19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
1 Kings 19:9-13 – Romans 9:1-5 – Matthew 14:22-33.
Jesus had foreseen that, despite the miracle of the Feeding of the 5000, He – the Living Bread from heaven – would be rejected by those He fed (cf. Jn 6:60-66). In the Second Reading, the St. Paul grieved for his own people about their lukewarmness in accepting the Good News. In the First Reading, the prophet Elijah – ‘jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, for the people of Israel [had] forsaken the covenant’ – was fleeing for his life. Jezebel, furious with Elijah for the role he had played in the defeat of the prophets of Baal, had ordered his death. Upon reaching Horeb, the mountain of God (Ex 3:1; 4:27), Elijah experienced an encounter with the Lord. He might well have expected the voice of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe to be heard in the context of a dramatic show of His power, perhaps within a hurricane capable of shattering rocks, or in a massive earthquake, or in a ravaging fire … and although these terrifying natural forces were raging outside the cave where Elijah was huddled, the voice of the Lord was not heard. Finally, when the sequence of natural forces had passed, the still, small voice (I K 19:12) of the Lord was heard in the whispering of a gentle breeze.
The miracle of the Feeding of the 5000 had failed to open the eyes of the disciples to Who Jesus really is (Mk 6:52). The disciples were in danger of the crowd (Jn 6:14f) and from their own lack of faith (Mk Ibid.), so Jesus made them get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to Gennesaret while He dismissed the crowds (Mt 14:22). Having left Jesus on His own to spend time in prayer, the disciples set off, only to find themselves battling a heavy sea and a headwind. Their fear of the barque of Peter being overwhelmed by natural forces morphed into high-octane terror at the sight of a ghostly figure walking towards them on the water (cf. Jn 6:19). Why? Because although they were in dire need of help, and help was coming, it wasn’t forthcoming in the way they anticipated. Until Jesus identified Himself, they were shrieking in superstitious fear because they thought that a disembodied spirit was coming towards them.
We too can feel as disconsolate as Elijah and the disciples when the Lord does not come to us in circumstances we expect. Think for a moment about how we respond to stressful situations. An unexpected turn of events can upset us enough to send us down to the depths of despair. In such circumstances, our faith wobbles and we tend to forget that God is neither confined by our expectations nor by the laws of nature. He comes to us in His way, not ours. He is unwilling to force His help on us: Jesus “was wishing to pass them [the disciples] by” (Mk 6:48, cf. Lk 24.28). The Lord chooses to speak to us quietly and simply, especially when we are in the throes of fear. He says: ‘It is I’. ‘Be not afraid.’ All we need is reassurance from His parental voice, and that was what both Elijah and the disciples experienced. The Lord offers us the same peace, His peace, but we can obtain it only if we pay attention to seeing Him present and active in things, events and people around us.
Now, like many of us, Peter recognised the Lord. Peter went on to say, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water”. Was he being presumptuous in putting the Lord to the test? Probably. Yet he responded in faith when the Lord told him to do exactly that, and so another miracle occurred: he was able to do it! We know that Peter was a good swimmer (Jn 21:7), but when he felt the force of the wind and took fright, he began to sink rather than swim. Christ used that scenario to teach Peter – and us – the lesson that fear and doubt purpose together to make us lose our focus upon Him and to bring us down, to sink us. The stresses of life, that feel akin to the force of a headwind, abound, but they can only overcome us when we allow ourselves to be overcome by fear. Christ comes to us to free us from the prison of our doubts, fears and misconceptions. Are you ready to call on Him to take your hand? His hand steadies us enough to rise above our fears.
Note that the disciples finally acknowledged Jesus as ‘The Son of God’ (cf. the confessions of Nathanael Jn 1:48 and the centurion Mt 27:54) after yet another miracle occurred: ‘as Jesus got into the boat, the wind dropped’. His presence delivered His disciples from the physical and metaphysical stormy sea to safety, and He will do similarly for us if only we will ask Him. If, however, we do not respond to His whispering in our hearts by becoming instruments of His help and compassion for others, or if we do not ask Him to reach out to us whenever we find ourselves in circumstances beyond our control, then we too will begin to sink. Yes, we can be confident of His help if we ask for it. Yes, we can be confident that much can be achieved when we look to Him. Yes, ‘we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us’ (Phil 4:13). God bless you. Amen.