19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - All in the Same Boat

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 for 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 alone to pray. 

jesuspeterwaterThe 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 to be with the Father,  to thank Him, to be refreshed, to come to know His Father even more fully.

So in today's account, 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 attempts 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 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.

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 us of this.  Together we can break through fear and come to peace, together as a community.

This is a particularly powerful message today, given the current state of society - seemingly without care and compassion. Jesus tells us that there is no such thing as an "outsider" and that we are all children of God. The Gospel Story this week reminds us very pointedly that we cannot exist on our own, without sustenance from 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.

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.  He comes to us as the hungry man, the thirsty woman, the naked child, the sick, the homeless, the refugee and as those who think, act and live in ways that are totally contrary to our own.  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.  

This is how we experience the faith journey and we can only do this together.