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home : opinion : word of faith

8/10/2017 8:20:00 AM
WORD OF FAITH
Walking on sea, or on air
BY REV. ANTHONY BARRATT


FROM A READING FOR AUG. 13, 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
'Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"...Those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God"...' -- Mt 14:31,33


In the first reading (1 Kings 19:9a,11-13) for this Sunday, we encounter the prophet Elijah, who, having faced many trials and storms, is exhausted and dispirited.

Elijah takes refuge in a cave, but God summons him to meet on Mount Horeb. God speaks to Elijah not in an impressive storm, fire or earthquake, but in a gentle breeze. The gentle voice of God strengthens Elijah to face the next set of challenges before him.

Psalm 85 sings of the peace and salvation that can come from God, especially when we face the storms of life. St. Paul, in the second reading (Rom 9:1-5), also faces a storm of sorts: his frustration and disappointment that some, especially those who have received the promises of God throughout history, have not yet recognized and accepted Jesus Christ.

Our Gospel (Mt 14:22-33) gives us the root of a saying we sometimes use about a person thinking they "can walk on water!" Jesus has just fed the 5,000; now, He sends the disciples ahead of Him as they cross the Sea of Galilee by boat.

On the sea
The Sea of Galilee is a large body of fresh water in the Holy Land. It is not nearly as large as one of our Great Lakes, but it's big enough: about 13 miles by eight miles, and 140 feet deep. It is also 700 feet below sea level and surrounded by mountains, so sudden and violent storms are not uncommon and the waves, winds and currents can be strong, as we hear in the Gospel. (One other fact: One of the main types of fish caught in the Sea of Galilee is tilapia!)

Jesus comes toward the boat, walking on the water. The first, not surprising reaction of the disciples is terror: They think they are seeing a ghost.

Once they hear Jesus' reassuring voice, their reaction changes. Simon Peter, impetuous as ever, asks Jesus to command him to walk across the water toward Him. Jesus invites him to "come."

We can imagine Simon Peter jumping out of the boat, full of courage and excitement, but this changes as reality kicks in: How can anyone walk on water? How can anyone survive in such rough water? (Fishermen at the time of Jesus often could not swim.)

Peter begins to flounder and sink and cries out, "Lord, save me." Jesus stretches out His hand.

As with any dramatic incident, there are deeper, spiritual levels to reflect upon. For example, once the disciples hear the voice of Jesus, their fear abates.

God is here
This can be true for us, too, as we face anxiety: To know that God is there can help us face our storms and not be paralyzed by fear, but move forward. The crisis may still be there, but we have a new confidence and trust. We may even experience inner tranquility and peace.

Like St. Peter, we may jump into the storm, then feel overwhelmed. The Lord can stretch out His hand and save us - and not just from crises. Jesus, our savior, has rescued us from "going under" through our faults and failings. All He asks is that we do not doubt, but have faith.

The Gospel closes with another reaction of the disciples. After all they have seen and after the wind dies, they make a profession of faith: "Truly, you are the Son of God" (words that will be said again at a very different scene by the Roman centurion during Jesus' crucifixion).

Let's do the same as the disciples did as we celebrate Mass: Let us offer our worship to God and really mean the words that we say as we recite the creed together, professing our faith. As we leave Mass, let's show that our worship and faith are real by following the Lord in all that we do and say. Let us have trust in the Lord, especially as we face difficulties.

If we do this, we will not so much be walking on water, but on air!





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