Another day with Jesus, another miracle.
What are we to make of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee? Do we suspend our disbelief–even though we have a sound knowledge of physics? Do we read it and imagine there was a hitherto unknown string of stepping stones across the sea? In studying this text in the Gospel of Matthew, I became interested in the narrative from Peter’s perspective. I thought we might be able to enter into the familiar events if we heard them directly from him.
My name is Shim’on in Hebrew, or Petros in Greek. You can call me Peter.
I speak Hebrew, Greek and a bit of a few other languages–you have to when you are in the fishing trade. I sell my catch to customers in Galilee, all over the coast of the Mediterranean, and even some distant ports. I sell everyday fish to the locals, and export some of the special varieties to a luxury clientele–they like my salted fish. If it has to do with fish, I know all about it. Everyone in my family is a fisherman: my father, my grandfather before him, and now all of my brothers. When I was a child, I could walk better on a boat than on the land. I live in Bethsaida–which means the House of the Fishermen. Lots of other fishermen live there, at the north end of Keneret; you know it as the Sea of Galilee. I’ll tell you about…that night, that morning… But first I’ll tell you how I came to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus.
One afternoon I was fishing with my brother Andrew and a couple of my hired men. We were fishing for sardines in shallow water, close to the shore. A man called to us from the beach: “I see you are good with those nets! Follow me, and I will make you fish for people!” I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right. “What did he say?” I asked Andrew. “He said: Follow me and I will make you fish for people. What do you think he means by that?” It was like one of the prophets was speaking to me! His words were straight out of the book of the prophet Jeremiah, when the Almighty called to gather the people of Israel: “Look I will send many fishermen, says the Lord, to catch them.” If it has to do with fishing, I remember it. I had to hear more!
I decided to bring the boat in. We pulled up the nets and headed for the shore. When the keel scraped the sand, I jumped out with one of my hired men and we pulled the boat up on the beach. That’s when I got my first good look at the Lord Jesus. He was a normal looking man, but there was something about him. Something that made me want to get to know him. I’d never seen a holy man before—was that what he was? Just this one time, I left my hired men to sort and count the fish, and pack them for salting. Many of the fish we catch aren’t kosher, so I sort them out carefully, and sell them to the Gentiles. Usually, I’m the only one who does the sorting and counting, but that day I made an exception. I invited the Lord—I called him Jesus at first—to come to our home for the evening meal.
When I got home, my wife’s mother was even sicker than she had been all week. She’d had a bad fever—her head ached, she was shaking and sweating. Even the children were quiet, so she could rest peacefully. She was lying in a darkened room; my wife told me she had only taken a little water all day. I could see how worried she was. The Lord walked right past us into the room and took her hand. The sickroom was dark so I could barely see, but it looked like he was praying. Right away my mother-in-law got up from her bed—not moving like a sick person, but like herself. “Mother! Wait, lie down! I’ll get you something to eat!” my wife said. “I’m fine! Never felt better!” her mother said. “I’m going to prepare some special dishes for our guest. It will be a feast!” She was grateful and a storm of energy all at once. We couldn’t stop her! The children were so excited that their Safta was better–and relieved that they didn’t need to be quiet anymore. They giggled and chased each other around the courtyard. The little ones ran to the Lord and grabbed his legs, shrieking and joyfully shouting thank you! The Lord laughed when I tried to prevent them. “Let the children come to me!” He said, “unless each of us becomes like them, we will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Did he mean grateful? Joyful? Maybe he meant noisy!
At supper, he blessed and broke the bread, thanking the Almighty for our bounty.
I can’t even describe it. The way he did it touched my heart. By the end of the meal, all of my brothers urged Andrew and me to go with the Lord. They promised to take care of the business, and our families, which is how my fishing boat became a ferry boat for the Lord and the other disciples. We traveled all around the Keneret—the Sea of Galilee–to the great city of Capernaum, to Gennesaret, and often back home to Bethsaida. Soon there were crowds of people following us wherever we went. The Lord healed the sick, and cast demons out of the possessed. There were so many of them! He even healed lepers—which was like seeing people brought back from the dead! He also taught people about Almighty God, about the Scriptures, and how to live faithfully and do the right thing. Privately, he taught us the prayers that made us able to do some of the same things: healings, exorcisms. People started whispering that he was Mashiach—the Messiah, the Savior of Israel.
And now we come to that day, and that night… When he fed all those people in the wilderness with just five loaves and two fish—it was a miracle! It was like when Almighty God fed all of Israel with manna in the desert! I don’t know how many of them there were, but there were people everywhere–there wasn’t a patch of ground without a man, woman or child standing on it as far as I could see. After teaching and healing and feeding all comers, the Lord told us to get into my boat, and sail west for Capernaum. “Without you?” I asked. I was reluctant to leave him. “I’ll meet you later,” he said. He left the crowds, and we watched them disperse as we sailed west. I saw him walk toward the mountain, the way he always went off to pray. I could understand that he needed to be alone after that day and that crowd of people.
The wind was high that evening, but blowing from the west. That wasn’t unusual—happened all the time. We zigzagged across, catching the wind in the sail and heading in one direction for a while, and then coming about to catch it with the sail on the other side. It was slow-going with that strong a headwind. Most of us were sailors, and the rest were learning, so even though it was rough on the water we were fine. When it became dark, I was in my element. It was easy to steer by the stars in the night. Then morning came. As it grew lighter, I saw something on the water. The light was still thin, and there was a mist from the waves, so at first I couldn’t see very well. We were too far out for it to be a rock—and it looked like it was moving! It wasn’t a boat…it was a man.
The other disciples saw him too, the ones who were awake. They woke the others and they all stared to the east, into the rising sun. “It’s an apparition!” one of them said. That did it. They were all terrified. So was I, for a few minutes. Then I rubbed my eyes and looked again. “Wait,” I said. “It’s the Lord!” He came closer and I called out: “Lord, if…if it IS you, command me to come to you on the water.” I began to say the prayers he taught us, and thought maybe I’d be able to do what he did–walk on the sea. He said, “Come.” I stepped out of my boat—even now I can’t tell you if it was real or a vision. It felt real. It was like walking on my boat, rolling on the water. Then I remembered I wasn’t on my boat, and the rush of wind filled my ears, and my sight became blurred and I felt myself slipping. I cried, “Lord, save me!” And he was right there, that very second. He caught me. The next thing I knew we were back on the boat. “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” I think he was talking to all of us. None of us said a word in reply. Then I noticed that the wind had stopped, and the water was calm. I could hear the others whispering: Mashiach! Messiah! I’ll never forget that moment, when I cried out “Lord, save me!” and he was there. Why did I do that–try to walk on the sea? Was I testing the Lord? Did I want to experience a miracle myself? I don’t know. There’s so much more I could tell you—about the Lord, and about what it was like to follow him. But that can wait for another day.
What I know for sure is that lots of people look for the Lord Jesus for the first time when they are sinking, when their prayer is “Help!”
I’d say, better look for him before that, so you can live with hope, and some of that faith he was talking about. It makes life better, I can tell you, to know that there is someone who can trample the chaos, and reach out to catch you when you fall; to know that someone–the Lord Jesus–is right beside you when all you can do is shout “save me!”