Aug 5, 2011

19th Sunday: From fear to trust

Jesus walks on the Sea: William Hole

19th Sunday readings:

1 Kgs 19: 9a, 11-13a
Rm 9: 11-5
Mt. 14: 22-33

There is a game that children or youth sometime play called “courage Camille.” One person stands behind another while the person in front, with his/her back to his partner, is dared to simply fall back into the arms of the person behind. The point of the game is not to harm the person in front of you or to frighten them but to catch them before they hit the ground. It is a game of trust you wouldn’t want to play with someone you just had an argument with!

Ideally, the person behind you would be someone you trusted who had your best interest at heart. They would prove that by catching you so no harm would come. Courage might be one word to describe the game. But I believe that “trust” is a more descriptive word. It gets right to the point of what Jesus said to his own Apostles in this Sunday’s Gospel: “Take courage it is I: do not be afraid.” (Mt. 14: 24). We can almost hear Jesus say, “Don’t you trust me? I’ll catch you!”

In the midst of a storm on the Sea of Galilee, not long after the miracle of the bread and fish we heard last Sunday (Mt. 14: 13-21), Jesus sends his Apostles out on the water while he finally has some alone time for prayer. It’s been a long day, he has manifested divine power in a way that was quite overwhelming and shortly he is to once again call his disciples to a deeper experience of their faith. At the fourth watch of the night (3a.m. – 6 a.m.) he comes walking on the waves of a turbulent sea toward the boat in which his disciples are tossed about and fear for their lives.

It is once again a moment for the Apostles to confront their own resistance and human fear and to put their trust in the Lord Jesus. And, it is once again a time for us to be reminded that God is constant and a refuge of peace.

Our first reading finds the prophet Elijah at the mountain of the covenant hiding from the actions of retribution inflicted by the prophets of Baal. We find Elijah ready to quit but as he stands before the cave, he hears the voice of God in a “tiny whispering sound.” No big flash of awesome power; no display of natural disaster; no wind and rocks splitting before him; only, a quiet, gentle, reassuring presence which instills confidence in Elijah. Not unlike that of Jesus who walked toward the Apostles in the midst of a violent windstorm. – walked on the water no less!

It is a powerful moment that reveals to the Apostles, and to us through the truth of the Scriptures, that Jesus is Lord of life and of all creation. He is there in our moments of doubt and fear with a power that is greater than whatever life can deal out to us.

Remember the day of your wedding? As exciting as that moment was, filled with joy and happiness, if you are truly honest, didn’t you also feel a bit of the butterflies? Did any sense of doubt and fear cross your mind? Should I really be doing this at this time to this man/woman? Hopefully, you entered that moment, as uncertain of the future as it always can be, as a man or woman of faith. Marriage and family life is bigger than any one married couple.

The day of my ordination, thirty three years ago, was a day of great emotion. I was not going to commit my life to only one person but to a global Church and to the priesthood of Jesus Christ! As joyfilled as I was, doubt and fear accompanied those feelings. It’s normal for all of us when we face a life-changing event which seems bigger than any of us, to feel a certain level of fear and to perhaps wish for a little more time to reconsider and be more confident.  

If you’ve received some tough news lately, news that has caused you doubt and fear, why not see this amazing event of Christ on the turbulent water as an image of your life today? Both Elijah and Peter heard the voice of God calling at times of great vulnerability. In the end it was all about trust – which is the definition of a lively faith.

Peter was willing to trust the calm voice of Jesus which simply said to him, “Come.” Come, Peter, walk on the water – how matter of fact that word sounds. So Peter stepped out as we often do with a combination of trust and fear. Unfortunately, fear became more dominant than trust and Jesus response, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Is the same as him saying, “Peter, why did you not trust me?”

Our faith can lead us through the doubts, fears, and insecurities of life to “walk on the water” right through those fears and doubts. To grab the hand of Jesus, the gentle voice of God, and just hang on tight! You won’t drown, you won’t go under – but hold on to that power of gentle love and reassurance. God has power over all things and the community of our Church is a support system which reassures us of that truth.

Jesus has shown that he has power over not just the spiritual world but the physical world as well – water into wine, a paltry amount of bread and fish multiplied thousands of times over, and now he walks on water in the midst of a strong wind. In our Eucharist he turns bread and wine into his body and blood for our salvation. Our sharing in the Eucharist, and our rejection of sin with its false promises, is the first step out of that boat.

Let’s walk on water and know that we have a God who leads us from fear to trust.