19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Going it Alone

Our journey of faith is a never-ending one… one of constantly coming to know The Father through Jesus.  It kind of parallels the journey of the first disciples… their coming to faith… their coming to understand who the Father was - and how they came to know him.

The story in this week's Gospel is a perfect example of the process of the faith journey, and it outlines for us the three stages of one's faith journey.  Matthew's story actually begins at the end of another story: the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  Jesus has compassion on the crowds and feeds them with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.  Immediately after that, he packs up the apostles in a boat, sends them off to the opposite shore of the lake and He goes off to pray.  The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus going off to pray - either alone or with the disciples -  either right before or right after a significant event.  He needs the time be with the Father… to thank Him, to be refreshed, to come to know His Father even more fully.

So Jesus goes off in one direction - the apostles in the other… And we know what happens next… They see someone or something with the appearance of a ghost coming towards them, and not knowing what to do they cry out in fear.  This perhaps is the first stage of faith: sensing a Presence in our lives, not really knowing who or what that Presence is, and becoming fearful.

Jesus understands their fears and immediately says:  "Take heart, It's me… don't be afraid."  Peter recognizes His voice… he may not be able to clearly see Jesus but he knows it's him.  Recognition: the second stage of faith.  So what does Peter do?  He calls out: "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."  Responding to the Lord's invitation, he jumps over the side and attemptes to meet Jesus, only to fail miserably.  It is not Peter's lack of faith that causes him to sink into the water.  It is his fear.  He hadn't yet moved into the final stage of the faith journey.  He thought he could go it alone, and discovered - very quickly - that he couldn't.

Back in the boat, safe again, together the apostles proclaim their faith in the Son of God.  And this, finally, is perhaps the most important stage of faith - it is only together that we can really come to know who Jesus is - and by knowing Him, we come to understand who the Father is.  We are all, quite literally, in the same boat… we share together the turbulent seas of the storm as well as the gentle ripple of the water against the side of the boat on a calm day.  We cannot walk upon the water alone; but together we can.

"Take heart, It's me… don't be afraid."

It is said that the phrase "Don't be afraid" appears 365 times in scripture - once for every day of the year.  I'm not exactly sure this is true.  But perhaps the lesson here is that it is OK to be afraid - God will love us despite our fears and tremblings; but fear can and must be overcome.  And our God goes to great pains to constantly remind of this.  Together we can break through fear and come to peace… together as a community.

This is what "community" is all about.

We find within the community of faith many people who journey with us, as teachers and prophets, as pardoners and healers, as friends and companions - powerful signs to us of the love and compassion of Christ. We walk in the company of brothers and sisters who support us, pray for us and are with us, who reach out to us, and lift us up from the raging sea when we feel as if we are drowning.  But we are also part of a community where some insist that if one does not hold the same ideals or does things a little differently than the rest, he or she is not a true believer; he or she is an outsider.

Jesus tells us that there is no such thing as an "outsider" and that our connection to Him is strong. The Gospel Story this weeks tells us that we cannot exist on our own, without sustenance from Him - He who is our Source of Life and Love. It is a lesson that we all need to remember when the weather worsens, when the winds whip up, when we seem to sense a ghostly presence that makes us afraid, and when we cry out from the depths, hoping that God will answer.  And it also drives home the fact that we cannot exist without the support and love of one another.

This is His "new commandment" - we are not only connected to Him, but to one another. He taught the truth, he spoke words of comfort, he healed the sick, he brought sight to the blind, he rebuked those who needed to be rebuked and accepted all who came to him as equal. Ultimately he laid down his life for all His brothers and sisters.

And He invites and calls us to go and do likewise… to love not only in word or speech but in deed and in truth.

Jesus is the Presence among us who interprets for us what may seem to be incomprehensible. He makes our hearts burn again, as once they burned before. And he comes to us - not as a "ghost" walking on the water - but as He always said He would: as the hungry man, the thirsty woman, the naked child, the sick, the homeless, the condemned prisoner. Like the first disciples, we are expected to translate this mystery into the kind of faith, hope and love that we need to refashion our world.  We can only do this together.

Only then will we be able to remind each other and to proclaim to others - using the same words of Jesus:  "Don't be afraid… be happy, It's me... God is with you, you are loved…"