What are we supposed to do with Biblical miracle stories? You know, those stories that bend our imagination just a little too far. Perhaps, like the story of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33), they even defy the laws of physics. Sometimes we want to explain them away, saying “Oh, I bet I know what really happened…” Or sometimes we get caught up on insisting in their literal veracity as if God’s very existence depended on us believing something that contradicts all scientific evidence. Both of these approaches are a distraction from a third important option, which is just living with the mystery.
Miracle stories are similar to parables and Buddhist Koans. They’re a riddle or puzzle that try to help us unravel greater truths about the world and ourselves. If we change the story to make it seem more plausible or if we insist upon its historicity, we immediately run the risk of missing out on its meaning. Sometimes we need to embrace the mystery. Parables, miracle stories, and buddhist koans aren’t meant to be logical and literal but are meant to be understood by the spirit, by intuition. That is, by the heart rather than the head.
For example, one meaning or truth I find in the story of Jesus walking on water, where Peter also tries to walk on water and fails, comes in the form of a question: are we so filled with fear that we can’t trust in our power to do amazing things? I admire Peter in this story. He saw Jesus doing this amazing and scary thing and after asking for and receiving a little encouragement, Peter actually had the courage to step out of the boat. He too began to do this amazing thing until he noticed the wind and the waves and was filled with fear and began to sink. Peter failed but he had had the courage to try. I admire that. As much as I’d like to be the confident and together Jesus in this story, I’d wouldn’t mind being courageous but fearful Peter first because too often I’m like the other disciples who huddle in the boat just watching what’s happening.
Of course, this is not about walking on water. It’s about the many challenges we face in this life that force us to ask are we so filled with fear that we can’t trust in our power to do amazing things? Do we have the courage to jump in the water like Peter? Perhaps one thing we can do in the face of our challenges is what Jesus did: take time to pray, meditate, and connect with the Divine, reminding ourselves of the blessings and love that do exist in this world even if they so often get lost in the horrific headlines. But that’s not enough. We also have to act, to work for a loving, peaceful world. So, after renewing our Spirit, how do we find the courage to step boldly out into the water? Ultimately, we have to trust in the power of God that resides within us.
If we fail, if we are overcome with our fear and start to sink like Peter, we need to remember that Jesus is here, walking with us. We can call out like Peter did, “Save me,” and know that God is here with us ready to catch us, to get us back in the boat where we can begin again. What might we accomplish if we trust in our power through God that we can do what seems impossible? We might actually solve some of our problems like poverty and racism. We might just create a peaceful loving world! Don’t be afraid to get wet, jump in the water!
(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, August 13, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)