Mass Readings: First Book of Kings 19:9,11-13; Romans 9:1-5; Gospel According to Saint Matthew 14:22-33
Both the first reading and the Gospel passage for this Sunday are “weather-related,” a common enough phrase today relating to events outside of one’s control and relating to the apparent whims of nature, especially the weather.
In the First Reading for Mass this Sunday, the Prophet Elijah, living some nine centuries before the birth of Christ, experienced a “strong and heavy wind” from his cave-shelter, ta wind so strong that it was splitting up the mountains and crushing rocks. After that, Elijah was in the midst of an earthquake, then a fire, perhaps the result of severe lightening.
Apocalyptic occurrences were clearly taking place! But in none of the cataclysmic upheavals did Elijah experience the presence of the Lord, something that often is called a “theophany,” meaning a showing or a manifestation of God. Instead, the Lord came to the Prophet Elijah in a “tiny whispering sound,” sometimes translated as “a still small voice,” or “a gentle breeze.”
The idea here is that God can manifest Himself in seemingly unexpected places and events. From that time on Elijah understood that communion with God is less likely in the spectacular and of a more intimate nature. This idea calls to mind the famous phrase from Psalm 45(46): “Be still and know that I am God.”
The weather-related scene in the Gospel today revolves around strong head winds and high waves on the Sea of Galilee, which in fact is an enormous lake. In bad weather it can act like a storm-tossed ocean, and just such a storm is being described in the Gospel today.
The disciples of Jesus, trying to reach the other side of the lake are being tossed about in their boat. Eventually Jesus walks toward them on the lake, at about three in the morning. Initially the disciples think it is a ghost, but Jesus assures the disciples to get a hold of themselves, that it is He who is walking on the water and therefore they should not be afraid. Being frightened at the outset by what is taking place, they grow confident in their Lord who tells Peter to come forth. Peter leaves the boat and begins to walk on the water, something his Master had done.
Very quickly, though, Peter loses his confidence and begins to sink in the water, crying out: “Lord, save me!” Jesus stretches out his hand and rescues Peter, telling him: “How little faith you have. Why did you falter?” Once in the boat again, and now with Jesus there as well, the storm dies down and Peter exclaims: “Beyond doubt you are the Son of God.”
A dominant theme in the Scripture readings this Sunday is that of faith and lack of faith. The Prophet Elijah lived by faith and was able to recognize God in a particular manner that wasn’t showy or spectacular, but quite the opposite. Saint Peter in the Gospel shows faith in the Lord, then has a lack of faith and finally his faith is restored, making that bold and final profession of faith in Jesus: “Beyond doubt you are the Son of God.”
The experience of the Apostle Peter can be ours as well. At times we may feel confident and unafraid of what the Lord is asking of us. At other times we may feel fragile and weak, not up to the task, whatever it may be. This reality should not surprise us or cause us to run away.
The boat in the Gospel today can also be a reminder that we are in the endeavor together. Often a boat is used as an image of the larger Church and all those who sail in the bark of life, through thick and thin, never giving up along the way, regardless of the boat being tossed about by the waves. In another Gospel passages, Jesus clearly stills a storm at sea, showing his power to bring peace to any unpleasant or dangerous moments in life.
“Keep calm and carry on” was a motivational slogan produced by the British government in the wake of World War II, and a phrase that actually almost sounds Scriptural. It is also the idea of “one day and one moment” at a time, because in fact that is really all that we have. It is certainly part of the message we should hold dear in our personal lives.
When Peter took his focus off the Lord, he dropped down in the water. For every disciple today, taking attention off the Lord, losing confidence in the power and love of the Lord, gets one bogged down, and in the process causes interior tumult, discord, agony and distress. The Lord wishes us to place our faith in Him at all times, and thus acquire peace, an important Benedictine value and for all peoples.
May we always put our trust in God’s strength and presence in moments of danger and unrest as well as in serenity and calm. We are lovingly invited to meet the Lord, whose grace and love are revealed in the actual circumstances of life. Our God is endowed with power over all things. God’s presence and word dispel all fear and give birth to faith. God is the source of our strength, who hears our cry in distress and offers an open hand to all in need. “Take heart, it is I, fear not.” This is what our Lord wants us to hear at all times, in every circumstance of life–no matter the weather!
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB