Doubt or Faith during the Fourth Watch

I was casually reading through the Gospel according to St. Matthew, once again making my way through the four Gospels. I find this practice not only edifying, but also humbling as the power of the Holy Spirit allows a passage or parable to speak a little more loudly or forcefully than in times past. That is the beauty of scripture, especially the Psalms and New Testament. If we keep it close and read it routinely, it will speak to us and draw us in right where we are in life. It can provide that inspiration we are looking for, or the consolation we need in our desolation. Other times it gives us the nudge to draw closer to the Lord and simply be with Him in prayer. This was the case for me in the fourteenth chapter of his Gospel. St. Matthew recounts the time Jesus walked on water. It is a very popular story. I’ve read and heard numerous reflections and homilies. It is a routine scripture passage during the liturgical year. Suffice it to say, it is one that can be quickly read through as the mind dismisses it, ‘yeah, yeah, I’ve heard this one before. He walks on water, Peter sinks, Jesus calms the storm. Next chapter.’ This time was different. The following words drew me in to Lectio Divina — ‘fourth watch’, ‘Lord, save me!’, ‘why did you doubt?’.

“The boat was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them” (14:24-25). Here we are around 30 A.D. It is night time. Darkness covers the land. There is a storm overhead so there are no stars or moon for navigation. They may have had oil for lamps but given the tossing, turning, and splashing of the waves, I doubt the disciples had the luxury. Not being able to see while being buffeted by a storm in the middle of the sea must be terrifying — Pitch dark. No recourse. What do you do? This time it struck me as a metaphor to those times in life when I experienced a dark night of the soul. A moment of desolation when the absence of divine assistance is palpable. It is akin to being tossed and buffeted by a tremendous storm that shows no sign of letting up. I’m sure this may resonate with you, dear reader. Since it is the fourth watch, life has been like this for some time. In terms of the passage most likely four to six hours since the disciples departed from shore. In your life, it could very well be weeks, months, or dare I say years into the fourth watch. Your white knuckles are gripping for life the side of the boat praying for an answer. Hoping for calm waters. Willing to give anything for a new course in life or fraction of light to know there is a reason to at least hold on to hope a little longer before abandoning it completely. It is in the fourth watch that Jesus reveals himself. He arrives doing the impossible-walking on water. He brings consolation to temper our incredulity that hope may have arrived, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”

Have no fear. Do not worry. You are not going to perish. Be not afraid. Jesus is constantly reminding us to not allow fear to paralyze us, which is helpful because during the fourth watch it is all too easy to allow it to overpower our faith and hope. In this moment you are called to be like Peter, who swallows his fear, gathers courage and asks to do the impossible, “bid me come to you on the water.” In this brief moment he does not allow the storm of life to prohibit him asking God for help, asking Him to do what seems impossible — walk on water. Jesus does not hesitate in response. He does not refuse. He welcomes it, “Come.” When Jesus arrives in the fourth watch He brings comfort and hope. He fills you with the courage to take the leap of faith. You do, until you take your eyes off Jesus. Since you’ve left the safety of the boat the storm intensifies. That’s how desolation and the evil spirit works. It tries to further separate you from God, whom you are trusting more because you stepped out of the boat.  So now, desolation rears up like a strong tsunami, the rain pours down harder, fear sweeps in like a strong wind.  Fear wells deep within. You take your eyes off Jesus. You begin to sink. Like Peter you cry out, “‘Lord, Save me‘… and “Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him.” When you exclaim “Lord, Save me!” Jesus immediately reaches out, puts you back in the boat and calms the waves and the storm in your life.

I will admit, the storm may not be over. The desolation may return. You may not have all the answers you seek. Yet, the moment you place your faith in the Lord you will be able to see the sliver of daylight just off of the horizon. The fourth watch comes to an end. The rescue, your rescue, is punctuated with a gentle yet firm declarative sentence and question by Jesus. I can see Peter sitting in the boat. He’s soaking wet, heaving deep trying to catch a breath. He probably feels embarrassed as the other disciples look on and perhaps ashamed that he had failed himself and Jesus who he so desperately tries to impress throughout the Gospels. Jesus does not mince words, but I also believe Jesus was being gentle in tone. Kneeling down to Peter, taking his hand to lift him up and help him catch his breath, Jesus says, “O man of little of faith. Why did you doubt? It prods further examination. Why doubt? Why allow the storm of anxiety and wind of worry distract us from He who saves us and delivers us time and time again throughout history?

Our faith, your faith dear reader, is strong enough to carry you through the fourth watch. Do not doubt in the darkness. Remain vigilant. Remain Faithful.

(Gospel of St. Matthew 14:22-36)

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