O YOU OF LITTLE FAITH
There is a story in the gospels we all know quite well. It’s the story of Peter walking on the water. It’s an amazing story that fascinates us to no end. Our western minds are blown away as we consider the possibility of a man pursuing Jesus out onto the waves of the Sea of Galilee, performing such a miraculous feat to mirror that of his rabbi. It’s almost too much for us to believe. And then, just as we’re beginning to become skeptical, Peter meets all of the worldly expectations and succumbs to the failure we’ve all been wishing he would defeat as our representative. He wavers, he fails, and he sinks.
I’ve seen the look in too many people’s eyes as they read that story. It’s this look of hopeful disbelief, followed by a “that’s what I thought would happen” expression on their face (even if they’ve read the story a thousand times, I will see this expression or hear this tone). We then listen as Jesus scolds Peter’s faith — while we all readily put ourselves into Peter’s shoes and share his scolding — and we nod.
But there is so much more taking place in this story. Much has been taught about this story already, so I don’t want to be accused of plagiarizing anything. Ray Vander Laan had an excellent treatment of this subject in That the World May Know, a series put out by Focus on the Family (DVD 6, “In the Dust of the Rabbi,” Zondervan). Rob Bell treated the subject very well in Velvet Elvis (Zondervan, 2005). And another great and concise source of reference for this story can be found in the NOOMA video entitled Dust (flannel.org), among many others. I could not recommend these resources enough (or any others from these teachers, for that matter).
The first-century concept of discipleship was such that the most “successful” thing you could do in the Jewish culture, the thing they valued the most, was the study of Torah. One of the pinnacle experiences of the Jewish school system was being given the opportunity to become a talmid — or as we say it, a disciple.
If you thought you had what it takes as a student of the Torah, you would apply for discipleship under a rabbi. One of the greatest honors a boy could receive would be the acceptance of a rabbi to be his talmid. If a rabbi chose you as a disciple, he was in essence saying to you, “I believe you have what it takes to become just like me.” It was a great honor. So, the path of a disciple was a path of memorizing the rabbi’s teachings, taking on the rabbi’s set of interpretations, and — most importantly — becoming just like the rabbi.
This meant you spent all day, every day, trying to mimic the thoughts, actions, and teachings of your teacher. Some Jewish scholars say they have seen a rabbi proceed into a restroom and in his wake are ten or twelve young disciples.
You want to be just like your rabbi.
If your rabbi does it — you do it.
And you know that you can do it — because if you could not have done it, the rabbi would never have called you. The rabbi’s call is his affirmation in your ability and potential.
Peter finds himself in a boat that night with the other disciples and they end up encountering Jesus, who happens to be walking on the water. If Jesus is walking on the water, what does Peter want to do? He wants to be just like his rabbi.
“Lord, if it’s really you, call me out to you on the water.”
And Peter does. He walks on the water. It’s an incredible story. Peter is a true disciple.
And then Peter sinks. But why does Peter sink? The answer for many of us is that Peter loses faith; he sees the wind and the waves and he loses faith. This is correct, but as Bell asks: whom does he lose faith in? Jesus?
Jesus is not sinking. Jesus is doing just fine.
Does Peter lose faith in Jesus’s ability to help him walk on water?
Or, does Peter lose faith in himself?
Jesus rescues Peter, pulls him into the boat, and then asks, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Is this actually a rabbinical scolding of Peter’s failure to accomplish his task? Or is this question of Jesus actually driving at his belief in Peter?
“Peter, if you didn’t have what it takes to walk on water, I never would have called you out. You had everything you needed to do this! I believe in you, Peter! You can do whatever I call you to do. I will never ask you to do something you cannot do.”
Listen to what Bell says in Velvet Elvis:
So at the end of his time with his disciples, Jesus has some final words for them. He tells them to go to the ends of the earth and make more disciples. And then he leaves. He promises to send his Spirit to guide them and give them power, but Jesus himself leaves the future of the movement in their hands. And he doesn’t stick around to make sure they don’t screw it up. He’s gone. He trusts that they can actually do it.
God has an incredibly high view of people. God believes that people are capable of amazing things.
I have been told that I need to believe in Jesus. Which is a good thing. But what I am learning is that Jesus believes in me.
I have been told that I need to have faith in God. Which is a good thing. But what I am learning is that God has faith in me.
