Sunday Sermon for August 13, 2017, the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: 1Ki 19:9a, 11-13a; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33
In the Gospel reading today we see our Lord walking on the water while the disciples panic, thinking they see a ghost. When our Lord assures them of Who He is, Peter tests Him; he asks to walk on the water as well. Jesus bids him to come to Him, which Peter does. Then, taking his focus off our Lord, and seeing the strong winds, Peter panics again and begins sinking in the turbulent waters.
What happens next is quite interesting. Peter calls out to Jesus to save him; Jesus grasps Peter by the hand and pulls him out of the water. This is interesting for two reasons. First, Peter is a fisherman whose whole livelihood is on the water. We know that Peter can swim because when the miraculous catch was made, after our Lord’s resurrection, Peter jumped into the water and swam to shore. Now, as he begins to sink into the water, Peter does not seem to know what to do on the natural level; in his panic he does not think to swim back to the boat. However, on the spiritual level he did exactly the right thing: he called for Jesus to save him.
The second point of interest is that our Lord stretches out His hand to catch Peter and pull him out of the water while Jesus Himself is still standing on the water. Obviously, the water could not support Peter’s weight as he navigated his way toward Jesus. But now, our Lord plants His feet and the water supports the weight of both Jesus and Peter.
We see one other point that is important for all of us. Before they get back to the boat, Jesus asks Peter “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Peter had enough faith to begin walking on the water (how many of us would have enough faith to do that?) and he had the faith, and the good sense, to call for Jesus to save him when he began to sink. Remember, it is Peter who, after the resurrection, tells the crowds of people that there is no other Name given to humanity by which we will be saved.
It is very evident Peter is endowed with some faith. Shortly after this event he will profess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. You and I profess this same faith in Jesus; unfortunately, most of us are also of little faith and we might doubt or question. Perhaps it is not doubting or questioning in our day-to-day life, but Peter’s doubt did not come in normal circumstances either.
It is one thing to profess our Lord while we are in the boat, when no one else is around (or when everyone else in is agreement), and when the lake is calm. But when the storm blows in and the waves kick up, it is more difficult to maintain our faith and our interior calm. We panic and cry out to the Lord, demonstrating that we are faltering a bit in our faith. If this is the case in the struggles of daily life, what will happen on the day we are called from this life and have to cross to the other side?
We learn an important lesson in the first reading today when God reveals Himself to Elijah in the tiniest whisper of a breeze. We will not find God in the noise and the chaos. God can only be found in the quiet. Although this refers to trying to make our external surroundings quiet, it applies most importantly to our interior disposition. When Peter was quiet on the inside, he could keep his focus on the Lord. When the external turmoil caused him to lose his internal peace, he began to sink. This is just like us.
When we are able to maintain our interior peace, we will be able to maintain our union with God. We will not normally hear God speaking in words, but our peace and silence will allow us to “hear” the inspirations of the Holy Spirit and we will have the grace to do whatever the Lord asks, even walking across the water.
This union with God is not, however, about performing extraordinary feats. Rather, it is about love. When we love God so much that we would deny Him nothing, then the peace and the union have reached their goal. Look at the second reading today and we see this disposition in St. Paul. His love is so great that he is willing to be condemned so the people of Israel would be converted to Jesus and be saved. This kind of love is rare today because it is the fruit of another rarity: silence, peace, and union with God.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.