The 14th chapter of Matthew is a juicy bit of text. You’ve got the soap opera-esque story of the death of John the Baptist and Jesus’ slight of hand in the feeding of the 5,000. This week, we’ll hear the famous “ye of little faith” that follows Peter’s attempt to mimic Jesus and walk on water, and the chapter wraps up with Jesus healing the sick by them simply touching his robe. It is a chapter full of power: false and closely guarded and true and freely given away. It is also a chapter that we tend to think we know rather well.
The folks over at Sermon Brainwave on WorkingPreacher.org, started a new argument in my mind however, when they began to discuss how we should read Peter’s words to Jesus as he began to sink. Karoline Lewis begins the debate by noting that Peter doesn’t cry out “I’m sinking” or “This is unfortunate,” but rather Matthew puts on his lips some very specific language, “Lord, save me!”
Given Jesus’ response, I have always seen this as the moment of doubt that Jesus chastises in the next verse, and while someone at SB agrees with me (I can never remember which male voice is which), at least a couple of the scholars on the podcast see it differently. Instead of a proclamation of fear and doubt, they see these words from Peter as a confession of faith. Given the specificity of these words: the fact that Peter didn’t say, “Jesus, do something” or “Oh crap, I’m drowning” I’m wondering if maybe they are on to something.
First, Peter calls Jesus kyrie, Lord: not rabbi or teacher or brother or friend, but Lord. In this moment of decision, Peter recognizes Jesus as Lord. Second, he asks to be saved, sotzo, a word used repeatedly by Matthew to mean salvation in its many forms. Jesus is named Jesus, the angel says, because he will save the people from their sins. Those who seek to be healed by Jesus are saved. The hemorrhagic woman is saved by her faith. Peter seeks also to be rescued, saved, made whole.
The trouble comes in the next verse. If Peter’s cry isn’t doubt, but a statement of faith, then what is the doubt that Jesus admonishes? Jesus uses 2nd person singular and thereby is addressing Peter alone when he says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Was it the fear that Jesus was a ghost? That he tested Jesus, “If it is you…”? That he panicked in the waves? It is always interesting to note how a small change in focus can have a wide-ranging impact on a text. So, dear reader, what do you think? Is Peter confessing Jesus as Lord here or is he simply a man hoping not to drown?