NINETEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR August 10, 2008
1 Kings 19:9.11-13, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:22-33
In the Gospel of today, Jesus leaves behind his busy and active life and withdraws to a quiet place to spend some time with the Father. He had just taught the crowd and had given them enough to eat. Now he goes to the mountain to be alone with God. In the first reading we have a dejected Elijah for the reason that God is not accepted and has no desire to live. So he goes to the mountain in silence to the place where God lives. He waits for him as he wants to meet him. God comes; but not as Elijah expects him to come. He touches him in the gentle breeze and gives him strength to continue his mission. Like Elijah and Jesus we too need to find some time and place to have a special moment with God. The word of God calls us to enter into this silence, to enter into his silence and be touched by him. In the second reading Paul says that he is saddened by Israel’s unbelief and rejection of the Lord. Expressing the great love that he had for his own countrymen, Paul is willing to undergo the worst possible fate, being cut off from Christ, if such could possibly save those that he loved.
We go back to the Gospel. We have a continuation of last week’s story about the feeding of thousands of people by Jesus in the desert. Immediately after the event, we are told that Jesus shows his concern to the disciples. He asks the disciples get into the boat and go to the opposite shore while he himself would send the crowds away. The disciples who had experienced a great miracle were not too willing to leave the scene. They were enjoying the reflected glory of being part of Jesus’ ‘miracle’ and the enthusiasm of the crowds for Jesus, to make him their king. They were basking in the reputation of being partners with Jesus.
The gospels tell us that Jesus went up into the hills by himself to pray. In John’s version of this story he tells us that the people, after being fed by Jesus, actually wanted to make him their king and so he quietly goes away. Here indeed was a real source of temptation. Jesus could easily have convinced himself that here was a golden opportunity to complete his messianic mission. The world was at his feet. All power and glory were present at the moment. Instead, Jesus runs away to pray to his Father and renews his purity of heart and his commitment to the Father’s way. His power will be exerted through love and service and not through domination, control. Jesus’ work is not shown by pleasing others. Jesus’ mission and ours too is to serve and share our life with others.
Now we go back to the scene of the disciples. They are far out on the lake by now, battling with a heavy sea and fighting a strong headwind. They are struggling and almost a situation of lost hope. So in order to test the faith of his disciples, Jesus walks upon the water… He goes to meet his disciples in the boat! It is not an apparition; Jesus simply goes to his disciples, but, contrary to the laws of nature, he walks on the water of the lake! Jesus thus performs a miracle. But, when confronted with this miracle, the Lord’s disciples did not react well: they took Jesus for a ghost, almost a hallucination of their mind…”But immediately he spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart, it is I; have no fear.’
This in fact is the picture of the Church, represented by the disciples in their fragile boat surrounded by hostile winds and waves. It was the common experience of the Church during its first centuries and, in many parts of the world today, continues to be the case. It was a situation to create, then as now, much fear and anxiety. The storms seem to control everything and there is the so called absence of Jesus. Without their asking Jesus comes to them walking on water. His words are confronting “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.” The disciples need courage whose source is their confidence and trust in the protection of their Lord. Through the words “It is I”, literally, ‘I am’, Jesus identifies himself with the saving power of God himself. They are the words spoken to Moses from the burning bush.
Characteristically, Peter is the first to respond. He is the impulsive one but he is also the group’s leader. “If it is really you, Lord, tell me to come to you across the water.” “Come,” says Jesus, inviting him to go to where the wind and waves are and leave the protected shelter. Peter starts to make his way to the Lord, who is in the wind and the waves, but his fear is too much and he begins to sink. “Lord, save me!” is the cry, a cry echoed by Christians all down the ages, the cry of those desperate. We see here the confidence of Peter that Jesus would save him. We see the understanding of Jesus: he stretches out his hand and says, “Man of little trust, why did you doubt?” How often has Jesus had to say those words to each one of us? He does his saving act in us too. The presence of Jesus is now with them. Jesus and Peter now step into the boat and the wind drops. There is peace and calm. In Mark’s version of this story, the disciples are simply amazed at the sudden change but do not draw the obvious conclusion. In Matthew’s version, however, they understand and believe. Matthew also here features the special role of Peter, something he constantly stresses. Peter is the leader and so he is the one who steps out of the boat to go and meet Jesus in the midst of the storm. This surely is an image of the Church’s apostolic mission to reach out to find and make Christ present in the world, however hostile it may be. It is not the role of the Church to stay cowering in the shelter of their boat.
One important lesson of today’s readings is that, in our turbulent world Jesus is the source of peace. Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” These words were spoken just before Jesus was to be arrested, tried and executed by his enemies. The “world” cannot provide peace in such a situation but Jesus can and does. It is for us to learn how to find the Jesus who gives peace in the ups and downs, in the storms of our own lives.
Ability to give: “There was once a wise woman traveling in the mountains who found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and she opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked if she might give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime, but a few days later he came back to return the stone to the woman who had given it to him. ‘I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I’m giving it back in the hope that you can give me something much more precious. I want you to give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.’ “”The more you share… The more you grow…”