“One small step for a man…”

Amédée Varin (1818-1883), Christ Walking on the Sea

18th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

Matthew 14:22-36

After feeding the five thousand, Jesus took leave of the crowd and his disciples, carrying them in spirit up the mountains. In silence and solitude, he offered the world to the Father. As darkness enveloped, prayer turned into action as Jesus descended and crossed the storm-tossed waves toward the boat of his disciples. 

When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. 

The extraordinary was taken to be something dreadful. Why not an angel rather than a ghost? 

At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

A familiar voice and form emerged into view—whew! The action-oriented Peter immediately jumped up to join his master. No second thoughts about gravity deterred him. Childlike faith, courage and trust emboldened his request to walk on water, and it was granted.

Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.

One foot up and one foot down, the sea held Peter up like cork as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. What buoyancy and bliss!

But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong’s famous words upon the surface of the moon applied equally well to Peter’s first steps upon the surface of the sea. On behalf of all humankind, Peter’s small steps showed us the limitless possibilities of faith. 

Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

Our first steps of faith may falter, but lead to giant leaps later as we journey onward with the Lord day after day. Every step is a learning experience; every stride advances the good of all humankind. Even setbacks are opportunities to grow.

If Peter had not followed his heart toward Jesus, he would never have known the possibility of walking on water. Now he knew it with certainty; he experienced buoyancy upon the surface of the sea. He also learned by experience the connection between fear and gravity. 

After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” 

In Mark’s version, the disciples were “astounded” and “their hearts were hardened” for lack of understanding, but Matthew has them worshipping. After an event like that, who could capture the kaleidoscope of impressions coursing through twelve very different men? Their hearts and minds were in constant motion as they tried to fathom this indefinable Nazarene who called himself the Son of God. Matthew wanted us to know that the disciples were indeed overcome with awe, and believed his claim to be the Christ.

After making the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret. When the men of that place recognized him, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought to him all those who were sick and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed.

The adventure with Jesus continued ashore as he healed the sick in great numbers. They had just pulled an all-nighter, but what a night!

-GMC

Note: This reflection quotes the corrected version of Neil Armstrong’s famous statement.

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