Getting The Point
One of Jesus’ most famous miracles was The Walking on the Water. I once saw a cartoon showing Jesus standing on the water greeting Peter who is wearing a life preserver. The caption read: “Sometimes we just miss the point”. Jesus had taken one look at Peter and buried his head in his hand in disbelief.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Faith is hard. But during difficult times we often do miss the point. Sometimes we have to face our fears, embrace the adventure ahead of us and take the plunge. This isn’t easy to do. Often times there are things that hold us back. We feel blocked. But what holds us back from taking the plunge? How do we overcome our fears?
Peter the Saint
In tonight’s Gospel, Peter overcomes his fear and jumps out of the boat. I love Peter. He acts quickly and sometimes even without thinking. He shoots off his mouth at times when it would have been better to keep it shut. Guilty as charged, he reminds me of myself! And Peter helps me a great deal, to realize that I don’t have to be perfect! He relieves me of that burden. After all, he was the most imperfect of the disciples and Jesus chose him anyway to be the first among equals “primus inter pares”. And Peter understands failure. After all, he denied Jesus. But he experienced the loving grace of forgiveness when he met the risen Christ. Peter experienced the joy of being an instrument of God on the day of Pentecost when he preached a sermon that led 5,000 people to join them.
When it comes to Peter walking on the water, I have heard other theologians criticize him for his lack of faith. True, Jesus did call Peter a man of little faith, but what about the other eleven? None of them got out of the boat. When it comes to trusting Jesus, what keeps us from getting out of the boat? What keeps us from daring to fully trust Christ?
In our First Reading we heard a very interesting piece of scripture. Elijah had been victorious in his challenge of the leaders of Israel and now he was on the run from the Queen Isabel who had sent him a death threat. He was running for his life when he found shelter in a cave at the mountain Horeb. I once saw an interesting painting of this very scene. Elijah, is crouched over in the small opening of a cave with his face covered. It seems like the sky is falling all around him; there’s lightening, fire and wind as the earth quakes. The Lord was not found in the violence that surrounded Elijah. The Lord was in the tiny whispering sound.
Gospel According to Matthew
And that brings me to our Gospel. Jesus had just experienced some pretty difficult news. He’d been rejected in his hometown of Nazareth and then he heard of the death of John the Baptist at the hands of the wicked Herod. Looking for solitude Jesus got into a boat and went out by himself. It wasn’t long before a large crowd began to follow. This is when he performed the miracle of the “Feeding of Five Thousand”. Here, our Gospel begins as Jesus had the disciples get into a boat and he went off to pray. Out on the Sea of Galilee, the winds started to toss around the boatload of disciples and then they saw a figure walking on the water toward them. They were terrified and cried out in fear.
Does this kind of situation sound familiar? Isn’t that the way we are? We get caught up in something that is too big to handle and then fear and anxiety get a hold of us. It’s in these feelings and uncertainties that make everything seem bigger and much worse than what they really are. That is what fear does.
My dear friends, it’s in the middle of fear and uncertainty that Jesus speaks to us and says “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid”.
Peter got out of the boat when Jesus spoke to him and for a while everything was great, and he was walking on water! He looked around and became afraid. It’s when he took his eyes off Jesus that he began to sink. He called out and of course Jesus saved him, but Peter had missed the point. As he stretched out his hand Jesus asked him “why did you doubt?” It’s kind of like a child learning to ride a bike. Once they start to peddle on their own, they realize it works and with the realization of what’s actually happening the kid falls. Like Peter, we too get distracted by the storms in our lives. Everything is going great, we have our eyes fixed forward and then something happens and fear grabs ahold of us. We become blocked and lose sight of Jesus and start to sink. We begin to have doubts and we question our faith.
Living The Gospel
Brothers and sisters, Jesus may not come when we want. He might not do what we want, or follow us in every direction, but Jesus does care. Jesus does come. Jesus does save. But we must have trust and faith.Now, let’s go back to the image I gave you in the beginning – of the cartoon with Peter standing in front of Jesus wearing a duck life preserver. A life vest is essential for non-swimmers whenever they go out on a boat. It’s a security measure in case of a rough waters. Strong, experienced swimmers don’t usually need one because they can manage the water for a certain amount of time. And what makes a swimmer strong and experienced? Practice. We too need practice. Practice strengthens our trust and faith so that we can make it through the storms and rough times in our lives. Faith and trust come through listening for the voice of God. It is a practice called discernment. We have to discern the voice of the Lord, because it’s not found in the wind, the earthquake or the fire as Elijah learned in our First Reading. God’s voice can be heard through the sounds of the world, but his voice is not any of the sounds of the world. Well, my friends, this is quite difficult to fathom. God’s voice can be heard through the sounds of the world and his work can be seen everywhere and in everything. But remember, God is not of this world. God works through each and every one of us and he speaks to each and every one of us. We can hear his voice when we listen and this is when we have to use our skills of discernment. That tiny whispering sound can be heard in the stillness of our hearts and in the quietness of our prayers.
The existential philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, called the decision to follow Jesus a leap of faith, like jumping off a cliff. You can’t play it safe and follow Jesus at the same time. And that’s the point my friends: you have to be willing to risk it all. In terms of Peter it would be called leaving the boat.
Whatever fear or doubts we have that keep us from leaving the boat, Jesus waits. In the storms and quakes of life, he says, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” He waits for us to place all our faith and trust in him. And then he reaches out his hand and says, “Come.” It is then that we hear the tiny whisper of the Lord. Jesus is waiting on you to believe in him and risk it all. Come on, leave the boat and walk on the water. Jesus says you can do it.