Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
OK, I wish I could lay claim to this insight myself, but, the truth is, a friend of mine talked yesterday about this passage, in a way I’d never thought about before.
What was Jesus saying in the last verse? Every time I’ve heard someone talk about this, and every time I’ve read it before, the disappointment is obvious. Peter could have done it. He knew it was possible to walk on water, and, yet, even knowing that, he faltered. There was no reason he couldn’t have done it if he truly believed, and yet he didn’t. His faith could be so great, and yet was so little. “Oh you of little faith.”
But just a slight difference in intonation of those few words changes the whole passage. Yes, Peter had little faith. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. At that point, how many people in the world had any faith in Christ at all? And how many had the faith to say, “If it’s You, call, and I’ll come”? Maybe Peter’s “little” faith isn’t in comparison to great faith, but in comparison to none at all. After all, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”* Peter’s faith was little, but even a little is incredibly powerful.
So what if the tone wasn’t disappointment, but pride and encouragement? Christ sees Peter moving along his journey from a world without faith to a man of great faith, taking another step along that journey — on the waves! He’s proud, and encourages Peter to continue forward.
“Oh, you of little faith! Why did you doubt?”
Strong praise, indeed.