At one all age church service I went to whilst on Sabbatical this year I joined in an exploration of the story of Jesus walking on the water. It is a very dramatic story which is ideal to share and explore with children. We made origami boats, and edible boats that floated on an edible sea. We had work sheets and word searches and all sorts of other activities that helped some young children come to know the story and begin to explore its meaning for the first time/ Whilst some older children (including myself) met it again, it was a bit like meeting an old friend. In the middle of the service the children sat and listened attentively as a dramatised version of the story was told.
In this story we were told Peter began to sink into the water because he took his eyes off Jesus, the implication being that if only he had had the faith to maintain his focus on Jesus he would have been able to continue to walk on the water.
Interestingly this was the second interpretation I had heard of this story in the course of a week. In the other interpretation it is Peter’s lack of faith in himself that causes him to falter and the sea to rise around him, but as soon as he began to sink his first instinct was to call out to Jesus for help, and it was his faith in Jesus that saved him.
Listening to these two different interpretations prompted me to go back and read the story again. I read Matthew’s version Matthew 14: 22-32 (different versions that do not include Peter’s adventure can be found in Mark 6: 45-52 and John 6: 15-21). What struck me as I read it was how Peter was distracted by the external influence of the strong wind and it seemed to be this that caused him to fear.
It was tempting to ask at this point ‘which of these interpretations is right?’ But even as I thought this, memories came to me of other interpretations of this story I had heard in the past. In one of these the fact that this happened in darkness in the dead of night was significant; another raised questions of how we recognise Jesus and another emphasised that it was Jesus who invited Peter to step out of the safety of the boat in the first place.
Each time we come to read and reflect on a Bible story or parable or even a piece of poetry such as a psalm we come to it from a different perspective. We have had more life experience than the last time we read it, we may have different needs and thoughts and at different times a different aspect of the story can come to the fore in our minds. This does not alter the essential truths held within the passage but is one way in which God communicates with us and meets us where we are, one way in which God can meet us at our point of need.
In this way we can communicate with our living God and allow him to speak to us, We can turn our attention to him as Peter did and allow him to be present with us as Jesus was for Peter. And perhaps most importantly we might hear God speak to us, inviting us to step out of the boat, to join him in the impossible.
Your friend and minister