Don’t Look Down!
Nik Wallenda, a member of the famous Wallenda family (“The Flying Wallendas”) recently walked 1,400 feet across the Little Colorado River Gorge on a wire stretched 1,500 feet above the canyon floor. He made the walk without a net or safety harness. This is the kind of thing his family has been doing for generations in spite of several serious injuries and even deaths. Nik Wallenda was heard to pray for most of the walk across the canyon. Good idea!
I have been told that feats like this are only possible if you don’t look down. My tolerance for heights is not great (I get nervous watching someone on top of a building in a movie), but it sounds reasonable to me. Looking down apparently changes the perspective enough to disorient the person trying to walk on a high wire, or stand on a window ledge on a skyscraper, or any other height-involved activity. I promise you, I’ll never know.
Apparently, not looking down also helps one carry a container full of liquid, such as a teacup. If you look at the cup you’re more likely to spill. I try to avoid carrying full teacups.
Just before today’s reading, Jesus has fed 5,000 men (plus women and children) with only five loaves and two fish. After dismissing the crowd, Jesus told his disciples to sail to the other shore of the Sea of Galilee. “I’ll catch up with you later,” he said, and went off by himself to pray.
Meanwhile, out on the lake, the disciples were battling the wind. They were having a difficult time trying to reach shore. The wind was tossing the boat around like a dog worrying a snake. If you’ve ever seen a dog grab a snake by the neck and shake it until it was dead you’ll understand what the disciples were going through.
Suddenly, they saw someone walking toward them across the water. They thought it was a ghost. Because we know the story, we know it was Jesus. The question in my mind is: When Jesus said he would join them later, how did they think he was going to get there? How else was he going to get to them if not by walking across the lake from point A to point B?
Jesus, sensing their fear, called out to them, “Don’t be afraid, it is I.” That was enough to reassure them. Then Peter—the always impulsive Peter—said to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you.”
Why “command?” Did Peter not have enough faith to try it on his own? Did he need an invitation? Or Jesus’ approval? Or an ego boost? Whatever Peter’s reason, Jesus told him to come.
Matthew says, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid,” and began to sink. We know you can’t “see” the wind, you can only feel it. Is that what Matthew meant? Did Peter feel the wind full in his face and begin to panic? Did it toss him around as it tossed the boat? Or did Peter look down and change his perspective? That would be my guess. Peter was doing all right as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, but once he took his mind off his Master, he lost his footing and began to go under. Of course Jesus saved him. He reached out, grabbed Peter, and got both of them in the boat. Immediately the wind calmed down.
How often we are like Peter. We start off with visions of doing some great work for God, then lose our focus. Instead of keeping our minds—our eyes—on God, and working in the strength of the Holy Spirit, we change our perspective and lose sight of our goal. We need to remember that there’s not much we can do under our own power. We must learn from Peter not to look down, but to keep our eyes on the Master.