The heat wave in the Bay Area is browning and burning our California grasses. We hide from the cruel sun, the thirsty sun, the killing sun. Our fragile systems can only take so much heat, so much cold. We thrive in a narrow temperate zone, our human comfort zone. I’ve heard a lot lately about moving out of your comfort zone. And yet, too far out of that zone and we die.
This week Christians worldwide celebrate the Feasts of Saints Peter and Paul, two giants in first-century Christianity. Peter is often portrayed as the heart, and Paul, the mind of Christianity. But both of them – the emotional, intuitive, forthright fisherman and the brilliant, poetic, focused theologian – knew the eternal nature of the soul, and the saving grace of Jesus of Nazareth. Both traveled outside their comfort zones.
Saint Peter walked on the water. He stepped out of the safety of the fishing boat and toward Christ in the midst of a storm. Matthew records:
24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. 27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. 28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. 29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him… (Matthew 14, KJV)
When we begin to sink, whose hand do we reach for? Whose God? Whose truth? Or do we simply sink into our own depths, since in our pride, we consider ourselves all-sufficient.
The image of Peter reaching for the hand of God reminds me of Michelangelo’s painting of Creation, God touching Adam and breathing life into him. And so in the Incarnation, God touches us. And we can touch him today through the Church, in the Eucharist.
Peter is someone we identify with. He is fallible but bighearted. He believes but sometimes doubts. He is brave but sometimes terrified. Yet he is gifted with holy intuition, suddenly seeing the truth. It is Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, who explains what it all means with words and ideas in his letters to the to the newly formed churches. But Paul was blinded before he could see, as Luke records in Acts:
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 2 and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. 3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4 and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. 6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do… 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. (Acts 9, KJV)
Both Peter and Paul sought the truth. In our world where truth is ridiculed and slander lauded, where words are twisted and innuendos esteemed, where things are not as they appear, full of half-truths and half-lies, we grope like the blind trying to see a way forward as individuals, as a community, as a nation, as a world.
But truth be told, we need not fear stepping onto the storm-tossed sea. We need not fear if we reach for Christ when we begin to sink. We need not fear the light if it is God’s light. But we must never lose sight of who is calling us to walk on the water or to change our ways: the only one who claimed to be the Way, the Truth, and the Light.