All of us have been stunned by those scenes of the aftermath of the Hurricane Harvey. It looks as if over 40 people have lost their lives in Houston, Texas and the bill for the damage might reach an ‘eye popping’ $40 billion. What incredible scenes of Armageddon, a city destroyed and under water: homes, schools, hospitals, public buildings, roads, suburbs and a city-centre all under water. The damage that has been done is unimaginable. This is a once in an age event, but what happens if such a thing happens every year? In places around the world it does: in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Annually a place like Bangladesh, it has on average 18% of its landmass in the monsoon season under water, rising at times to even higher, as for instance in 1997, to 75% of the whole country under water. In that flood 30 million people were displaced, the land contaminated, animals poisoned and illnesses like typhoid were rife. This year a 1/3 of the landmass is under water, 700,000 homes have been destroyed.
The bible has plenty to say about floods. One of the biggest events in the bible is Noah and the flood. It is clear that without saying it from this passage that one of the greatest terrors of the ancient world were the floods that came, destroying everything, waters that were unstoppable, they had a mighty power that swept everything in its path. No matter how you read the story of Noah it hints at the terror of the ancient world before great floods. And no matter how advanced we are, how far we have come, how sophisticated we are, that terror is still with us, the power of the elements to overcome us is still with us. Just like the ancients that same terror strikes our hearts.
Today we hear of a man in the Gospel who lived his life on the waters, namely St Peter. He fished in the waters of the sea of Galilee; he piloted and sailed his boat on these same waters. We hear of him at different times on the water being called by Jesus on his boat, being surprised by a great catch of fish, almost drowning in a storm, crossing from place to place on a boat, trying to walk on water, in the end recognizing Jesus and climbing out of a boat and wading in the water to meet the risen Jesus. It is quite clear that St Peter is in his element on the water, better on the water than on the land, the same can’t be said for most of us. We can imagine that he knows how to fish and how to steer and guide his boat and like most mean of the seas he is respectful of the waters that he sails, knowing the different moods of the waters.
He might have been good in the water, but sometimes he is not so good on land, when it came to saying things and doing things he puts his size 11 fisherman’s sandals in it. In last Sunday’s Gospel he is praised by Jesus as a rock and is given the keys of the kingdom this week he says “get behind me Satan for the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.” This is the same Peter who denies Jesus 3 times. This is the same Peter who cuts someone’s ear off, this is the same Peter who peers into the tomb and doesn’t understand anything. He doesn’t sound quite like the person you would like to have your back when it came down to it.
I think one of the things that we overlook about Peter is that he is good in the water and not so good on the land. This might be a bit speculative but I propose it to you. That in choosing Peter he is not looking for someone for the land choosing Peter h is not choosing someone for the land but choosing a captain for the ship. Someone who can ride the wave, someone who can cross the seas, someone who can pilot the boat in the storm, someone who can read the waters, who can read the map, who will not run the ship onto the rocks, someone who will lead the ship to deep waters for a great catch of fish.
Peter seems a bit flat footed on land but sure footed on his boat. He is to be captain of a new ship launched onto a vast sea.
These days we are reminded of the power of the wind, the scorching sun, the raging waves. These are days when patterns of climate have been flipped on their head, probably by things that we have put into the world, thoughtless of its effects or consequences. Even a city like Houston, 4th largest city in the USA, is powerless, absolutely powerless before the mighty elements of the surge of nature. We see in those scenes of utter misery, people waiting for boats to come and save them, some are in their homes in the rising waters, some are hanging onto trees, or marooned in islands, waiting for someone to come. It is a sight of untold misery.
By contrast the bible gives us different images: images which are at he same time frightening but consoling, images which are disturbing but thought provoking. The bible tells us in Noah’s ark people and animals are squeezed on. On Peter’s boat too, people are squeezed on too, no one is left behind. The wind is up, the the sails billow, the boat sets out into the wide seas. All are aboard. The ship is not without its captain, he is at the wheel, we know where we are going, we can ride out the storm.