In December 1971, Time magazine reported on the volunteer fire department in Genoa, Texas, just outside of Houston. We’d need to ask Michael Baker if its true, but as the article stated, we often think of firemen spending the times between fires polishing brass, playing checkers, and showing kids the firetrucks. Not so for the Genoa VFD. The article states, “In the past three years, eight bored Genoa firemen have set about 40 fires in abandoned buildings and grass fields. As soon as the blazes were going, the arsonists would dash back to the firehouse and rush off to put out their own fires.
The Genoa firemen were quite busy until they made the mistake of setting fire to a barn owned by the brother of a Houston fire department official. An investigation of the blaze led to the Genoa firehouse, and the overeager fire fighters were exposed. Explained one of the firemen charged with arson: ‘We’d hang around the station on the night shift without a thing to do. We just wanted to get the red light flashing and the bells clanging.’”
It had probably been a rather hard day for Jesus and the disciples, after all, they had just fed 5,000, and that’s just the men. There were women and children also. Imagine all the work you put in at the family Thanksgiving dinner and then multiply that by 1,000. Afterwards, Jesus sends the disciples off in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee and he remains behind to dismiss the crowd, then he goes to a quiet place to pray.
For the disciples, the trip across the Sea of Galilee by boat should have taken a couple of hours, but due to the storm, the disciples have only made it half way by the fourth watch, which is sometime between three and six in the morning. It is then that they see Jesus coming toward them, walking on the water. They are terrified, but Jesus says to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” You know the rest of the story. Peter gets out of the boat, walks on the water, but then sees the wind and waves, doubts, and begins to sink.
In his play Measure for Measure, William Shakespeare writes,
“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.”
That is actually the first doubt that Peter overcame. We can say, “Oh, Peter doubted and so he sank,” but let me ask you this: when was the last time you got out of a boat and tried to walk on the water? And, not only tried, but actually walked on the water? Peter was not afraid to attempt to follow Jesus, when Jesus said to him, “Come.”
Now, imagine if you will, for those few amazing and glorious moments that was you. You’ve gotten out of the boat and you are walking on the water. Your spirit soars. You experience joy, but then another form of doubt seeps into your soul: skepticism. You are out of the boat. You are walking on the water. But the waves are lashing and the wind is still howling. Yeah, you’re walking on the water, but now what? Nothing has really changed. The world around you is still filled with the same harsh realities.
In a column for a newspaper in Florida, Erma Bombeck tells of an experience she had at Church. “In church the other Sunday I was intent on a small child who was turning around smiling at everyone. He wasn’t gurgling, spitting, humming, kicking, tearing the hymnals or rummaging through his mother’s handbag. He was just smiling.
Finally, his mother jerked him about and in a stage whisper that could be heard in a little theater off Broadway said, “Stop that grinning! You’re in church!” With that, she gave him a belt on his hind side and as the tears rolled down his cheeks added, “That’s better,” and returned to her prayers.
Suddenly I was angry. It occurred to me the entire world is in tears and if you’re not, then you’d better get with it. I wanted to grab this child with the tear-stained face close to me and tell him about my God. The happy God. The smiling God. The God who had to have a sense of humor to have created the likes of us. I wanted to tell him he is an understanding God who understands little children who pick their noses in church because they are bored. I wanted to tell him I’ve taken a few lumps in my time for daring to smile at religion. (Source: Dare to Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord! by Erma Bombeck. Ocala Star-Banner, February 26, 1970.)
We have this joy welling up inside us after stepping out of the boat. There is this rush of awe as we are actually walking on the water… but then what? We want this glorious moment, this extraordinary moment of joy of walking on the water to not be a moment, but a perpetual happiness, but then the world comes along, as it always has and it always will, and smacks us on the backside. And over time we come back to what folks like to call “the real world,” and that real world robs us of our joy. We doubt. We become skeptical. Nothing has changed. Nothing is better. Never will be. We sink.
This doubt, skepticism, boredom – whatever you would like to call it – is one of the great hindrances to our Christian walk. Jesus says to us, “Come,” and we do. We step out of the boat, we walk on the water, and follow him, but when we do, we can sometimes expect it to all be red flashing lights and clanging bells, when in reality, that “real world,” primarily involves walking on dry land fulfilling our daily obligations to our families and jobs. The Christian walk, following Jesus is most often about being faithful when the flashing lights are turned off and the ringing bells are silent.
When you think of your life with God, your work in His kingdom, how do you see it? Is it only when you are sitting here, in church or at home when you are being intentional in your relationship with Him? Is it just when you shoot up those little prayers during the day – “Lord, help me.” – that you believe God is present? But could it be that he is present, engaged in your life, even when you are performing the smallest and simplest of tasks? Think of this, back to the feeding of the 5,000, as Jesus – as God – walked in their midst handing out fish and bread, were his disciples or the people, caught up in wonder, love and praise? Perhaps for moments, but for most of the time the disciples were working right along side him also handing out fish and bread, and the people were sitting, eating, fellowshipping, changing the baby’s diaper… living – but God was present. God was loving them. God was working in their daily lives in the middle of the real world. Remember the words of St. Teresa of Ávila when the nuns complained that they had to leave their prayers: “Come now, my daughters, don’t be sad when obedience draws you to involvement in exterior matters [- your duties and obligations -] Know that if it is in the kitchen, the Lord walks among the pots and pans helping you both interiorly and exteriorly.”
The Christian life will at times include walking on the water; however, for the majority of the time, it is about being faithful in daily life. Walking on the water is a sign of your faith, but the true test of that faith comes when you’re back on dry land. I think that this is the God that Erma Bombeck wanted to share with that young child. The God who smiles when his beloved children find joy in simply being the man, woman, child that he created them to be.
My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “As the flames of your first enthusiasm die down, it becomes difficult to advance in the dark. —But that progress is all the more reliable for being hard. And then, when you least expect it, the darkness vanishes, and the enthusiasm and light return. Persevere!” (Furrow #789)
Persevere. When you feel the flames of your walk with Christ beginning to fade, when the lights are still and the bells are silent, when all just seems to be about day-to-day life and you are sinking, then, in prayer, repeat the words of Peter, “Lord, save me!” And whether you feel that renewal or not, whether the flames are kindled anew or not, walk true in your faith and know that He is with you. You are not walking with Christ for moments of happiness, you are walking with Christ that you may experience an eternity of joy.
Let us pray:
Glory to you,
O Lord our God,
Your love calls us to be your people.
By sharing our many and diverse gifts
we share in your mission.
We ask you, Lord,
to shape us into a community of faith.
Nourish us by your word and sacraments
that we may grow into the image of Jesus.
Through the power of your Holy Spirit,
heal us that we, in turn,
may heal the wounded.
Form us to be instruments of love,
justice, and peace in our land,
and send us to proclaim your saving work.
Renew us, Lord,
that we may renew the face of the earth.