February 24, 2019
“You’ve Got This!”
When Jesus heard the news that John the Baptist had been arrested, he slipped away by boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard where he was, they followed him by foot from the towns around. When Jesus went to shore, he saw a large crowd, and he had compassion for them and healed their sick.
That evening his disciples came and said to him, “This is an isolated place and it’s getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
But Jesus said to them, “There’s no need to send them away. You give them something to eat.”
They replied, “We have nothing here except five loaves of bread and two fish.”
He said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he told the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves of bread and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them and broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples. Then the disciples gave them to the crowds. Everyone ate until they were full, and afterwards the disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. About five thousand men had eaten plus all the women and children.
Immediately after this, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. After he sent them away, he went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone.
Meanwhile, the boat was already far out to sea when a strong headwind came up, and they were battered by the waves. Very early in the morning he came to them, walking on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed.
Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”
Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”
And Jesus said, “Come.”
Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, save me!”
Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You have so little faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” When they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Then those in the boat worshiped Jesus, saying, “You must be God’s Son!”
* * * * *
Have you heard the one about the pastor, a priest, and a rabbi who went fishing? So they’re out in the water and everything’s going swimmingly – in fact the fishing’s so good, they run out of bait. So the priest says, “Don’t worry, I’ll go back and get more.” And he gets out of the boat and walks on the water to shore, gets the bait and walks back to the boat. The pastor is dumbfounded, but the rabbi doesn’t even raise an eyebrow.
A little while later, they run out of food. This time the rabbi offers to go grab some more. So he gets out of the boat, walks on the water, and brings back some snacks. Again, the pastor is shocked, but they seem to think this is normal, so he doesn’t say anything. Then they run out of drinks. The pastor feels like all eyes are on him. He feels the pressure. If they can walk on water, he’d better be able to, too. So he gets out of the boat, steps out on the water, and promptly sinks like a rock.
The priest turns to the rabbi and says, “Do you think we should have told him where the sandbar is?”
Wouldn’t it be nice if just for once, somebody would tell you where the sandbars are? When it feels like you’re sinking down, wouldn’t it be nice to know what the secret is? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just stroll across the water in the storms, like there’s nothing to it?
Except there aren’t any sandbars. Not really. Just you, and the waves, and the wind howling so loud you could swear you were hearing ghosts, howling so loud it’s about to scare you out of your skin.
But then Jesus is there saying, “Don’t be afraid!”
Jesus saying, “Have courage!”
Jesus saying, “I’m with you!”
You know, I really admire Peter in this story. He really does have courage. It’s not enough that the wind is howling; he wants more of a challenge! The others are frightened out of their minds; but Peter says, “Lord, is it you?” The others stay clinging to the sides of the boat; Peter says, “Jesus, call me out there, with you.” The others must think he’s crazy; Peter says, “Wow, can I do that?”
Next time I face the wind and the waves, I want to be like Peter. I want that kind of courage.
I know, I know, in the story he loses it. He takes his eyes off Jesus and sees the wind and the waves and loses it. “Save me!” he cries. But at least he had courage to try. I want that kind of chutzpah.
I think that’s what Jesus wants for us, too. Courage to try. Courage to get through our fear, even when life is really frightening.
What is it that keeps us from being courageous like that? The irony is, I think it’s that we think we’re supposed to be fine. Instead of having courage to face what’s going on, we pretend there’s nothing going on at all. Storm? What storm?
Part of the problem is that from the outside, it seems like everybody else is doing fine, and you’re the only one who’s sinking. Like everybody else is sailing along, and you’re the only one who’s drowning. You wish someone would throw you a rope, but you’re scared to ask for one, because that would make you look needy, and God forbid people think that.
But it’s lonely flailing around by yourself. It’s embarrassing to think you’re the only one. When the truth is, the storms hit everybody sometime.
They take so many different forms, the storms that come. Illness hits – a crisis, or chronic. Age takes its toll, and you don’t want to face the small losses. Your kid is in trouble – again – when everybody else’s seem to thrive. You’re drowning in credit card debt and don’t see how you’ll ever get out. It could be your marriage, your job – or even your faith.
