falling into the old grooves

See Proper 14 (year A)
fear not, you are mine

detail, La Navicella, Giotto, 1305-13

I’ve probably mentioned this before, how, so often in Bible study, one of us will say, “I’ve had this insight before, but I keep forgetting it!” “I keep having to learn this lesson over and over.” “Long time, same thing.” Why can’t I hold onto an insight, a life lesson, a revelation? What makes me fall back into the old unconscious groove?

On the other hand, Peter’s impulse to walk on water is a line of thought I can’t imagine even once. The disciples see Jesus coming across the wind-stirred waters. Terrified, they think the figure coming toward them on the water is a ghost! Recognizing Jesus, the terror intensifies. Jesus calls, “Fear not, it is I!” (Ego eimi, I AM.) Surely, the divine implication still more terrifying. 

Peter blurts out, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water!”

WHAT??? What put that into his head? Did the others think to themselves, Oh, I’d like to try that! Yeah Lord, call ME out on the water too! What made Peter think he could walk to Jesus across the water? If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.  And if it isn’t you, if you’re the devil, uh…I’ll just drown!?

“So come on out,” says Jesus. Peter’s impulses far ahead of his rational mind, he goes out and walks across the water. Then his brain catches up. Distracted, he loses … what? Concentration? Faith? Trust? Crazy-making adrenaline?  The wind frightens him, he’s gets back in the old groove, and down he goes.

Peter shouts for help.

Jesus response is often described as a rebuke but it doesn’t seem like that at all to me. Playfully, Jesus compliments Peter, “Why did you doubt, ye of little faith? You HAD it !” Like a parent teaching a child to ride a two-wheel bicycle, you let go and the child sails off in perfect balance. But in a moment of self-consciousness, he falters and falls. The parent calls out, “You did it! You were doing it! You can do it!” I remember those milestones of praise and encouragement, wonder, pride, and celebration – even the bandages and ice pack over well-earned wounds. And, not long after, the child forgets ever learning to ride the bike as he and his friends ride off at dizzying speeds to explore a much-expanded world.

(I wonder why Jesus didn’t insist that Peter get back on the water right away to try one more time?)

Jesus meets Peter’s panic with an outstretched arm and the gentle encouragement of a loving parent. Look! You transcended the deep. You see, your faith can move mountains! Why did you doubt?

Indeed. Why do you doubt? Especially when you’ve already walked on water?

3 Responses to “falling into the old grooves”

  1. Josephine M. Locklair Says:

    Lovely reflection. Thank you.

  2. Su Says:

    Suzanne, this is a wonderful reflection. Thank you!

  3. Chris Says:

    Absolutely the most meaningful meditation on this event I’ve ever read! Thank you so much for the wonderful bicycle analogy. The passage speaks to me in an entirely new way.

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