the penultimate WORD
Series 1999 - Proper 19 Canon Jim Irvine
"You of little faith, why did you doubt?"


 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him,
"You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
Matthew 13: 31


When I was young, I used to enjoy warm, summer rains. They brought puddles and I really enjoyed the puddles. Puddles, I was sure, were designed for deliberate splashing and creative drama. And they held a fascination for me.

Side lanes that saw little traffic and boasting neglected pot holes were especially inviting to a young boy with a few sticks, a few tin soldiers and a lot of imagination. The muddied water would soon be transported to a distant waterway plied by explorers. Or a sudden storm might come up, with treacherous waves created by a deft rubber boot. Imagined deck hands would turn to, providing the necessary intervention to prevent catastrophe.

Hours filled with imagined mystery and suspense would slip away, unnoticed.

Puddles no longer have the same attraction for me as they once did. I avoid them now, in an attempt to keep my shoes dry.

But the story of Jesus' appearing on the water has held a fascination for me from my puddle days. And having heard the story and Peter's insufficient faith as a child, I had looked to Peter's eagerness to join Jesus on the water as a demonstration of his insufficient faith.

As a boy playing in the puddles, I'd attempt Peter's daring but without much success. It seemed that the lead soldiers I played with would be enveloped by the water and sink beneath the ripples. Save for the wooden sticks, nothing could withstand the threatening water. And my black rubber boots always sank to the bottom!

It seemed clear to me, Peter didn't have enough faith to walk on the water. And neither did I!

It seems clear to me now, no amount of faith would have had him walk on water.

Walking on water wasn't the test of faith.

As a fisherman, Peter knew that he couldn't walk on water. While Jesus called to him, Peter, beyond his depth, recognized that he was in serious trouble. He became frightened, the evangelist tells us, and began to sink. A cry went out, "Lord, save me!"

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught Peter, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

What an indictment: you of little faith! The feeling of inadequacy, and the uncharacteristic rejection from the same lips that invited and encouraged only moments before would rush over Peter as surely as the waves that threatened him. But walking on water is not Jesus' benchmark for faith.

"Why did you doubt?" Jesus went on to say. And what did Peter doubt?

Was it that Peter doubted that he could walk on water? Was he lacking confidence in his ability to walk on water?

Or did Peter doubt that Jesus would rescue him, save him, reach out to him in the very midst of his panic? Could it have been that he was lacking confidence in Jesus?

In the first instance, Peter's trust would have rested with himself. And he would have no need of God. In the later instance, with Peter's trust tested and found wanting, faith was placed outside himself but distrust allowed panic to set in. Peter believed he was abandoned to his own ability.

Such an ability is confined to boys imagining grand things playing in summer puddles.

It is in the storms of life that Jesus comes to us and invites us to come closer… It is in the storms of life that difficulties threaten our self-reliance and find us sinking into depression and despair… And it is in the storms of life that Jesus reaches out and saves us: assurance giving substance to our faith.

Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine

Series 1999