Gospel Reading Matthew 14:22-34

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

In this morning’s Gospel reading, we have one of the most well known (and most often retold) of Christ’s miracles, walking on water. We hear this miracle told with the focus mostly on Christ, on how His command over the elements, His ability to walk on water, demonstrates His divinity. But this morning I’d like us to focus not on what Christ does, but on what St. Peter fails to do. It’s a pretty spectacular miracle to walk on water, but no more amazing than many of the other miracles that Christ does—casting out demons, healing the sick, raising the dead. But when St. Peter becomes a part of this miracle with Christ, we have something very unique. Blessed Theophylact points out that St. Peter didn’t pride-fully ask Christ to let him walk on the water, rather he asks, “let me come to You” (v. 28). Out of his love for Christ, he asks to come to his Lord. In the midst of the storm on the lake, St. Peter steps out of the boat, and walking on the surface of the water, he makes his way to Christ. But somewhere between the boat and the Lord, St. Peter takes his eyes off of Christ. He’s distracted by the storm on the lake, and even though he’s walking on the water with Christ, he takes his eyes off of Christ, he falters, and begins to sink. At the end of the reading we don’t hear Christ rebuke the storm for causing Peter to falter; He gently rebukes Peter-“O thou of little faith, of what didst thou doubt?” (v. 32). Nothing forced Peter to takes his eye off Christ and to fear the storm, Peter makes his own choice, which has what could have been dire consequences. This image is a perfect metaphor for our lives—we find ourselves constantly in stormy conditions in life, and we take our eyes off Christ.

Before we talk about why we are so easily distracted, and what we can do to combat this, it’s important for us to understand exactly what it means that Peter took his eyes off Christ. The newly printed Orthodox Study Bible points out (in the commentary, p. 1296) that in this moment Peter doesn’t stop believing in Christ, he doesn’t deny his faith, but he hesitates, he wavers. He’s distracted by the storm going on around him, and he begins to sink because he takes his eyes off Christ. What’s going on in the world around St. Peter pulls his gaze from Christ, and as soon as he looks around, things begin to go wrong. Now in this particular passage, Peter realizes his error, calls out to Christ, and is rescued. But we have to realize that Christ doesn’t always “run to the rescue”—Peter is allowed to deny Christ later, and has to repent (to take the consequences). Unlike what some may preach in the world around us today, the point isn’t—don’t worry, God will step in at the last moment and save you Sometimes we live like that, like no matter what’s going on, God has to step in because I’m a Christian, things can’t get too bad. Look at the lives of martyrs, look at lives of Christians who have made terrible mistakes—by being created free, we have to accept the consequences of our actions…God’s job isn’t to step in all the time and save us from our own failings. Sometimes that happens, other times we have to reap the fruits of our actions, both good and bad.

The safer route, the preferred way, is to learn from the failure of St. Peter, and to keep our eyes on Christ. In other words, to keep Christ as the focus of all that we do. We have to train ourselves, to learn that in the midst of the storms of life, our only sure refuge is in Christ. As examples, we’ll begin with the most obvious parts of our life and our relationship with Christ—nothing should come between us and our worship of God in the Temple on Sundays and Feast Days. At the most basic, beginner level of the spiritual life, we get ourselves into the Church to pray, to worship, and to partake of Holy Communion. All kinds of things will pop up to distract us—work, family, friends, activities—but to keep our focus on Christ, being in the Church to worship has to be at the top of our priority list.

Time is a very precious commodity today, even with all of the technological advances we find ourselves with less and less “free time” in the day. What we do with our time, how we spend our time, reveals what our focus in life is. Not only do we make time to come to the services of the Church, we desperately need to set aside time in our homes for prayer and spiritual reading. If we spend more time wasted—TV, internet, excess sleep, etc—than in prayer, something in our spiritual life is out of whack. Christ should be more important to us than anything. All kinds of distractions come to bear when it’s time for us to stop and pray or read: tiredness, phone calls, we remember something we needed to do, laziness. If we allow ourselves to be distracted by these things, then we’re taking our eyes off of Christ, we’re not focusing on Christ as the center of all things to us. We can’t lie to ourselves—Christ really isn’t that important if we never set aside time to be with Him, especially in prayer, and to grow through prayer and spiritual readings.

The final thing I’ll mention…money. Maybe even more than time, what we do with out money speaks volumes about us. God has no problem with our using money to provide for ourselves—we need clothing and homes and food. Where we run into problems, according to the Scriptures and the witness of the Saints, is when we begin to use money to just do what we want, to get what we want to have. Things (whatever they are) are a huge part of the storm that distracts our gaze from Christ. How do we spend our money? Do we tithe, and give alms to the poor? Our county happens to be in a bit of a tough time financially—gas and energy prices are skyrocketing, people are losing their jobs—tough times are here for some and maybe coming for others. When the rubber hits the road, when things are stretched thin (and even now), do we continue to put our money into things that we want, or do we continue to support the work of Christ in the Church? We need the ascetic discipline and sacrifice of the tithe—for all that God provides for us, we take the first part and return it to God in thanks (we learn this in Genesis, one of the first lessons in the Bible is to give our first and our best to God!) I’ll end this section just like I did the section on time—we can’t lie to ourselves, Christ doesn’t occupy a significant place in our lives if we put more money into our wants (not needs, wants) than we offer to Christ.

Taking our eyes, the fullness of our attention, off of Christ is a sin that we’re all guilty of in some ways, at some times, to varying degrees. The goal is to keep our eyes on Christ. As Peter walked to Christ on the water, it’s obvious that Peter was fine. Christ didn’t change, Peter did—and then he began to be overwhelmed by the storm. God’s desire is for us, He’s jealous for us, He wants us exclusively. And He is patient, He’s not out to punish us, He will constantly call us back and forgive us, no matter how many times we find something else more attractive. God will always welcome us back. Sometimes we just need to sit back and examine our lives from many different angles, and ask the hard question—are my eyes focused constantly on Christ? This is the only way to successfully navigate the storms of life, which are ever-present temptations.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!