My favourite bible stat claims that the phrases, “do not be afraid” or “fear not” occur 365 times, that’s once for every day of the year. Jesus used this or a similar phrase regularly during his ministry. We can take from this that Jesus – standing in the context of Jewish wisdom and divine care – understands what fear is. This means that God knows fear. Far from being a trait of the weak and cowardly, God knows that fear is real and awful and demonising.
In the gospel this week, the disciples journey down from the mountain and escape from the crowds and return to the lake in their professional capacity as fishermen. Jesus withdraws too, but not for long. He intuits the danger coming from the lake. The boat is in trouble, so are his students! Jesus walks out to the place of fear and stills the storm.
Jesus walks on the water but Peter does not. We all know that when a beginner learns to swim, it is ultimately fear that prevents them from staying afloat. Similarly here, Peter panics, loses touch with himself, with his God and begins to sink. So, in order to walk on water – or, in fact, to walk through life, we need to keep our focus on Christ and not panic.
Fear is such a common, felt emotion. It attacks us for different reasons through a variety of contexts. It is one of the most foundational of human triggers leading to the fight or flight response. Thanks to Peter, we are shown how this closest follower of Jesus suffered acutely from his own human condition and environment. Peter was afraid. If Peter feared, then surely we have an excuse to fear too? But what, I wonder, do we fear and why?
It is not for me or this post to enquire too deeply but it is a question for reflection. Jesus knows our self imposed limitations, our neuroses and inherited traumas. The storms come and go and sometimes it feels like we are drowning under external forces and internal voices. But the stillness of Jesus remains. In fact Jesus invites us to take steps of faith, like Peter. It might be a terrifying prospect but sometimes we need to make that step if we are to grow stronger and survive the trauma.
“Do not be afraid” – perhaps we need to use this as a mantra and claim it for daily life?
The Partnership Quarterly
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