Jesus’ Gentle Joke?

Here’s the famous Jesus-walks-on-water passage from chapter 14 of Matthew:

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

The line for discussion in this brief post is verse 31, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

There are other instances in the Bible where “ye of little faith” are rebuked, but my suggestion here is that Matthew 14:31 is not, or at least might not be, one of them.

I suggest that Jesus is just making a gentle, affectionate joke. Think about it: Peter has just stepped out of a boat in the middle of the lake during a raging storm. And not only does he do this voluntarily, but it was his idea to do it. True, eventually his fears get the best of him and he starts to sink, but come on: He’s done pretty well, hasn’t he? And I think Jesus’s line is telling him that.

Jesus saying here that Peter is “of little faith” is like this great (if not exactly Christian) scene in the movie True Grit, when Mattie Ross (at about the 0:50 mark) says, “No grit, Rooster Cogburn? Not much!”