Doesn’t that make those in the boat second class disciples? Who wants to be second class? No it doesn’t. Jesus is fully present either way. The big question is, are you in the boat at all, because on that dark and stormy sea, there is no other boat? But don’t go all exclusive about that. It’s a big boat, and if you look around you will probably see others you always thought didn’t belong, and never would have been invited aboard.
It seems to be cemented into our brains that getting in good with God is hard, that we have to do special things in special ways or miss out altogether. That goes for believers and non believers alike. God, as we know him in Jesus, doesn’t work that way. So how does God work? In what way do we see it demonstrated in the life of Jesus?
There’s a story told about Jesus walking on water. People can’t walk on water, you know. Anyway, he walked out to a boat where his disciples were in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, a very large lake in northern Israel. All but one of them thought they were seeing a ghost, which, in those days, was more common than it is today. That one was Peter, who thought he recognized Jesus, and called out, “Hey, if it’s really you call me to get out of the boat and walk to you.” So Jesus did, Peter got out, began to walk, and sank like a rock. People can’t walk on water you know. Anyway, Jesus grabbed him, pulled him up, and said why didn’t they both get back in the boat.
Now the rest of the disciples were used to seeing Jesus heal people, and say profound things about love, but this was something new, unexpected, and unexplainable. If this isn’t enough to make the story hard to swallow, it was a dark and stormy night of violent waves and fierce winds. The disciples were exhausted and afraid. What could possibly happen next? Jesus told the waves and wind to settle down, and they did. Good grief! What could they say except “You must be a son of God.” Now Jews, they were all Jews, did not believe in a son of God, but there were lots of sons of gods in the mythology of the religions that surrounded them, so it was a reasonable thing for them to say. Are you buying it yet?
For Christians, it’s not that hard because we understand Jesus to be the manifestation of God in human form, or, as we prefer to say, the Word of God made flesh. For others, these kinds of stories seem too far out to be of any value, and that’s a mistake. Whether it happened that way or not, the story says a great deal about what it means to come to God, or have God come to you.
Some people are called by Jesus to get out of the boat and come to him. There is always the possibility, maybe probability, that doubt and insecurity will result in sinking fast, but if Jesus called, Jesus will pull them up and lead them on. It may still be a dark and stormy night, the outcome yet to be determined. That’s the way life is. In Jesus’ company it doesn’t matter. All will be well The ancient martyrs being led away to their execution knew that, and lived into it. The same is true of modern martyrs. Think of MLK’s mountain top speech as one example. When Jesus calls someone to follow him, every bad thing that can happen loses it’s power because they have entered into a greater, more authentic reality.
If there is a test to pass, it is to recognize the authenticity of Jesus’ call, and get out of the boat. However, not everyone is called that way. Most of us stay in the boat. Why? Because we weren’t called to get out of it. And here’s the curious thing; confused, afraid, full of doubt, unable to understand, battered by the storms of life, Jesus comes anyway, gets in the boat with us, and all is well, no matter how it turns out. I suppose we could yell in disbelieving fear, “No, No, get out of here: you’re a ghost, we don’t want you, go away! it’s probably what he would do – go away. Jesus doesn’t force his way into anyone’s life. The disciples didn’t do that because Peter, brave, impetuous Peter, had answered the singular call, and verified for them that this really was Jesus, so yes, they were more than relieved for him to get in the boat with them.
It often takes a Peter to lead the way to recognizing Jesus, however sinkingly incompetent he or she might appear. Only a few are called, like Peter, to get out of the boat. Most are called, in a sense, to stay in the boat. Jesus will be there either way, so don’t worry about it. Yes, but, how is one to know if Jesus is really calling? Good question. Here’s the only answer I have. Many years ago I was doing some work in northern Minnesota on questions about forest management. Driving into a birch and aspen grove, I asked my guide how to tell the difference between them because they all looked white to me. “If you wonder whether it’s a birch,” he said, “it isn’t.” The brilliance of a northern Minnesota birch leaves no doubt about it. If you wonder, it isn’t. That’s a lot like a call from Jesus. If you wonder whether it is or not, it isn’t. The important rule is to stay in the boat. That’s where you’re supposed to be.