe what I was saying. I don’t remember there being any thought process, just this urge to go to him. To go to my Lord.
Jesus laughed. He held out his hand.
‘Come on, then,‘ he said.
I climbed over the side of the boat and slid down, holding on with my arms. Thomas pulled at my arm saying, ‘Don’t be so stupid! You’re going to drown!‘ but I shook him off.
The boat pitched violently, but I honestly don’t remember any fear. No, really. Not then. I felt for the water with my feet and I turned my head to look at Jesus. He stood, clothes blowing in the gale, smiling, beckoning. Oh, my God! I would go anywhere the Lord wants me to go!
I let go of the boat.
My feet were wet; the waves splashed over the bottom of my clothes. I didn’t take my eyes from my Lord, who was laughing with delight. He held out his hands and I took a step.
I walked on the water. I did! I looked right into his eyes and I saw his pleasure and I knew that there was nothing on earth that could hurt me if I was walking to my Lord. My heart was full of love for him and determination that I wouldn’t let him down and there was this strange, flooding confidence that I can’t describe but I knew, I knew that I could do all things, not me, but him.
So long as he was there ahead of me, beckoning to me, smiling at me, I could do all things. I believed it with all my heart.
I walked towards him. I looked right in his eyes and I lifted my hands out wide. Look at this! Look at me!
Oh, it took only a second for it all to go wrong. I glanced around. I darted a triumphant look back at the boat and I saw how low it was sunk in the swell. I saw the glow of the dawn just beginning and silhouetted against the lighter sky I saw the trees of the shore bent and whipping back and forth in the wind. I looked back at Jesus and this time I saw his garments flapping around his legs instead of the steadiness of his outstretched hand.
I looked down – and it was over. I should never have looked down. I started to sink faster than you can imagine and in the moment where it seemed as if I was looking death in the face I screamed.
‘Lord, help me!’
He was there. He caught my arm and his grip was solid. His feet did not sink even though the cold spray wet him as the wind picked it up and flung it at us.
He held me, and I found my feet again as if on solid ground. I was afraid and out of breath and shivering and there were tears on my face, I’m not ashamed to say. I was a different man from the fearless one who gazed into the eyes of the Lord and strode towards him on top of the waves.
Jesus looked deep inside me. He could do that, you know. Never met anyone else who could.
His eyes locked into mine.
‘Oh – you of little faith!’ he scolded. He didn’t sound angry. His eyes were searching, looking at my soul.
Then, quietly, ‘Why did you doubt?‘
I had no words to answer him, but that moment is fixed in my mind like no other. I stood, soaked, on top of the churning, heaving water with the Lord Jesus himself holding me up, and I realised why it went wrong. I realised that I sank because I took my eyes from him.
You see – you can do anything when you look to him. He will make it possible. He just wants you to make sure that you’re looking at him. Me? I can’t walk on water – of course I can’t – he gave me the power, but only when I was totally focused on him. I started letting all the other stuff in and it distracted me and then it was game over.
It wasn’t about the wind or the waves or the water. It was about my total trust in him. When I trusted him completely, I was fine. When I started to doubt, I started to sink. Simple as that. I stopped believing.
But he saved me.
A moment passed.
‘Why did you doubt?’
It stayed in my head. He meant it to.
He saved me.
We climbed into the boat and it would not have mattered to me if the lads had ridiculed me for my adventure, but they were all silent.
Mouths hung open as they watched us climb into the boat, first me, then Jesus.
The minute he stood inside the boat by the pile of nets, pulling a blanket around him, the wind dropped. The howling and whistling ceased and the sails hung quiet. The waves no longer had white tops and the icy spray stopped lashing us.
I fell to my knees, and the others did as well. Jesus leaned back against the boat side and smiled.
‘My Lord…my Lord…’ was all I could manage.
Someone behind me said it, just stated it baldly.
‘You’re the Son of God, alright.’
And he was.
He is, you know.
He’s the Son of God.