19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
|Storm at Sea|
Stained Glass Window
Today’s first reading is from the first Book of Kings and deals with an episode from the life of the prophet Elijah, the greatest of all the Prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. Elijah had been fleeing from enemies who sought to kill him, and finally had found refuge in a cave on Mt. Horeb. He feels alone and abandoned but then hears a voice. He is told to go to the entrance of the cave and wait for the Lord.
Immediately, he encounters a strong wind with hurricane like force, then an earthquake, and then fire. But the Lord was not in these terrible forces of nature. Finally, Elijah heard a “tiny whispering sound” and knew that the Lord was present. Like all Jews and unlike the gentiles Elijah knew that God was not a God of earthquake, wind, or fire. Actually, by the time of Jesus most educated Greeks and Romans had ceased to believe in the gods of nature. Their philosophers and poets had even begun to laugh at them. One Roman poet named Lucretius, who died only 50 years before the birth of Jesus, insisted that things like earthquakes and storms had natural causes, and were not caused by angry gods.
In today’s Gospel Jesus seems equally unconcerned with the forces of nature. Matthew relates that a strong wind had come up in the middle of the night that prevented the disciples’ boat from making any progress. Then, Jesus, who had stayed behind to pray, comes to them walking on the water. It was this apparition that really frightened them for they thought it was a ghost. Jesus tried to calm them:
Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.
Finding it hard to believe, Peter responds, “Lord, if it is you command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus responds, “Come”.
The rest of the story is familiar. Peter starts out, but then, like all of us, he doubts and starts to sink. Fortunately, he cries out, “Lord, save me,” and Jesus gives him His hand and says the famous words, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Then they both get into the boat and the wind dies down.
How can we not sympathize with St. Peter here? How many of us have taken the plunge only to falter on the way and let our doubts overcome us? How can we not see that our Lord’s words are addressed to us all as we go through the storms of life? For some the story of the storm at sea is a great and awesome miracle. For others, it is a sign of something else, like the way Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist. But for me it is a simple human story of belief, doubt, and then rescue. Rather than castigate St. Peter for his doubt, the Church has always held him up as a model for us.
In a way, this message is reflected in today’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul is so distraught by the fact that many of his Jewish brethren cannot follow Christ. He glories in his Jewish heritage.
They are Israelites;
Theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants,
The giving of the law, the worship and the promises;
Theirs the patriarchs, and from them,
According to the flesh, is the Christ…
He says that he would be willing to give up everything for their sake. We should not take Paul’s words as just applying to Jews 2000 years ago. For him, Israel was his family, his history, his culture, and his whole life. How many of us have family and friends who have lost their faith, their culture, and rich history and tradition? What are we to do? We can only reach out our hands to them. We can only be willing to give up everything for their sake.
* Image by Melissa DeStefano. Click on image to enlarge. Our Lord reaches his hand to Peter who is sinking into the turbulent waves. Notice the lightning and the wind-blown sails in the background.
Reading 1. I Kings 19: 9a, 11-13a
Reading II. Romans 9: 1-5
Gospel. Matthew 14: 22-33 (Why did you doubt?)