The gospel for this year's celebration of the Ascension is Matthew's account (28:16-20). The apostles havegone to Galilee as they'd been instructed, and there the risen Jesus appeared to him. Then follows a puzzling verse: "When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted."
The Greek verb meaning “to doubt” is very revealing: distazō comes from di- “double” and stasis, “standing.” Literally it means "to stand in two places at the same time."
It's used to describe what happened to St. Peter one night on the Sea of Galilee. The apostles, you remember, were out on the sea in a boat in the middle of the night. Jesus, who had remained back on shore, suddenly appeared walking toward them on the water. They were frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost. Peter, being his usual impulsive self, spoke up, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you over the water,” and Jesus invited him, “Come!” Peter immediately climbed out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. So far so good. But when he saw how strong the wind was, Peter suddenly remembered that humans can’t walk on water, and he became terrified. He started to sink, and shouted, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand, caught hold of Peter and lifted him to safety. Then the Lord scolded him, “O you of little faith! Why did you doubt (distazo)"
When Jesus asks Peter "Why did you doubt" he is asking literally “Why were you standing in two places at once?” His question describes Peter's situation perfectly: Peter is thinking two contradictory things, namely that Jesus has the power to let someone walk on water, and that walking on water is physically impossible for humans, including him.
So, when distazo appears in the verse "they worshiped, but they doubted," we have to wonder what's going on, First, the Greek can also be translated "but some doubted." You can take your choice: Was it all of the disciples who doubted, or just certain ones?
|'Ascension' by Mariotto di Nardo (c.1395)|
Second, the scholars wonder what was the object of the doubt. Was it that they doubted the possibility of the experience? Or maybe they were hesitant about "worshiping" Jesus?
In any case, maybe this little verse can be a source of consolation for you as it is for me. I sometimes find myself walking on the waves with Peter, trusting that the Lord will take care of me, when all of a sudden I lose my nerve and start to worry about some problem that I had already turned over to the Lord. I'm starting to "stand in two places" at the same time: I'm sure that God will take care of my problem, but at the same time I"m worried that God won't come through for me. And, just like Peter, I start to sink into the sea, swallowed up by waves of anxiety and stress.
Then, with Peter, I cry out "Lord, save me." And he always does, of course.
I just wish that the risen Lord didn't have to keep yanking me out of the waves. But at least I'm in good company: Peter and the disciples. This is why we need the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Stay tuned.