Early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “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.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
One of my favorite paintings is Henry Ossawa Tanner’s, The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water, c. 1907. It is housed at the Art Center in Des Moines, IA. Every Wednesday at noon, one of the men’s small groups from New Life Lutheran Church would meet at the Art Center for study and fellowship. Some of us would end our time together looking at the artwork. I would often spend sometime looking at this painting, for it caught my imagination.
The first thing that I noticed was the disciples; how all but one seemed to be cowering or covering their faces in fear. As I look at the painting, it seems to show them shaking as they stand in the boat. All but one seems filled with fear. That one, Peter, is standing holding onto the sail rigging. The scene seems to be right before Peter takes his steps of faith into the sea. The boat and disciple’s reflection on the water gives another world view, with the reflection of the moon seeming to give light to the scene, while it separates the ghost-like figure from the boat.
Then there is the undistinguishable ghost-like figure walking on the water. This is Jesus. The reflection from the moon seems to separate Him from the boat. Jesus’ form seems to be giving off its own light from the center of his body. In my imagination, I can almost hear Jesus say, “Come.” Jesus is still unrecognizable, but Peter is starting his step out.
This painting is a snapshot of the moment between inaction and action. Between staying put and stepping out. Between fear and faith. Soon Peter will step out trusting in the ghost-like figure that he cannot fully see. With faith in Jesus he steps out and he walks on the water.
HE DOES IT!
But, then he doubts himself. He loses faith in himself. He sees Jesus on the water. He has faith in that. What he doubts is himself. “I can’t be doing this.” Then he starts to shout out for help. Help is there and soon he and Jesus are in the boat safe and sound.
“Why did you doubt?”
I think that is why this picture stands out so much for me; because we are all called out to risk, to step out in faith. We are called to go beyond ourselves to do that which God calls us to. We can remain in the boat holding on to the sail riggings, or we can step out in faith. Every great mission begins with one step in faith.