The Storms of Life

August 9, 2017 - 11:10am
Jesus Stormy Sea
Reflections for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Have you ever been in a storm at sea? If you have, you know how terrifying it can be.

Now imagine being in a storm in a small wooden boat…and not knowing how to swim! (It’s been suggested that most fishermen in Jesus’s time didn’t know how to swim.) This is the scene we have in today’s Gospel.

Jesus has just performed the miracle of the feeding the 5,000 and has sent his disciples ahead of him, saying he will meet them on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. It’s the darkest time of night and the wind is against the boat. As any sailor will tell you, that’s when a boat is most likely to capsize. In the darkness, the disciples see Jesus coming toward them, walking on the water. They cry out in fear and Jesus responds, “Take courage. It is I.” In doing so, he utters the Divine Name, indicating that he is more than a teacher or miracle worker; he is God.

Peter isn’t sure that this is really Jesus so he asks the figure to command him to come. Jesus obliges with a single word: Come. Now this is where the story gets really interesting. As long as Peter keeps his eyes fixed on Jesus, he is fine. The minute he notices that he is walking on water in the middle of a raging storm, he sinks. After crying out for help, he is rescued by Jesus, who calms the storms and comforts the disciples.

Peter’s lesson is our lesson, too. We need to trust Jesus, not only in the good times, but also when the storms of life batter us. Would that we could know his presence in our lives, in our dark days, our bright days—and every day.

 

First Reading

Elijah waits on the mountain for the LORD to pass by (1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a).

 

As noted in the reflection on the Second Reading from last Sunday (the 18th Sunday) from Romans 8, everything that God has made, however vast or naturally powerful, is only a creature before the God who is Creator of all. In this passage from 1 Kings, Elijah the prophet, who is fleeing from a threat of death by the wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, and who is about to undertake a difficult mission to undermine their authority, is given a special vision to fortify him for the task. God demonstrates his transcendence and power by signs that resemble those shown to Israel at this same location (Horeb is also called Mt. Sinai) at the time of the Exodus: violent wind, earthquake, and fire. And then, with shocking irony, God communicates to Elijah, not in these signs of his power, but in a whisper.

In so doing, God is in effect saying to his prophet, “I who control the immense forces of nature am with you in littleness, in gentleness, in intimacy.” Perhaps we should see in this Old Testament revelation of the majesty of God a sort of prophecy of the humble birth of the divine child at Bethlehem, of the baptism of the sinless One in the Jordan by John, or the mystery of Christ’s self-offering like a lamb led to slaughter. As one theologian has put it, the more God humbles himself, the more he reveals who he is.

 

Second Reading

From the Israelites, with their law and the prophets, comes the Christ (Romans 9:1-5).  

 

This passage is the beginning of a larger reflection by St. Paul on the mystery of Israel’s failure to recognize its own Messiah, other parts of which we will see in the Sundays that follow. Paul expresses his compassion for his own Jewish people, “only a remnant” of which have accepted Jesus (Romans 9:27). Paul’s heartbreak is born of the fact that Israel had been the subject of a tremendous series of divine favors: the patriarchs, promises, prophets, covenant adoption, the glory of her revealed law, and Temple worship. How could it be that at this critical juncture of salvation history, in which God fully reveals himself in the Messiah for whom Israel had longed—she would miss her “visitation”? (Luke 19:44). For Paul, and for us, this is a mystery, which is somehow part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world, but a great sorrow as well. St. Peter on Pentecost says that it was ignorance on their part that made them fail to see who Jesus was (see Acts 2:14-36). But many more refuse, even after the Resurrection, to recognize in Jesus the fulfillment of the very promises in which they hoped. Paul himself had been one of those who could not see this truth, and had been taken directly in hand by God so that he could serve the mission to the Gentiles. And so his sorrow is likely over the fact that the rest of Israel has not received a similar grace and, again, the reason for that will only be known when Israel finally does come to see in Jesus her Messiah.

 

Gospel Reading

As Jesus walked on the sea, the disciples were terrified (Matthew 14:22-33).

 

In this Gospel text we can see a reflection of the themes from the First Reading. Elijah had just received a miraculous meal (1 Kings 19:5-8) before beholding his vision of the power and gentleness of God on the mountain. In Matthew 14, the feeding of the five thousand precedes Jesus’s retreat to the mountain to commune with his Father, and then he comes down and demonstrates his divine power by walking upon a storm-tossed sea.

Peter is cast in a role like Elijah, who is a man of remarkable faith, capable of prophesying boldly to kings, and yet who fears for his life. Peter, too, is bold enough to be the only one who invites Jesus to call him out on to the turbulent waters and yet who doubts when he sees just how stormy that sea is. We, too, are people of faith who still fear and second-guess our earlier commitments to God. Sometimes our faith, expansive and even heroic at the outset, turns to “little faith” when the struggles begin. Peter supplies an iconic response for all of us, crying out to the Lord for help when his faith turns from heroic to “little.” Note that Jesus immediately responds, taking Peter’s hand. He will always do the same for us.

 

Watch the short Opening the Word video reflection by Patrick Coffin on FORMED.org

(need access to FORMED.org?  Click here and register for free)

 

Discussion

 

When the Apostles first saw Jesus, they were terrified and cried out in fear. What is the significance of Jesus’s response to them, according to the video?

At what point does Jesus rescue Peter?

Why does he wait when he can see that Peter is drowning?

 

DIGGING DEEPER: Bible Time

 

In Jesus’s time, the twenty-four hour day was arranged into four parts called watches. First watch was sunset to 9 pm. Second watch was 9 pm to midnight. Third watch was midnight to 3 am. Fourth watch was 3 am to sunrise.  In addition, the daylight hours were divided into four “hours.” First hour was sunrise to 9 am. Third hour was 9 am to noon.  Sixth hour was noon to 3 pm. Ninth hour was 3 pm to sunset.

Jesus was crucified in the third hour (Mark 15:25) and gave up his spirit in the ninth hour (Matthew 27:46-50). The Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and Mary in the third hour (Acts 2:15).

 

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