8/4/2011 4:27:00 AM WORD OF FAITH Don't break concentration
BY REV. ROGER KARBAN
FROM A READING FOR AUGUST 7, NINETEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 'Peter answered Him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come."' Matthew 14:29-29
Before the Vatican II reform of the lectionary in 1970, Catholics only heard readings from the Hebrew Scriptures during weekdays of Lent. It's a shame we've only heard Sunday's first reading (I Kings 19:19a,11-13a) every third year for the past 40 years. The theology it conveys could have helped Jesus' followers through the centuries understand a unique dimension of God working in their lives.
One must go beyond our liturgical selection to surface its message. The narrative begins long before the first verses of the reading, and ends several verses after the reading finishes.
Elijah isn't just strolling around the Sinai one day and decides to stop by Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai); he's running for his life. Queen Jezebel has put a contract out on him.
The prophet began running at Mt. Carmel, in the north of Israel, eventually reaching Beersheba, at the far south of the country. There, Yahweh twice gives him food and water, enabling him to continue his trek.
Homilists frequently stress that Yahweh speaks to Elijah in a "tiny, whispering sound," pointing out that we're often not quiet enough to hear God's voice in our lives. Don't you wonder what Yahweh has to say to this servant in that whispering voice?
To everyone's surprise, including Elijah's, Yahweh's not pleased that the prophet's there. God sends the prophet back north with the command to get rid of Jezebel, no matter the consequences.
Though unexpected, Yahweh's words make sense. Since prophets are the conscience of the people, they can never count on being safe and secure. They're always expected to be in the middle of the action, receiving flak from all sides.
All of us have, at times, gone down roads God doesn't want us to travel. There's one problem in Elijah's case: By twice sending food at Beersheba, Yahweh actually helped the prophet go to a place Yahweh didn't want him to be!
This brings up a dimension of God rarely discussed: What part does God play in our misdirected steps? God is obviously present and working in our lives even when we're going the wrong way. It seems that the key to eventually getting back on the right path revolves around never breaking our concentration on God.
That's the main message in Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 14:22-33). When Peter stops looking at the one who called him to abandon the security of his boat and begins to notice "how strong the wind is," he starts to sink.
Eyes on prize
Once he breaks his focus on Jesus, he runs into problems. Jesus utters those well-known words: "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" Lack of focus is equated with sinking.
Paul - not just in Sunday's reading (Romans 9:1-5), but on other occasions - must have reflected on steps he'd taken outside both the security of Judaism and even some tried and true practices of Christianity.
Would he, like Elijah, one day discover he'd gone the wrong direction by first becoming a follower of Jesus, and then disregarding the early Church practice of baptizing only Jews?
The risen Jesus had certainly helped him go down both roads. But could he still be heading in the wrong direction? He has no choice but to focus on Jesus. Sinking is not an option.
When the sacrament of reconciliation was reformed in 1974, confessors were instructed not so much to zero in on the penitent's individual sins as to help him or her reflect on where their faith is leading them. Today is a good day to start such a reflection. As long as we have the proper focus, we have nothing to worry about.