1 Kgs 19:9a,11-13a • Rom 9:1-5 • Mt 14:22-23
A new young pastor was sent to a country parish that had a difficult time with “outsiders,” and this young pastor was certainly very different from his new flock. It was hard for the congregation to accept the newcomer.
After a while, a few of the men thought they should try harder to get to know him, so they invited the pastor to go fishing with them. They launched their boats just as the sun was rising, ready for a long day on the lake. Out on the lake, the young pastor realized that he had forgotten his fishing tackle. He told his fishing partner he had to go back to get his tackle, but not wanting to delay the fishing, the pastor got out of the boat, ran on the water to their vehicle, and then began to run back on the water to the boat. As they watched one of the fishermen said, “This guy will never fit in. He doesn’t even know how to swim!”
“Lord, save me!” For many of us, this is our only heartfelt prayer. We go through the motions of church and other religious activities, but our heartfelt prayer, the one that comes from the gut, does not come until we are desperate, until we reach the point where we realize we need a miracle. A too common expectation when we find ourselves in desperation is that we expect a big miracle that will rescue us in an instant and without effort on our part. Usually miracles-on-demand do not happen, and the next thing we do is blame God for our problem.
What did the fishermen see? That the pastor couldn’t swim! Our spiritual challenge is to learn to see what is happening, see that God is at work in our lives. Someone who wishes to run a marathon cannot just show up the day of the race. Preparation must begin far in advance, especially if we can barely walk a mile. Like our inability to run a marathon if we simply show up the day of the race, we will be hard pressed to see the miracles God does give us if we simply show up on the day of our troubles.
In our readings today we see an act of power: Jesus walks on the water. We are drawn to this power, and there are times in our lives when we need a manifestation of it right now, although chances are we won’t see it. So, what do we do? Is God really indifferent to our plights?
Water often is used in the Scriptures to represent chaos. In the act of creation, God created the dry land out of the water. Then the world was destroyed by the flood, and thus chaos seemed to return. In our passage today the apostles found themselves in a boat not built to handle a storm. They were afraid. Jesus showed them that not only could he calm the chaos of the storm, but also that he is such a master of chaos that he can walk on it.
This story tells us that God can and does help us, although we often cannot see that He is present. The disciples didn’t see God. They thought they were seeing a ghost! Peter had to make the ghost prove that he was Jesus. We must remember that, just as the Israelites once passed through the Red Sea, we too will get through the chaos we might face; but we must come to recognize God coming toward us.
The Gospels often use a boat as a symbol for the Church. In the boat there is safety. In one stormy incident, Jesus was calmly asleep. When awakened, He calmed the storm just to prove that the fear of the disciples was unfounded. Today we hear that Jesus walked out to the boat, bringing peace to its occupants. Unfortunately, many of the times when we are afraid, we haven’t even been in the boat in the first place. At some point we abandoned the safety of the boat, thinking we could survive storms without help.
We must remember Peter. Despite failing, he did walk on water. With God’s help, we too can walk over chaos, but to do it, we must trust. We cannot become distracted by the storm. We must keep our eyes focused on the Lord who commands us to “Come!”
Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal by calling down fire from heaven. Queen Jezebel wanted Elijah dead for destroying her court prophets, so he fled her wrath and found refuge in a cave in Horeb. Elijah wondered why God would leave him in such straits after he had done His will. But God had something to teach Elijah. He needed for Elijah to remember that, though capable of great manifestations of power, God spoke most often in the quiet workings of lives. And it is in the quiet, not in great power, that God usually speaks to us.
We must get into the boat more often and recognize God’s quiet nature so that when we have to cry out, “Lord, save me!” we can spot God quietly at work.
FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.