Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In last week’s gospel we find Jesus taking the disciples off to a quiet place to pray and in this week’s gospel, Jesus goes off by himself to pray. In last week’s gospel the possible takeaway message is the miracle of feeding the thousands and the takeaway message this week is possibly the calming of the waters and challenging of Peter’s faith. In all of this we run the danger of missing why Jesus felt it necessary to take his disciples to a quiet place to pray and later why it was important for him to go by himself and pray – he was grieving the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. No doubt the disciples were petrified with what happened to John the Baptist and wondered would the same fate visit them? For Jesus it was a question of what next? What was his mission? What does the Father want from him?
For Jesus, the gathering of the people of God was the sign he needed – his mission is to God’s people, to reassure them, affirm them in their relationship with God and to bring healing, physical healing but more importantly, spiritual healing.
In our readings this weekend we find a church in hiding in our first reading, and in our gospel, sailing on very stormy waters.
Elijah was hiding because he feared for his life. Months earlier he challenged the false prophets of the King’s wife, Jezebel, to a ‘faith duel.’ He won and the people could clearly see that Elijah was the true prophet of the true God and the others were false prophets of false gods. But that wasn’t enough, Elijah decided to take it a step further, he had them taken out and killed. When Jezebel found out about this, she was none too happy and wanted to have Elijah killed. Elijah ran for his life and hid on Mount Sinai. Elijah wanted to die; he was deeply depressed, alone, hunted, hiding in a cave, clinging to his faith in God by his fingernails.
Elijah experiences an amazing encounter with God; God speaks to Elijah and tells him to go outside as God is going to pass by and Elijah will experience the presence of God. The experience was enough for Elijah to leave the mountain and to resume his calling to be God’s prophet.
The story in the today’s gospel has several meanings or points to make to us. The first is the literal meaning for the disciples – I can hear some of the disciples saying, (or maybe it’s me talking as if I were there) ‘what on earth are we doing here? What were we thinking, going on a boat journey at night and not knowing where we are going and now, we face this storm where we could all drown?
The theological view of this passage is the storm is the world and the boat on the stormy waters is the church and the disciples are us. We can either look at it literally or theologically, but Jesus comes to both. Jesus comforts the disciples, reassures them and strengthens their faith and with a stronger faith the waters begin to settle. Peter, in a way, challenges Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.” Well we all know it worked for a while and then Peter lost faith – but Jesus reached out and caught his hand and helped him back into the boat (the church).
Friends, sometimes we can be over zealous in our faith, like Elijah, and can possibly cause more harm than good or we can lose faith because the waters are very stormy, like the disciples and particularly Peter, but in all of this, God will always be there to strengthen, to encourage, to reassure and lead us down from the mountain and back into the boat.
I would like to give Denis McBride C.Ss.R the last word on this from his book, Seasons of the Word: “Neither Elijah nor Peter had the faith to match their zeal, but God supported both in their dangerous tasks. That promise is extended to all who put their faith in God and in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Often when we feel that we are battling against the odds, we wonder why Jesus always seems to be off somewhere else. And even though we know that we won’t be asked to walk on water, we get that sinking feeling all the same. In that plight we are not thrown back on our own resources. In this community gathered in faith, we have the word of God and the bread of life and the support of each other. That has to be enough to keep us afloat.”
Have a great week