Deep Water Rescue
Stroke...stroke…stroke…! A groan escaped his lips. His muscles burned and he held his breath as he strained to pull the heavy oar up above the heaving waves in rhythm with his fellows. Exhaling, then quickly inhaling, he plunged his oar once again into the turbulent waters of the immense, dark lake. Exhaustion etched his face and echoed in his eyes while sweat mingled with spray drenched him completely. He couldn’t even take a moment to wipe the water off his forehead and out of his eyes without breaking the cycle of plunging and pulling.
When they had started out across the lake earlier that evening, it had been calm; but this area was known for sudden, fierce storms caused by strong winds funneling down through the hills that ring it. Now a wild squall had turned it into a raging sea of high waves and dangerous going for anyone in a boat. They’d had to hurriedly wrestle the sails down and turn to rowing their madly tossing vessel in an attempt to safely reach land.
Whenever the fast-moving clouds obscured the moon, it was as black as the inside of his mother’s old cookpot; and since it was impossible to carry on a conversation without shouting, Peter let his mind drift briefly back over recent events. He and his companions had just returned from a trip their master had sent them on. What an adventure that had been! While preaching a message of repentance from sin, they had also driven demons out of the afflicted and anointed the sick with oil. With awe they had witnessed spectacular demonstrations of God’s power to heal and deliver. That very afternoon his master had spoken to a multitude of thousands and had provided a meal for everyone out of two loaves and five fish. His mind could hardly take everything in, and he turned his attention back to his weary body and the monotonous rowing.
Soon gray-blue hazes heralding the coming dawn edged the darkness between water and sky. It was the third watch of the night, between three and six in the morning, when Peter first thought he saw an indistinct object moving upon the waves. Yelling to the others, he pointed it out to them, and they stared wide-eyed along with him. As it came closer, he could see it was a figure in white surrounded by a faint aura of light. Terror seized his heart, and he could hear it pounding like the surf in his ears. “It’s a ghost!”(i) several of the men screamed, and his own mouth fell open in a stunned gasp.
Unimaginable relief flooded them when they heard the advancing apparition call out reassuringly to them in the welcome voice of their master, “Courage! It is I! Don’t be afraid!”(ii) In the excitement of the moment, Peter heard his own voice boldly cry out, “Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you.”(iii) Looking straight at him, the master had simply said, “Come.”
Without even thinking, he stepped out of the bucking boat and onto the rough water. Taking a few steps forward, he suddenly became aware of the mighty wind and rolling waves all around him. His gaze fell from the face of the master and focused on the storm around him. Immediately he began to sink, swallowing the water that filled his mouth, his ears, his eyes. As one who made a living on the lake, Peter knew how to swim; but in that awful moment, he forgot every stroke he knew. Choking and struggling for air, he managed to shriek, “Save me, Lord!”(iv) At once, the master’s strong arm reached down and grabbed him tightly. Lifting Peter up and holding him close, he gently chided him, “What little faith you have! Why did you doubt?”(v) Peter had no answer.
Dripping, they both stepped into the boat and were enfolded in the hearty hugs of the others. The wind died down, and they all fell in grateful worship before Peter’s Lifesaver.
In sudden remembrance, a few fragments of a Psalm the rabbi had read at synagogue one Sabbath came to Peter’s mind, “Rescue me…do not let me sink, deliver me…from the deep waters. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up…”(vi)
In a mighty way he had experienced just such a blessed salvation that very night.
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