August 9, 2023 at 9:23 a.m.
Inner strength in ‘fierce-some’ times
Sunday's readings are so rich in both encouragement and challenge for us.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
This Sunday we are confronted with two very “fierce-some” readings! In the Book of Kings, Elijah is fleeing for his life from the infamous Queen Jezebel. He has just wiped out 450 prophets of Baal, the Canaanite god whom Jezebel worships. Things look bleak for Elijah because Jezebel is ruthless. He seeks shelter in a cave, yet God tells him to “go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” Now Elijah faces the wrath of nature — a strong wind, an earthquake and a fire. In all of this fury, Elijah doesn’t receive the message that God has promised him. Then there is a tiny whispering sound. Elijah knows that God is speaking because Elijah hides his face and stands at the entrance of the cave to listen intently to God’s message.
The Gospel presents us with the second “fierce-some” reading: the fury of nature is set loose on the apostles in the boat as they sailed on the Sea of Galilee, which is notorious for its violent, often sudden storms! The wind howled and the waves rolled and beat against the boat; the apostles were terrified! But their terror intensified when they saw a “ghost” walking toward them! Finally, they recognized that it was Jesus.
Peter is not certain of this when he says, “if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Yet, Peter has the courage — or arrogance — to step out on the water; he is doing well until he takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses on the tumult around him. Extending his arm, Jesus clasps a sinking Peter. Then Jesus calms the storm.
These readings are so rich in both encouragement and challenge for us. Elijah flees for his life, yes, but he is also obeying God’s command — first to rid the nation of false gods and then to listen carefully to God’s voice. Elijah’s predicament is not unlike ours. Sometimes our culture seems hostile to a Christian lifestyle. It feels like God’s presence is hidden in the noise and confusion of storms of media pollution, political acrimony, financial woes, violence and threats of natural disasters. Fleeing seems smart. But Elijah’s flight was temporary; it was to regroup, to pray and to gather strength by listening deeply to God. Elijah received his instructions and went on to help his people stay true to the covenant. How do we find time to enter the cave of our heart, to seek out the Holy One, to discern ways to deal with the challenges of our times with hope and fortitude?
Jesus too, goes off to pray after a taxing day of preaching and healing. He must regroup and muster his strength by listening to the voice of the Holy One to discern what was next in his ministry. Jesus’ authority as the Son of God was very apparent as he walked on the water toward the terrified apostles. He again shows himself as the Messiah. His prayerful connection to his Father is evident in His powerful deeds. Jesus teaches us by example that prayer is heard and great inner strength is available to us through our connection with God. Walking on water might not be possible, but other amazing feats could be. Forgiving someone who has hurt us, being lovingly patient with others, and sharing from our lack, not our abundance, are all marvelous signs of the Kingdom come!
Peter, too, has an important lesson for us. When he focused intently on Jesus, he was doing just fine. Then he looked at the tempest instead of at Jesus. How often do we look at the trials in our lives and think we are alone to face family problems, personal weaknesses, difficulties with our job or co-workers? This is time to step back and take all of this to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” The difficulties may not change drastically, but we have the inner strength and wisdom to deal with them in a more life-giving way. The storm could be quieted and we could enjoy the peace that Jesus alone can give us!