And maybe all of that’s fine – till you turn on the news, and all the havoc takes over. The political games, stock market gyrations, more fights over refugees and immigrants, more grim climate news… It’s enough to make you shake your head in disgust. Or want to go drink. Or stick your head in the sand.
Could someone just tell me when the storm’s over, and it’s safe to go out on the water?
What does it take to have courage, when the storms just seem to keep coming?
Maybe the first step is admitting the storms are out there, and not everything’s ‘fine.’
And maybe it’s knowing that we’re not alone in that boat.
And maybe it’s seeing that Jesus is with us. “Have courage! It’s me.”
Of course it isn’t easy. Of course we’re going to lose confidence sometimes. Of course the waves are going to get to us. It’s then we cry out, “Lord, save me!”
And Jesus does, right? In the story, Jesus saves Peter. And the wind begins to die down. And Jesus says, “Why did you begin to have doubts?”
You know, I think sometimes we hear those words of Jesus to Peter and think that Jesus is scolding him. “If you only had faith, your life wouldn’t be like this. If you only had faith, you’d be fine. If you were only strong like all those other people out there.”
What other people? The other disciples, the ones still cowering in the boat?
What if Jesus were really saying, “Why do you doubt yourself? You’ve got this! You’ve got this! And I am right here along with you.” [i]
It’s as if Jesus has more faith in us than we have in ourselves.
I read an essay recently by a man who was in recovery from an opiate addiction. I was really taken with his story – how hard he tried to recover, how many times he tried and failed, how his family and everyone around him seemed to give up on him. He said the most important thing in the world was getting into Narcotics Anonymous and having a sponsor. Because this man believed in him even when he had stopped believing in himself. This man believed what seemed impossible really was possible. This man believed for him, until he could believe it, too. “You’ve got this!”
You know, there's an interesting dynamic between Jesus and his disciples. Over time he seems to expect more and more of them. He starts challenging them to do things they don’t think they can do. He sends them into rough seas, where they’re buffeted and battered by waves. Why would he do that?
Maybe it’s because he knows that courage isn’t just a matter of facing personal storms and challenges. There’s a world that needs Jesus’ followers to be courageous. So he calls his disciples, and empowers them, and challenges them. “You’ve got this!”
I find it so curious that the story of the feeding of the 5000 comes right before the story about the storm, and Peter trying to walk on water. Because both are stories about Jesus expecting the disciples to do the impossible. And both are stories about Jesus believing in them even when they don’t believe in themselves.
Keep in mind, Jesus didn’t go looking for the crowds any more than the disciples went looking for rough seas. The crowds came looking for Jesus, battering him with their demands. But when they came, Jesus met them where they were, and had compassion, and healed them.
And then told the disciples to feed them.
The disciples, of course, want to send everyone away. They want people to leave. Their assumption is, “There’s no way we can meet everybody’s needs. Tell these people to take care of themselves.” All they can see is scarcity of resources; all they know is that it’s too much. But Jesus will not simply say, “Oh, I see this is too much for you; I understand. Never mind; here, let me do it for you.”
No, he says, “You’ve got this!”
You know, in the story, the miracle is about changing a little bit of bread into enough to feed 5000 people. But I see another miracle that’s even bigger than that one. The real miracle to me is Jesus changing the disciples into people who think they can do the impossible. Changing the disciples into people of compassion and courage, and possibility.
He challenges them… and he challenges us.
The storms are going to hit us – it’s inevitable. The needs around us will mount up – and seem impossible. But in the midst of all that, Jesus is with us, walking alongside us, coming to us in the storms, giving us comfort and calming us down.
And challenging us – he challenges us, we who would be his disciples. He tells us to have courage. He makes us deal with the needs that are in front of us. He sends us out into the stormy seas, out on our own. He expects us to do more than we think is possible. Because he believes in us, even when we don’t believe in ourselves.
I remember a devotion I read once, about the feeding of the 5000. It gave me courage, and so I offer it now to you.
There is plenty. You need only take a little time to wait on God; then you will be prepared for the work God has for you. So do not be discouraged; you can make a difference. The result may be greater than you can imagine. There is enough and more than enough mercy, grace, and love to carry you. To carry us all.
Even in the storms…
[i] Thanks to Rick Spalding for this insight in his unpublished paper on this passage for the 2011 Moveable Feast lectionary study group.