Monday, September 01, 2008

S

STEPPING OUT

The wind was fierce, and the waves were large. The boat rocked violently as the events of the last few days reeled through his mind. Yesterday he had heard of John the Baptist's death. Today his teacher and friend somehow fed a huge crowd with a little fish and bread. Joy can be confusing when it follows so closely on the heals of grief.

Peter didn't know John well, but what he did know of John made his death all the more confusing. He was such a good man, and a good man unlike any good man he had known before. If Peter didn't know better, he might have simply dismissed John as raving and insane. Yet this crazy man's heart pounded out love like it was his very life, and anyone in earshot could hear the drumming.

And such a ridiculous death. A girl does a striptease for a king, and demands someone's head on a platter in return. So the rumour mill had said, anyway. Peter couldn't help but feel a rising anger and contempt for this king, so weak, with such cruelty in the name of saving face.

His thoughts turned again to this particular day. He remembered the faces of the hungry. He thought of that little girl in particular, who smiled so brightly when he gave her a piece of bread. She was only one of many, and yet what she was given was just for her. He remembered the taste of the bread. It was perfect, better than his mother made. Or at least as good. In any case, it was warm and tasted like Heaven on such a grey and blustery day.

Peter remembered Jesus' face. The smiles of the healed sick gave his teacher joy, but there was a great weariness underneath it, a sadness deep at its core. Jesus hadn't intended to do any work that day. He only wanted to be alone and mourn his friend and brother. But of course, his solitude never lasted long once someone spotted him.

Peter uttered a prayer under his breath. “God, please help my friend.”

A splash of sea water licked his hands, and he remembered the wind. He thought of his life since he met this man. It was so much more than what he thought it could be. He feared for how much more it might become. God, please help me. I'm afraid.

He looked out at the sea. The moon was bright, and the clouds were being swept along by the unrelenting winds. He closed his eyes against the spray of the brine, wiping them with his dirty sleeve.

He looked up again and gasped. A man came walking toward him over the dark waters. He squinted his eyes, peering through the water's mist and the moonlight. It was no trick of the shadows. There was a figure in the distance, walking towards him. He felt his heart hammering within him.

“Oh my God.” he whispered. “It's John.”

Peter had heard stories of the souls of righteous men visiting people soon after their death. Sometimes to comfort, other times to rebuke. Whatever the cause, the thought of seeing John the Baptist walking across the water scared him senseless. John was a frightening man in life. What would he be like in death? John, I'm sorry! he thought. Whatever it is, I'm sorry!

Matthew, who never really liked traveling by boat, was crouched beside him, trying not to get sick. Peter turned to him and spoke, trying in vain to keep the tremolo out of his voice. “Do you see that? Am I insane or is there someone walking out there?”

“What are you...? Oh my God!” cried Matthew.

“It's John.” said Peter. “Dear God, it's John, isn't it?”

The others began to crowd around the edge of the boat to see what was agitating the tax man and fisherman. As each caught sight of it, a communal gasp was heard above the wind. Hands covered mouths, while more than one man screeched like a frightened child as the figure came closer.

When the apparition spoke, the boat shuddered.

“Take heart! It's me!”

Peter's hand trembled as he held the edge of the boat, partly from fear, partly from the cold, but mostly from the feeling that something incredible was going to happen. “Lord, if it's you,” he called out, “tell me to come out there on the water!”

His friends turned their eyes from the ghostly figure for the first time, and stared at him.

“Tell me to come out there!” he called again.

The figure was closer now. It rose and fell with the waves. Peter could see the man's face now. Indeed, it was familiar. When this face smiled, his doubt vanished before Jesus even gave his response.

“Well come on out!”

The excitement that made his hands shake seemed to gather and shoot all at once into his heart. He stood, and hopped over the edge of the boat as a man would hop a fence.

“Peter!!!” John cried.

But there he was, just over the side of the boat, on all fours, floating on the water. A low chuckle rose from his gut as he stared at his hands, firmly resting upon the water. He looked up at Jesus and laughed. Jesus, standing just a few meters away now, was laughing too.

“Oh!” he chortled, as he realized he was beginning to drift and spin in the wave's current. Quickly, he lifted his weight from his hands and stood. The water held firm beneath him as the waves lifted his right leg slightly, now his left. He looked at the other man standing on the water, who was still smiling, and began to walk towards his Rabbi. This was definitely not the ghost of the Baptist, but he could almost hear John's wild laughter.

His thoughts went back to John, but this time they were not bitter thoughts about his death. He imagined John standing in the river, baptizing this man who was now not immersed in water, but standing comfortably upon it. He thought of the dove which came down, and that voice, the voice like pealing thunder and quiet rain. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Peter looked intently into the eyes of this Beloved Son. His laughter subsiding, his joy increasing, he walked carefully upon the swirling waters toward the one who made his heart alive, strong, and daring.

But the wind blew hard upon the waves, and he lost his footing. He fell hard upon the water, though it was forgiving. Jesus stood not far from him, but the wind seemed to blow harder now, and Peter's clothes were soaked from the spray of the windy waters. With some difficulty, he stood up again and advanced toward Jesus. The wind seemed determined to undermine this miracle. A great wave lifted Jesus high upon the horizon, and as his teacher descended again, he realized the wave was heading for himself next.

Peter felt himself suddenly lifted high, while his stomach remained 8 feet below him. At the crest of the surf, he felt the strongest wind yet, and once again lost his footing. Rolling down the side of the wave, a surge of fright came over him. The wind is going to kill me!

“LORD! SAVE ME!!” he yelled as his right leg crashed through the surface of the water.

Instantly, he felt a strong arm lifting him up, and a strong voice laughing.

“Oh, Peter Little Faith!" he chuckled. "You were doing so well! Why did you doubt?” He took Peter into his embrace and laughed again. Jesus could hardly get his sentence out now, he was laughing so hard. “You should... have seen yourself.... Oohh my goodness. Ahhh....”

Peter blushed in spite of himself, trying in vain to hold back a smile as he walked, now in his friend's embrace, back to the boat. Jesus, still laughing, helped him in first, then climbed over the edge of the boat himself. As he did so, the wind died.

The two sat on the bench, chuckling. “Shut up!” said Peter, smiling. “Come on!”

But this only made Jesus laugh all the more. “Peter,” he said proudly, “That was magnificent.”

The disciples stared in awe at Jesus. “You really are God's Son!” said Matthew in a whisper.

But they were getting used to strange things happening around Jesus, so they also stared at Peter, the crazy man who had jumped out of a boat in the middle of a wind storm. As the boat drifted on in the quiet night, something else was carried across the serene and moonlit waters: the laughter of a man of little faith.



2 comments:

Jimmy said...

Beautiful.
We are the crazy jump-outers.

Beth said...

I liked this. A lot.
And thanks for the newsletter update. Encouraging stuff.