On a dark winter night in a small Midwest community, the two-story home of a young family caught fire. The parents and children made their way through the smoke-filled home to the outside. As soon as they reached safety, the mother screamed, “Where is little John?” Just then, they heard a wail and looked up to see their 5-year old son at the bedroom window, crying and rubbing his eyes.
The father stood under the window and called out, “Jump, son. Jump and I will catch you.” In between sobs, the boy responded to the voice he knew so well. “But I can’t see you, daddy. I can’t see you.” The father answered, “But I can see you. Jump.” The boy, with faith in his father, jumped into the smoky darkness and found himself safely cradled in his father’s arms.
Why do I tell this story?
In our Gospel today, Jesus says to Peter, “Come.” It is a simple invitation, one that Jesus gives us daily. Think of the ways you obey this invitation; think of the ways you avoid it. What is it that makes it difficult for us to clasp Jesus’ hand and come to Him? He says to Peter and to us, “Come.” But so often, we hesitate.
In Peter’s case, he became frightened. What frightens us the most? Maybe waiting for the doctor to call with the results of medical tests. Parents are often frightened by what their children are exposed to on TV and the internet.
Seniors are often frightened by growing disability, dependency. Mid-lifers are frightened over losing their jobs, seeing incomes dwindle and their marriages fracture. Teens are frightened of being cast out by the in-crowd.
Children are often frightened by the dark, their parents’ quarrels and divorces; or being picked on, being left out. So what frightens you? For Peter it was the wind, the waves and the fear of drowning.
At the start of our Gospel, Peter does get out of the boat. He shows great faith in the Lord. In the beginning, He was faithful. To be faithful is to take a risk, just as Peter took a risk in stepping out of the boat.
But, being a human is a risk itself. In the measure that you are really alive, you are risking.
You take all sorts of chances without knowing how they will turn out. To marry is to risk. You risk your individual life in the hope of finding it more fulfilling with another person. And today, the odds of it working are only 50-50. To love is to risk. You open yourself to all the burdens that being loved lays on you, and many crumble under it. To be in business is a risk. You may end up terribly narrow and one-sided, closed to everything except your profession, your work. To live humanly is to launch out into a large unknown.
To be a Christian is to risk. To begin with, you commit yourself to a Christ you cannot see. Your act of faith is just as breathtaking as Peter stepping out of the boat.
My friends, we are a pilgrim Church; a community on the way – not yet there. A body of sinful men and women, at times in startling contradiction to the Lord who heads it. To the Spirit who gives it life. And still, it is Christ’s community. Here is where He expects us to experience Him. Not only to endure it, but to love it.
There are times when we are lost and we gripe in the dark. When we are unsure, when we are afraid to get out of the boat. When we want to rely and depend on someone or something else other than Christ.
Sometimes life is like that. We feel we are on the edge, and we don’t know which way to turn. That’s the time to get out of the boat, like Peter, and walk towards the Lord. That’s the time to have enough faith, like the boy in the story, to jump into our Father’s arms.