BOTW - 19th Week in Ordinary Time
August 9, 2020
In the first reading, the prophet Elijah has a personal encounter with God, not in a great show of power but in a tiny whispering sound. That is so often how we hear God speaking to us when we shut down all the background noise in our lives. In the second reading, Paul is painfully grieved that his own people, the Jews, the Israelites, who were selected by God to be his chosen people, have rejected Jesus the Messiah. It brings him great sadness, because the adoption by God of the Jews, their great patriarchs Abraham Isaac and Jacob, their covenants with God, their law from Moses, their worship and traditions, all the glory, the promises, the kings, the prophets, all led to Jesus who came from them. This is the finest testimony of how we Christians read the whole Old Testament in light of Jesus Christ. Paul’s lament here is also the lament we have for the Jewish people of today who miss Jesus as the Messiah. The Gospel tells the story of Jesus (and Peter) walking on water, explained next.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus had just fed the 5000 people and asked to be left alone to go up to the mountain to pray, just as He had done before that story began. He sent the apostles in their boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Let’s join them in that boat to follow the story up close. Storms are frequent on this lake, they cause huge waves and can be dangerous to fishing boats. Even in prayer Jesus is mindful of his apostles, and from the height of the mountain when he opened his eyes he could see them being tossed about on the sea. He had previously been at sea with them in a severe storm and he knew how frightened and panicked they could be, even with 4 seasoned fishermen at the helm. We can only wonder why he chose to walk across the water, but by that time it would have been the only way He could reach them to save them. It would be easy to imagine him running down the mountain and continuing to run when he hit the water since He had several miles to cover, then walking when He got near the boat. He certainly didn’t intend to scare them, but who but a ghost could walk on water? They were terrified and cried out in fear, based on his first words: “It is I; do not be afraid.” Between the wind, the waves and the ghost, my knees are still shaking.
But listen to the courage of Peter. “Lord, if it is really you (he still had doubts) command me to come to you ON the water.” Why did he think he could also walk on the water just like Jesus? Jesus said only one word, “Come.” Doubt in the presence of Jesus turned into trust. Peter stepped out of the boat and was standing on the water! Imagine the other 11 men in that still wildly rocking boat, talk about jaws dropping! This must have been such a proud moment for Jesus. And moment was all it was. Peter with great big eyes looking at Jesus took a few steps, but he must have looked away at the waves and felt the strong wind and must have feared being knocked over, and he doubted, and that was enough to cause what was holding him up to stop. It wasn’t Jesus holding him up, it was trust in Jesus that was holding him up on top of the water. Fear in the presence of trust turned into doubt. He began to sink. Now this fisherman could swim. In John 21:7, when he saw Jesus on the shore after the resurrection, he swam 100 yards. But now he cried out “Lord, save me!” and Jesus was immediately was close enough and caught him, so he must have been going down fast. And it was doubt that did in Peter, because Jesus said ”O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus wasn’t reprimanding him, he was giving him a gentle rebuke, because Peter’s words were a sort of confession. Notice the winds and sea then calmed without being commanded, simply after Jesus and Peter got into the boat, as if nature was aware of the incredible event that had taken place and responded in awe.
This is the second time the apostles witnessed Jesus calm the winds and sea. In Matthew 8:23-27 Jesus was in the boat with them. Then, Jesus rebuked the winds and sea and brought instant calm. That time, the men were amazed, but wondered “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and sea obey?” But this time they payed him homage, saying “Truly, you are the Son of God.” This was the first time in the gospels that they worshiped Jesus.
The theme for this Sunday’s readings emphasize trying and failing and doubting and trusting. There is quite a parallel between Elijah and Peter this week. In the first reading, Elijah lived around 870 B.C. in the era of the mostly bad Jewish kings. He is a last remaining prophet for the Lord of his time, all the others had been killed. But in a powerful act of trust in God, he had just made a very public challenge to the 450 false prophets of Baal in a contest to see who’s god was true and powerful, and had won through an amazing act of calling on God to call down a tremendous consuming fire from heaven. Rather than declare victory for God, he doubted, and now he was on the run because queen Jezebel was out to kill him. This passage takes place on Mt. Horeb, the same place Moses encountered God, where he is hiding from her. As Moses hid his face from God as God walked by, now Elijah hides his face from God at the entrance to the cave. Neither got to see God’s face. Both would later get to see God’s face when they appear at Jesus’ transfiguration when they see Him in his glory and talk to him.
Peter’s faith was strong enough to walk on water but he too got weak and sank. Though there are many stories of Peter trying and failing, trusting and doubting, he would go on the start the Catholic Church for Christ. Elijah is considered the greatest prophet, for through his example all the greatest prophets followed him, whose inspired writings are in our Old Testament. Those prophets too had their high and low moments, their trusting and doubts, but they spoke directly the words of God to the people of their time and to us today, and foretold of the coming of the Messiah. Peter stood on the faith they built, and we stand on the Church Peter built.
Theme in Our Life
Did you ever make a leap of faith, step out of the boat, and take a few steps on the water? Did you ever profess your faith to someone, not knowing how it would go over with them? Did you take that chance, not even knowing if it made a difference? And did you also then have doubts about it, and pulled back, feeling the waters rushing in on you, maybe thinking you spoke out of turn, too boldly about your faith? Maybe you texted something that you wanted to pull back soon after you sent it? Was it a family member, a co-worker, a stranger? Did it not go over as well as you had hoped? Then you can relate to Peter and that sinking feeling. Like Elijah, listen to God in that tiny, whispering voice, remove all doubt, step out of that boat, ignore the winds, and above all keep your eyes on Jesus.
The Bible is filled with people who accomplished great acts of faith as well as made mistakes. Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Peter, just to name a few. God works with flawed people. The most common characteristic of the great people of our faith is that when they struggle in faith, they always get right back up and continue on in faith. There are many passages in the gospels where you can see the frustration of Jesus with His followers, they just don’t get it! Even after He told them 3 times! He must have known loneliness. Imagine His loneliness on the cross, knowing only one of his followers was there with him. But He forgave them and they went on to build his Church, 11 became 1.1 billion. So remember trying and failing and doubting and trusting.
Preparing for Sunday
Doubt in the presence of Jesus turns into trust. Be near to Jesus in the Eucharist.
Fear in the presence of trust turns into doubt. Jesus said fear not 21 times in the gospels.
When you falter, let Jesus help you back into the boat and continue to do His work.
Let us pray:
This week’s prayer is very simple, it is Peter’s prayer: “Lord, save me!”
When you feel Jesus working in your life, remember the other half “Truly you are the Son of God.”
I share with you part of the song “Sometimes He Calms the Storm” by Benton Kevin Stokes and Tony W. Wood, (sung by John Kreiser) which beautifully reflects the message of this gospel story:
Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered “Peace, be still.”
He can settle any sea,
But it doesn’t mean He will.
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild;
Sometimes He calms the storm,
And other times He calms His child.