9 August 2020
I Can Because He Can
1 Kings 19:9a.11-13a; Psalm 85(84): 9ab-10.11-12.13-14; Romans 9:1-5; Mt14:22-33
I often associate this story of Peter requesting to walk on the water with the children’s story, “The Little Engine That Could.” It’s about a small locomotive that goes up a hill that larger engines have failed to climb. The little engine was able to do so because it said over and over, “I think I can, I think I can.” Because it thought it could, it in fact became the “little engine that could.” The Little Engine is loved because it gives confidence. That is probably why the story was told in the first place – as a way to encourage children facing the big, overwhelming and confusing world dominated by grown-ups.
This may also be part of the reason the story of Peter on the water is in Matthew’s Gospel. The evangelist wanted to encourage the Church and individual Christians to trust in the Lord, in the power of the Lord.
Notice how Peter’s walking on water was not the idea of Jesus. It was Peter’s. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you across the water,” he said. It was like Peter asking the Lord: “Tell me to do the impossible.” So, Jesus tells him to go ahead and do the impossible: “Come.” And Peter does. He walks on the water. Perhaps as he got out of the boat onto the water, he was thinking, “I think I can, I think I can.” So long as he thought so, he could and did walk on the water. The problem came, Matthew says, “when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened.” His confident “I think I can” became a rational “I think I can’t do this.” So, he started sinking and cried to the Lord to save him. Jesus did so, but at the same time, he rebuked Peter. “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?” But why should Peter not doubt? People do not walk on water. One should not even try something so unrealistic. It’s irrational.
We are like Peter. We ask the Lord to have us do the impossible – to bring peace, to show the love of God to the world – and He says, “Go ahead.” Then reason and our hearts tell us that it is impossible. Why do we even think to do the impossible? It is impossible for the little engine to climb the big hill. It is impossible for a Galilean fisherman to walk on water. We may imitate Peter in asking the Lord to give us an impossible task. But notice that Peter did not walk on water through his own power even if it was his own idea. It was Jesus responding to Peter’s faith that kept him up. I imagine what Peter must be thinking before making that quite interesting request. Peter’s mantra may have actually been, “I think Jesus can, I think He can let me walk on water.” Committing himself to Jesus enabled Peter to not only suggest and then accept the Lord’s call to come across the water, … but to actually do so. It was when his confidence in that initial faith faltered that he began to sink. The Lord is willing to support us in doing even the rationally impossible. He gives us the idea. He shows us the example. He inspires that initial fervor. What we need, as Jesus hints, is enough confident faith to step out of the security of the boat that we call everyday “sensible/ rational” life. To love the world as God loves, we need foolhardy courage. Coming from the secular world and fitting into a different lifestyle — into the monastic life — takes that confident trust in the Lord.
Peter begins his request by saying, “Lord, if it is you.” This is more of an affirmation than a doubt of the Lord’s enduring presence and power. If we affirm Jesus as Emmanuel – the “God with us,” then, we can and may clamor and strive to do what may seem impossible. Does the world seethe with resentment and bitterness? Command me, Lord, to forgive. Is the world weighed down by fear and hopelessness? Command me, Lord, to bring peace. Is the world all gloom and doom? Command me, Lord, to bring smile, joy, and confidence. Is the Covid-19 Pandemic isolation wearing me down? Command me, Lord, to be patiently hopeful and humble to follow expert advice. Is my heart bursting with inner turmoil? Command me, Lord, to embrace contemplative silence and docility. Like Elijah, let me encounter you in the quiet stillness of my heart.
All I need is confidence that Jesus is indeed with me. Then, my mantra becomes, “I think I can because I know He can,” and the world will see me do the impossible. I will be “The Little Christian That Could” or “The Little Monk That Could.” And if we do this as a community with whatever daunting task is at hand, then we shall be “The Little Community That Could!”