I think a lot of us hear the story of Jesus walking on the water, and we picture a romanticized, cinematic version with Jesus calmly pacing over the waves, calling out to his disciples in a singsong voice.
But let’s not forget: Jesus was human. And He loved His friends. So let me offer this alternate version.
Come with me. Picture Jesus. He’s sitting on a mountaintop. It’s quiet, for once—no crowds, just the wide-open sky and the breeze snaking through the grass and His hair. His gaze trails off over the wide mouth of the Sea of Galilee, which is dark as charcoal in the dusky 4 a.m. light, crackled with frost-white waves. Those white fibers swell and spread, and ragged lightning bolts through downy, gray clouds.
It begins to drizzle, heavy droplets falling onto Jesus’ face, dying the air with the smell of minerals and water instead of dust. Jesus swallows, scanning the lake. He can’t find his friends. They’re out there somewhere. Only some of them can swim. And even the ones who can, that won’t mean much when they’re a couple miles out. Water like that wasn’t something to play with.
Something stirs. A tiny whispering voice rustling right under Jesus’ sternum. They need Him. He should get going.
So Jesus stands. He climbs down the hill, scrub leaving itchy scratches on His calves. Jogs across the beach, and with another stir, another nudge from His Father, doesn’t break His stride as He splashes onto the water. It churns in waves underneath him. The corner of His mouth quirks up; Peter was going to love this.
Another branch of lightning fractures the sky. Thunder drums seconds afterward.
The jog turns into a clip. Rain needles the roiling lake surface and Jesus’ head. Air wooshes in and out of Jesus lungs, matching the cadence of His stride. His heart pulses. His Father will take care of His friends. He knows that. No part of Him doubts that. He also needs to be there, though, and quickly.
One mile slips away. Two. Jesus’ muscles are searing. Sweat is washed away by the downpour. Waves spread like cobra hoods, then crash around Him. Lightning shines. And thunder claps, so sudden, so loud, that Jesus flinches.
The shouts come in earshot. Eyeshot. Jesus slows back to a jog, then a walk; if He’s running, His friends will think He’s panicking.
They’re not really shouts—more like screams. Jesus’ chest pinches. It’s too dark to see any faces, but the voices are the same, distinct and hoarse and desperate. Jesus bounces on His toes, legs aching to run, to get to them, to take them out of this; but they need this.
Three or four of them said it at the same time: “What is that?” Their silhouettes in the boat point at Him. The next word Jesus catches through the howling wind is ghost.
Now Jesus isn’t sure if they’re screaming because of the storm or because of Him.
He calls out, tells them not to be afraid. He’s here. He’s got them.
They don’t hear. They panic. Jesus cups His hands on either side of His mouth and yells over the wind, water peppering the inside of His mouth.
There’s a hitch in the wailing. Then Peter’s voice returns, asking to come out to meet Him. Another grin twitches onto Jesus’ face. He tells Peter to come.
Peter swings his legs over the side of the boat. His feet submerge two inches, then buoy up. Peter’s mouth hangs slack, and he clings to the side of the boat for balance. When he looks up, wide eyed, Jesus waves him over.
One step. Two. Three. It’s like watching a toddler learn to walk. It’s priceless.
Just look at Me, Peter. Keep looking at Me, keep looking at Me.
Jesus hears it too. It’s a yawning, buzzing, roaring that is in Jesus’ bones more than His ears. He’s close enough to Peter that He watches the goosebumps clench on His friend’s skin.
Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t, don’t, don’t.
Peter swivels around just as a wave swallows the tip of the boat, popping the back end up, throwing the rest of their friends to the floor.
Jesus is already lunging forward, already diving toward the water’s surface, even before Peter can call His name, before water drowns out his cry. He claps His hand around Peter’s wrist just as the crest of his head disappears under the dark water. Water crashes into His mouth too and gets into the wrong pipe. As He hauls Peter up, He snaps His head up to make sure none of the others were thrown overboard. They seem fine.
Jesus coughs as He slings Peter’s dripping arm around His own shoulder.
“Why’d you doubt?” He asks, panting.
Peter just coughs and spits out water.
Jesus walks him back, and they both crawl over the side of the boat. And Jesus smiles because now He can stop the wind and bring out the sun.