The rabbi thinks we can be like him.
TO HAVE THE ABILITY TO GIGGLE
I often watch my children and wonder when it was that I lost faith in myself.
Now, I’m not talking about a narcissistic faith that seems to elevate my standing in God’s created order and lacks humility. I’m certainly not trying to promote some humanistic worldview that seems to assert that the answer to our ills somehow lies within us. I truly and earnestly believe the hope for all of this world’s brokenness lies in the power of the resurrected Christ and the reality of Jesus.
But I’m talking about the faith in myself that recognizes I’m made in the image of God — the kind of faith that might actually be willing to believe there must be something worth loving and worth saving if God was willing to save it through the story of the cross.
I wonder, as I watch my children, how it was that my innocence was somehow connected with my confidence. (Boy, there’s another chapter or two waiting to be written, eh?)
Jesus tells me that if I were to watch children for a little while, it would probably do me some good — that if I cannot change and become like little children, the Kingdom will be out of my reach.
One of the things that I’m noticing about children is they have incredible faith in themselves. They know Dad is there and they know Mom is there and they know they are loved and they just want to play and smile and laugh and tumble.
It seems like later on in life, we begin to question all of those things.
Is Dad really there for me? Am I really worth loving? Can I really do this?
And we try to do the things we know in our hearts we were created to do. We step out of the boat and we begin to walk, but we know the wind and the waves are out there somewhere, just waiting to sabotage our one fleeting moment of weak courage. We try and we sink.
And we’re not surprised, really, are we?
We knew it would happen just like this. There’s no way we could ever walk on water. So we grab for our life preserver and we climb back into the boat and we hold our gaze on the floor and we take the scolding we knew we had coming. O me of little faith. O me the big doubter. It’s just another failed attempt to live out what God intends for my life. When will I ever learn? I should just get used to this and stay in the boat next time; it will save me the humiliation and the pain and the failure. It’s much safer and nicer here in the boat.
Yeah. Next time, I won’t be so silly.
I picture Jesus grabbing me by the chin and jerking my head up, waiting for my gaze to meet his. And with a divine sparkle in his eye, he looks into my soul — the soul he knows intimately because he personally knit it together — and says, “You can do this.”
I go back in my mind and remember my daughter on that slope.
Twenty times. Thirty times.
Ten minutes later, we have finally traversed the twelve feet that leads to the top of the slope. And she laughs and she giggles and she prances and waddles along the now-level ground and she is thrilled to be at the top and to run and play with ease.
Of course, she was happy to be at the bottom of the slope, too.
I’ve come to a new realization: I want to learn how to giggle.
Now, I would never suggest we trivialize sin for even a moment. I’m not saying that failure is somehow okay and God doesn’t care about our success. I am not one of the Jesus followers who seems to whip God’s grace around like it’s a “Get Out of Jail Free” card from the Monopoly game of real life. In fact, I’ve noticed it’s the very fact that I take my sin so seriously that I end up being incapacitated.
But there’s something here I’m supposed to learn about my daughter.
There’s something about that slope in the park that’s bringing me closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.
I’m tired of being immobilized by my failures. I’m tired of being the guy who knows there’s no way he can pull this off. I’m tired of having a laundry list of excuses. I’m tired of letting this stinking slope get the better of me. I’m tired of wondering whether or not my Father is there for me. I’m tired of trying to decide if I’m really worth being loved. I’m tired of worrying about what the world wants from me and expects from me and thinks of me and says about me.
And I can’t just snap my fingers and make the slope go away. My problems and my hiccups and my sins are things I’m going to have to deal with. I’m going to have to get over the problems that seem to keep me down. The Spirit of God is trying to complete the work within me that He started a long time ago. I have some falling to do, and I have plenty of getting up to do. And I have a salvation that needs to be “worked out with fear and trembling” and it’s going to take some effort.
But I wonder if God would rather sit in a boat and say, “You of little faith…”
Or if He’d rather sit on a park bench and watch His children learn how to walk. I wonder if He could actually sit back and enjoy Himself if we could learn how to fall and get up and fall and get up and keep believing and keep getting back up and keep refusing to give up because we’re going to make it up this slope and we’re just so glad to be with Dad and to be loved and to know that we’re okay.
I know that I love to watch my daughter learn new things and not be stopped by her failures.
I love to watch her giggle.
I want to learn how to giggle.