On the Value of Focus
This year has been full of chaos. We are, in a way, facing our own storms on the Galilean Sea, our Beloved Lord is gently walking towards us, and He’s inviting us to join Him out on those choppy waters like He did all those years ago with our brother, St Peter. And like St Peter, we join Him, and we do shift our focus from our Lord and panic when we see how messy and terrifying our surroundings really are. When we do, in that split second, we panic and sink, crying out for help, and our Lord is gracious enough to lend a Hand to fish us out, set us back in our own respective boats with a gentle question, ‘What did we learn?’
There’s a lot happening here, in these 11 verses. (I’m going to be quite careful how I approach this, so as to not step into territory I don’t belong, so I ask you to please bear with me as we venture through this together.)
Maybe it’s my imagination running away, maybe it’s just me using a writer’s mindset to look at this not just in the literal sense, but the storms in a metaphorical one, but just hear me out, if you would, please. Allow me to attempt to explain what I mean.
Our Lord, when He was in Human Form, though still Divine, was also quite Human. Even He needed a break to sit down, catch His Breath, take a break, recharge the Ol’ Batteries as it were. After hanging out with His friends all day, sharing the Good News and no doubt answering questions people had, He was no doubt quite tired and wanted to spend time with our Father and discuss His day, check in and just have a conversation, just Him and our Father, so He sent the guys on ahead so He could do precisely that. The Gospel doesn’t divulge what He said when He was praying, because some conversations, quite honestly, really aren’t ours to know the specifics. I’m certain, though, He was bringing His concerns to our Father, not unlike what He calls us to do in our own daily goings-on. Simply because He would never ask us to do something He, Himself, wouldn’t do – and hasn’t done. Plus, it’s just nice to call Home and hang out with the Family more than once or twice a year.
When He had finished His conversation with the Father, He decided to go reconnect with the guys, who were no doubt on their way home, and happened to be caught in a pretty nasty storm on the way back. Now, anyone who’s been on a boat can tell you they don’t move super fast across the water as it is, and when there’s a storm, well, it’s certainly that much more difficult to get the vessel to its destination with as minimal trauma as possible. I’ve been on a fishing boat before, when I was in my mid-teens. We weren’t facing anything like the guys were, of course, but we weren’t going too fast, either, as I recall. Just the same, the guys were using the entirety of what they had of their manpower to move that boat, and factoring in the winds tossing them about, it was likely a lot tougher than if it was on a normal, sunny day at the office.
The Gospel tells us our Lord was walking across the Sea in the ‘fourth watch of the night.’ If I remember correctly, this was after midnight sometime, and being this was 2000 years ago, they didn’t have the benefit of flashlights to aid in being able to tell Who was walking towards them, so understandably, they were terrified, thinking our Lord was a ghost. Hearing the terror in their voices, our Lord called out to them, ‘Don’t be afraid, guys, it’s Me. It’s okay!’ Can you imagine what that must’ve been like for them? Their nerves are already rattled enough because they don’t know if these strong winds are going to capsize the boat they’re on, they’re about four miles or so from the shore, it’s the middle of the night, and here comes our Lord just walking casually across the water like He’s walking down the road to meet His friends. I can’t honestly say I blame the guys for panicking!
Saint Peter’s response to our Lord has fascinated me for some time. He calls back, ‘If that’s You, command me to come to You on the water.’ Jesus responds in kind with an invitation, ‘Come.’ The remaining eleven in the boat with him were no doubt losing their minds with fear, ‘Are you kidding me, Peter?! What are you doing?!’ They must’ve been confused, terrified, and so many other emotions all at once witnessing this exchange.
Peter decided to get up and climb out of the boat, and join Jesus on the water. That, Reader, in and of itself, took a tremendous amount of faith, which, to me, screams volumes about trusting in our Lord and what He’s capable of doing for His friends.
Something we tend to forget all too often is our Beloved Lord isn’t the God of, ‘I told you so!’ When He helped St Peter back into the boat, He didn’t berate him at all. He just asked a simple question, ‘Why did you doubt?’ This can make us a little uncomfortable when He asks us this same question after we cry out to Him and He comes running. He doesn’t tell us, ‘I told you so.’ He simply sits us down after He dusts us off and has a discussion about how to go forward on a better track.
Now, earlier, I mentioned how the waves could be considered a metaphorical item in this event. It’s equal parts literal as well as metaphorical. I know, you’re probably thinking, ‘How, though?’
Well, let’s look at this under a stronger microscope. Think of a situation you’ve faced in the past, or maybe even currently as you’re reading this, that’s caused you great stress. Each of us has that one thing that causes some measure of pretty incredible emotional turbulence, right? Whether it’s an issue at work, home, or even school, there’s no such thing as ‘easy’ when it comes to certain situations. Put yourself in the boat with the guys. You’re rowing and rowing until your arms, chest, and legs are screaming in pain, but you know that if you keep putting your all into it, you’re going to reach the shore eventually and you’ll find a reprieve from everything.
As you’re navigating these stressful situations, your storm, if you will, our Lord is there, walking towards you in the midst of all this turbulence, this confusion and terror. If you aren’t able to see Him, understandably you’re going to be terrified of Who it Is that’s coming toward you to lend a hand, and you cry out. He hears you and reassures you, gently, ‘Hey, it’s okay, it’s just Me. You’re not alone.’ Unsure, you question Him, ‘If that’s really You, please remove the doubt from my mind that’s clouding my vision!’
Our Lord lovingly responds, ‘Alright, come here.’ Unsure, but wanting to trust Him just the same, you take Him up on His invitation, and you go to Him. At first, all you know is you want - need - to be with Him. You know, like the woman with the hemorrhage (Mark 5.25-34), that all you have to do is just reach out and He’ll help you. So, you go. But then, something happens that causes you to glance away from Him, distracting you from your end goal: getting to Him, and you realize why you called to Him in the first place: your storm that’s threatening you from all sides. In that split second of anxiety, you begin to succumb to your fear and worry, and it starts to take you over, causing you to cry out, ‘Lord, help!’
One of the most amazing things about our Lord is the fact that He will come running when we cry out to Him in our most terrifying and even the calm moments. He’s always there, waiting patiently.
When I first started to really make an effort to get to know Him, I was always confused by His seeming silence when I’d cry out to Him to understand the whats, the whys, the how comes. Even now, as I write this in the middle of likely the scariest situation I’ll ever know in my lifetime, a global pandemic that has this country - this world - divided down the middle on how it should be handled, I can’t help but beg Him for answers that never seem to come.
But they’re there, and I promise you He’s trying to show us that this, too, is a teaching moment. This current storm the human race is collectively facing, He’s on those waters coming towards us, and we’re crying out in fear because we don’t understand it’s Him coming towards us. Some of us recognize Him and say, ‘Please, if that’s You, help me understand!’