Fr. Richard's Sunday Homily, August 11, 2019
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
The Lord Can Save Us from Our Troubles and Fears
Epistle: 1st Corinthians 3:9-17
Gospel: Matthew 14:22-34
Today's Gospel is another story of Jesus and the apostles out on the Sea of Galilee, but this time they are separated. This takes place right after the miracle of Jesus feeding the thousands using only five loaves of bread and a few fish which we heard last Sunday. After the crowds leave, Jesus tells the apostles to get into the boat and head for the other side of the lake, and then He, Himself, goes up into the hills to spend time in prayer by Himself. At some point between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning a storm breaks out, causing large waves to hit their boat and the strong wind to push them back from the shore.
Once again, they are in danger of drowning, but we learn that once Jesus gets into the boat with Peter, the storm dies down. Matthew makes a very clear point by telling this second story of a storm at sea which disappears because of Jesus, and his Jewish-Christian audience would have gotten the message. Notice what Psalm 107 says:
"Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep, For he commanded, and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men, and were at their wits' end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to the sons of men! Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders."St. Matthew wants to make it very clear that Jesus does what God does, Jesus acts as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob acts. Jesus has the same power over the waters as the Lord showed when He delivered the Israelites out of Egypt by holding back the waters of the Red Sea so they could escape. In Psalm 77 it says, talking about the EXODUS, "Through the sea you made your path, through the mighty waters, although your footsteps were not seen." In Isaiah 43:16 he says of the Lord, that He is one "who opens a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters." Now there are a number of people today who tend to treat Jesus as though He was simply a teacher of moral values, a philosopher Who taught people how to live an ethical life, much as other great religious or humanitarian leaders have done throughout history. But not Matthew. He wants us to see that no one walks on the water by their own power unless they are God. No one can calm the stormy seas or take charge of the wind and rain like this unless they are God.
To make it even more clear for us when the apostles shout out in fear, seeing Jesus walking on the water, Jesus tells them not to be afraid. "Don't be afraid, it is I." Ego eimi, in Greek. I am Who I am. He uses the same words that God used when Moses asked Him Who He was, at the burning bush in the desert. "I am—I am Who I am." It is by His divine authority that He can guarantee their safety, for He alone has the power to do so. Matthew shows us no mere prophet, no simple teacher, no philosophical leader. Jesus is God.
And what does the Lord tell them on the Sea of Galilee? "Take courage. Don't be afraid." Those words, "Do not be afraid," were used countless times during the papacy of John Paul II, and they are still very relevant for us today, because for all our rather comfortable life-styles we may not often reflect on this, but we are still people who have many fears. We may be afraid for our jobs, our health, our children, our parents. We may be afraid to love, or that we are not loved, afraid sometimes of those who hate us, and even perhaps those who love us. We're afraid of what we know and of what we don't know, afraid of standing still and afraid of moving ahead. It is our fears which most often push us into sin, and our fears which keep us from drawing closer to Christ and surrendering ourselves into His loving care and protection. I think we often don't realize how many times our fears influence our actions, because most of the time we don't experience the emotion of fear so strongly that we notice it as fear. More often we're thinking that we are worried, concerned, cautious, apprehensive, uncertain, doubtful, nervous, suspicious, upset, distressed, anxious, or discouraged—from the big terrifying items like death to the barely noticeable, "I gotta make this traffic light" (because that extra minute or two we spend waiting for the green is so precious to our lives)—in all these things, we seem to have our share of fears.
In fact, if we could record them throughout the course of a day, I do believe we would be amazed at the number of fears that can cross our minds on any given day--large, medium and small. We are so used to them, however, that we simply accept them as a natural part of daily life. So, what shall we do?
It is very easy to point out Peter's lack of faith in Jesus, as he is walking on the waters, and it's true he does lack faith here. It gets him into trouble the same way that we get into trouble: when we are afraid for ourselves, and we get stuck on ourselves, we can think that we must save ourselves, and we start to get to work on that, even though we're sinking. “I can do it! I can pull myself out!” That’s what we tend to think until we realize it’s not true. Here we have Peter who becomes self-focused, self-centered, self-sufficiently worried that although he had taken a few steps on the water at Jesus' word, he was afraid for himself that it just wouldn't be enough to last. That's the kind of fear that is our enemy.
Yes, it's true that Peter doubted and he lacked sufficient faith to keep travelling on the sea, BUT! (and I want to emphasize this "BUT!") he at least had the faith to call upon Jesus to help him. He didn't start swimming and he didn't call to his mates on the boat. He had enough faith to cry "Lord, save me!" And I think there are times when we don't even have that much faith, and we're struggling and struggling and tossing and turning and so self-focused in our trouble and fears that we don't even cry out, "Lord, save me!" And we don't look for him to stretch out His arm and lift us up, being so self-absorbed, we don't see Him there.
We should strive for "walk-on-water-faith." That's ultimately our goal. But we'll never reach it unless we first practice "Lord, save-me-faith.” “Lord have mercy," morning, noon and night. If we do not trust Him, we risk drowning in our own fears. But if, from dangers outside, and troubles within we find ourselves able to continually cry out, "Lord, save me," we'll find Him every time ready to pull us up and guide us though the storm.