In today’s gospel, the disciples see Our Lord walking on the water of the sea. They are terrified: “it is a ghost.”
Jesus comforts them with the most consoling statement that he can pronounce: “it is I.” This, of course, is the most consoling of all statements because it reveals the real presence of Jesus. When he is present, all is well. Jesus is the King of the universe. His wisdom and his love orders all things. Nothing frustrates his desires or plans. All that happens occurs within the wise designs of his love. Hence, of course, even the winds and the waves obey his every command.
Of all the things that are possible for the human person to receive and to encounter, none is more powerful than our Incarnate Lord. Nothing is more precious than Jesus. Therefore, when Jesus says to the disciples, “it is I” he is giving them nothing less than the gospel—the very good itself of the “good news”: Jesus himself.
And this is why Peter’s response to Jesus is most interesting: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Peter’s sentence—unlike that of Our Lord—is complex.
Our Lord’s sentence is profoundly simple. It is oriented around himself. “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Because Jesus is present, there is no need for the disciples to shrink before what they do not understand. Moreover, because Jesus is present there is no need for them to fear. Our Lord is the greatest good. And he never forsakes those who are his friends.
Unfortunately, Peter does not yet live fully in the infinite power of Christ’s simple presence. Indeed, Peter introduces complexity into his relationship with Our Lord. This disciple relates to Jesus in a conditional manner. “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Peter begins his sentence with the word “if.” He renders his union with Our Lord dependent upon something other than Jesus. The real presence and the words of Our Lord are insufficient. Peter looks to things other than Jesus—e.g., Peter’s ability to walk on the water—for verification that Jesus is truly present.
In short, Peter does want to come to Jesus (and this is good!), but he does not look to Jesus alone as he journeys to Jesus (and this is not good). He makes his relationship with Jesus dependent upon other things.
Peter is not alone in his tendency to subordinate Jesus to other things. Other things can seem “more real” or “more certain” than Our Lord’s real presence. We, too, often place conditions upon Jesus. It is easy for us to forget both how real Jesus is.
Thankfully, Our Lord is always loving and merciful. His real presence is not dependent upon our arbitrary conditions of verification. And this is why when Peter becomes distracted by the things around him, Jesus does not lose sight of Peter. He never abandons Peter. Jesus never ceases to be really present. He never stops saying “it is I.”
Hence, when Peter begins to sink, the truly present Lord who reaches out his hand and catches Peter. Jesus never leaves nor abandons those whom he loves — even when they forget how truly present to them he is.
Therefore, at Mass, let us turn to our Lord truly present upon the altar. Let us approach him with profound simplicity. May no conditions distract us from his Real Presence in the Eucharist. He truly reaches out and touches us in the sacraments. He truly saves us. He never abandons us.
Jesus never ceases to say to us: “it is I.”