“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:31
– by Carlos Mantica
Let us reflect on Jesus’ words to Peter, his first representative on earth, when, on a stormy night, and frightened by the violence of the wind and the waves, the old fisherman, the rock of Christ’s church, has faltered and is sinking: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). This cry of Jesus is certainly appropriate for all of us who intend to be Christ’s disciples in this time and place – a time of storm, but also a time of faith.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and his words are just as relevant today as they were back then. We need to understand them, and perhaps on whether we understand them or not will depend whether we sink down in anguish or are kept afloat by faith.
What is the Lord actually telling us with this cry of his? What teaching is there for us in this gesture of the apostle, a man like us, and of little faith like us, who has doubted like us, but who now returns to the boat in order to become the helmsman of the church, Peter’s new boat, and the guardian of faith – a man of little faith transformed into the guardian of men’s faith?
If considered apart from their context, Christ’s words smack of accusation and reproach: ‘You man of little faith, how come you have doubted!’ But, is that the meaning of the message of Christ to his disciple? Is this the bottom line of these words of his when we apply them to us, accusation and reproach for our omissions and failures? We need to understand Peter if we are to know and understand what our Lord wants to tell us. In order to see this more clearly, we are going to review the full story of that night, so full of light and darkness.
The Lord has commanded his apostles to come aboard the boat and to go before him to the other shore. This is what he has commanded us too. One day we went aboard Peter’s boat, and we have gone before Jesus preparing his ways. But it is now dark, and the boat is being beaten by the waves, for the wind, as Scripture says, “was against them”. And in the fourth watch of the night, the Lord came towards them. Under the shadows of fear, nights become full of ghosts. So the apostles now cry, full of fear. Their own Lord, who just a few hours earlier had fed the five thousand with only five loaves and two fish, now becomes a fuzzy, strange figure that only increases their fear.
It is the fourth watch. That is, the time before dawn. A time of darkness, barely tainted by tiny vestiges of light. A time when you see all things as if through a veil. That is, this is a time of faith, when nothing is yet perfectly clear, and when we have to grope along, guided only by the glimpse of a light which is today only the hope of the day that is to come.
What now disturbs Peter is a doubt we have experienced a thousand times – whose is that voice that confronts him in the middle of the night, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear”?
The danger is real, and the old fisherman knows that. There are plenty of reasons to fear. But if the voice is his, if it is really him who cries and is next to us, we should not fear. Faith in his love casts out every fear.
But, whose is that voice that comes to us from the shadows, mixed with the sound of the wind and of the waves? It has always been a problem for Christians to discern the voices that struggle inside them, mixed with one another. One of them is the voice of the tempest, that cries out: “Fear!” Another is the wind’s, that says: “Confusion!” The other is the Lord’s, that cries: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear!”
Peter does not wonder now whether he can walk on the water. What he wonders is whether that voice is really his, because with him everything is possible. But he doubts whether the voice is the Lord’s. In fact, his words are now a genuine proclamation of his faith in the faithfulness and power of the Lord our God: “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.”
This is the truest portrait of faith! Words of uncertainty: “Lord, if it is you…” And words of full confidence: “Bid me come to you… even on the water.” Because this is precisely what faith consists of: full confidence despite uncertainty. Faith is decision in darkness, a leap into the vacuum in the middle of the night.
And then a word of Jesus suffices, the word that ought to suffice for all of us to jump into the water with no life preserver, with no hesitation. And that word is, “Come.” Because those whom the Lord calls, he empowers to carry out the works they have been called to.
And Peter, a man of little faith, but using the faith he has, then walks on the water. Had he had a faith like a mustard seed, he would have moved mountains. However, because he uses at every moment the faith he has, he can do the same things that his Master does.
We are called to have the same faith Peter had – faith to jump at the sole word, “Come,” when the Lord calls, willing to carry out the impossible, because everything is possible for one who believes.
Peter has already scored two big acts of faith. He has believed in Christ on hearing his voice. And he has believed Christ in obeying his call. Now Peter exercises a third act of faith, the greatest and most beautiful of all, the most important one for all of us. Scripture records it: “When he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus IMMEDIATELY reached out his hand and caught him…” This is the faith we are supposed to imitate – faith in Christ’s faithfulness; faith in our Savior; faith that our Lord will come to the rescue, even in our lack of faith, when, out of love for him, and with faith in him, we get ourselves into troubles that surpass our strength.
