19th Sunday of the Year, 9th August 2020
Our Mass readings today point, in very different ways, to God`s relationship with those who believe and trust in him and, conversely, the frailty of human faith whether as individuals or as a Chosen People.
The short reading from chapter 19 of the First Book of the Kings tells of the Prophet Elijah, who had defeated the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel fleeing for some forty days from king Ahab and Jezebel`s henchmen and going to Mount Horeb, the place where God had established his covenant with Moses to dwell overnight in a cave and of his encounter with God and he is aware of the Presence of God not in the rock-shattering mighty wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire but in the gentle breeze and it was at this point that Elijah went and stood at the entrance to the cave and covered his face with his cloak in reverence mindful of scriptural refences that those who look on God do not survive. It is a lesson to us that we too need to approach the Lord in the stillness and silence of our hearts if we truly seek to discern his will for us. It is a reminder that God`s presence is always with us and we encounter Him in what might appear to us to be insignificant events every bit as much as in those which seem spectacular!
The verses from chapter 9 of St. Paul`s Letter to the Christians at Rome shows his sorrow that his brothers, the Children of Israel for the most part were cut off from Christ they would not accept his as the promised Messiah. We need, of course, to be mindful of the fact that Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee as well as a Roman citizen and he had been among those who had been zealous in persecuting Christians until that moment of conversion on the Damascus road as he was on his way to round up those who had embraced the Christian faith. Although Paul is considered, properly, as the Apostle of the Gentiles to which his missionary journeys and his letter bear witness he never loses the desire that God`s first-chosen people, the Jews, should turn to Christ and it is incumbent upon us to pray for such conversion since it is in Christ alone that redemption/salvation comes about and St. Paul makes it very plain that Jesus suffered and died for all humanity – past, present and future and so true Christian charity demands that we be seriously interested in the spiritual welfare of our neighbours.
Many Christians imagine that the Gospels were written before St. Paul`s letters but this is not so and St. Matthew`s Gospel, it seems, according to biblical scholars was written probably between AD70 and AD80!. It is his gospel too that is unique in recording St. Peter walking towards Jesus, and failing in the attempt through lack of faith, towards Jesus on the Galilean Lake. We see in St, Matthew`s gospel how the Divine Presence in human history unfolds in three stages: 1) God forms the people of Israel and remains with them in good times and bad; 2) in fulfilment of the Divine promise transmitted by the prophets, Jesus the Messiah and Incarnate Son of God – the truly God and truly man, is present among his people as their Saviour, and 3) in these last days, since His Resurrection and Ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, though his disciples, that is we the Church being His Body on Earth, is present to extend his saving mission beyond His particular historical time and nation to ALL NATIONS. And as Fr. Campion Cavalier, OSB, puts it: “The one constant in the drama of the Divine Presence in history is the necessity oif human response to the saving presence with total trust.”
To go back to Gennesaret we need to remember that Jesus had sent the disciples ahead in the boat to the other side after sending the crowds, that he had just fed, away. He himself went up into the hills to pray as he frequently did. By evening, he was alone whilst the disciples were battling with heavy waves on the lake. The lake at Galilee is one of those places where a storm can blow up in seconds without warning and also return calmed in just the same way. Was Jesus putting the disciples to the test ? In the fourth watch of the night He went towards them walking on the lake and the disciples were terrified at seeing him thinking he was a ghost!!! He cried out, `Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.` Still somewhat incredulous Peter answered, `Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.` `Come` said Jesus and Peter got out of the boat and started to walk towards Jesus but feeling the force of the wind it seems he lost his nerve and began to sink crying out, `Lord! Save me!` Jesus put out his hand at once and held him, saying `Man of little faith, why did you doubt ?`
We are apt to be critical of St. Peter for his lack of faith but if we are then we are forgetting to see that it was lack of faith in himself, lack of self-confidence, that made he begin to sink. We forget that he had sufficient faith to cry out, `Lord! Save me!` In that very statement we see two things – trust in Jesus and recognition that Jesus is Lord!
We read too that as Jesus and Peter got into the boat the wind dropped and the others in the boat bowed down before Jesus, saying, `Truly, you are the Son of God.`
Storms on Lake Gennesaret are a fairly common occurrence but St. Matthew`s version of the story teases out something very special as he tells the story of Peter`s attempt to walk on the water.
It is worth noting too that the story is in fact a theophany: Jesus revealing himself as God by proving his mastery over the waters. It is only in this story before the Lord`s resurrection where Matthew records the disciples worshipping the Lord when they say, `Truly, you are the Son of God.` The only other occasion, recorded by St. Matthew in his gospel, when the disciples worship Jesus is after his resurrection when, in chapter 28 verses 17, immediately before his ascension into Heaven, we find these words: “When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted.” It was at this point that he commanded them to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We might remind ourselves of quotations in the Hebrew Scriptures of God walking on the waters: Job 9: 8 “…who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the Sea”, Habakkuk 3:15 “”You trampled the sea, with your horses, churning the mighty waters” and in Psalm 77 v. 19 “Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.”