Faith is daring, and Peter is daring. Because he was daring, he got into trouble the night of the arrest. But there was more love in Peter’s denial at the house of Annas, than in the flight of all the other apostles, or in the prudence of that fearful one who “followed him from afar”. And there is certainly more faith in Peter’s failure as a skier without skis, than in the prudence or fear of those who waited in the boat.
I know that Peter’s faith was little in terms of walking on the water, but it was a great faith in his Lord, which is the one that counts. That is why the Lord’s words are fair when he remarks, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” But there is more than just a few words here. There is God who moves fast and a hand that saves. The Lord’s outstretched hand that IMMEDIATELY comes at Peter’s cry for help shows the magnitude of Peter’s faith in Jesus Christ, for it has gone beyond mere mountain-moving and has been able to move God himself with just one phrase – “Save me.”
This phrase was enough thousands of times for the blind to see, for the deaf to hear, for the sick to be healed, and for our sins to be forgiven. Because it was, and continues to be, the cry of faith, Jesus’ response was and continues to be, “Your faith has saved you.”
Peter failed in a small thing, but succeeded in the important one. Peter knows who he has placed his faith in. That’s why I think that he doesn’t know Christ well who only sees in his words an accusation or reproach for the only one who obeyed the command, “Come.”
What I see instead is, next to the outstretched arm, the joyful smile of Christ, with a joke that comes out easily – “O man of little faith, what happened to you?” I also see Peter, still pale of fear, and shortly afterwards, profiled against the night, the figure of two men who, arm in arm like a pair of drunkards, come up the boat amid coughing and laughing, while the wind stops in amazement, and the sun begins to peer timidly to look at the messy scene. The time of light has begun.
Scripture says that “those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” Perhaps the difference lay in the fact that Peter believed that beforehand. “‘Who do men say that the Son of man is?’ … Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”
This is a truth we need to appropriate. Just a few hours earlier, the apostles had seen the feeding of the crowd. In the darkness of night and in the midst of the storm they were quick to forget it. And that can happen to all of us. That’s why it is so important to always bear in mind who it is that we follow, who it is that we believe in, who it is that we trust, willing to obey his voice when he says, “Come;” willing to attempt the impossible, knowing that he will come immediately to our help, when our little faith is of no help.
Because, brothers and sisters, our trust is not in our faith in the Lord, but in the Lord of our faith, the Lord of infinite faithfulness, the King of kings, before whom every knee bows in heaven and on earth, because he has been made Lord of all that exists, to the glory of God the Father.
It can be said that we are presently going through times of darkness; we are in the fourth watch of the night. We sail through stormy waters, and the wind is against us. Days of darkness, of dense mist, come upon us. Light means certainty and safety. But uncertainty is the realm of faith. In a certain way, we live in privileged times. Very few realize that this is the only time when man can have faith, our only chance to exercise it. A day will come when faith and hope will be useless, and only love will be left. But this is a time to believe and to hope.
This is the time to recognize in the shadows the figure and voice of him who says to us, “Come.” This is the time to walk on the water, to do the same things he does, and even greater, according to his promise. A time to take risks, trusting that the Lord will IMMEDIATELY come to our help, if we walk towards him, following his voice. Peter’s big mistake was to stare at the waves instead of continuing to look at Christ. If that ever happens to us, let us not hesitate to cry out, “Lord, save us, for we are drowning!” It will be a cry of faith in the Savior. It was for our salvation that Jesus shed his blood. It was for our salvation that God gave his Son.
In the fourth watch of the night, the voice of the Lord says to you, “Take heart, fear not.” You should ask yourself whether it is his voice calling inside you, saying, “Come”, and jump to the water trusting only him. And if something does not come out the way you expected it to, try to discern the smile of Christ, and God’s hand reaching out to you and saying, “O man of little faith, why do you doubt? Move forward!” It is not a voice of reproach, but of encouragement. Move forward, for I am with you always to the end of the age.
O Lord of smiles, who from heaven laugh at your enemies, Prince of peace who send forth your breath and renew all things, who withdraw your breath and they perish, we ask you that you will allow us to come to you, in the midst of the waves, taking with us those who, full of fear, can only see ghosts. Let your face shine upon them in this fourth watch of the night, because thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, O Savior of the world who lives and reigns for ever. Hallelujah
Carlos Mantica is a founder of The City of God community (La Cuidad de Dios) in Managua, Nicaragua, and a founding leader of the Sword of the Spirit. He served as president of the Sword of the Spirit between 1991 and 1995. This article is adapted from the book, From Egghead to Birdhood (hatch or rot as a Christian), (c) copyright 2001 by Carlos Mantica. Taken from Living Bulwark February 2020. Used with permission.