|God’s Presence and Our Fears
|Today’s liturgy speaks about God’s saving presence, trusting faith and fear; three concepts that are not always completely exclusive. God is always present to His people. There is need for them to trust in Him even in their fears. The first reading narrates the story of Elijah (c.860 BC) who lived in a period characterized by profound political and social changes. Elijah was chosen by God to confront the infidelity of the monarchy during the reign of King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, the shrewd, ambitious, and beautiful daughter of the King of Tyre. Ahab had built pagan temples and palaces to the false prophets under the influence of Jezebel. The prophet, Elijah, raised a loud protest against this cultural colonization of a sort in the Kingdom of Israel. He confronted the prophets of Baal and attracted the anger of the queen who sought to kill him. So he, out of fear, took to his heels and fled into the wilderness.
This is where today’s passage started. Elijah reached Mount Horeb (Sinai), the same place Moses had taken shelter about 400 years ago and met God. Here, Elijah had an extraordinary encounter with God. Like in the time of Moses, there was a great storm involving mighty wind, an earthquake and fire. But in this case, God was not present in any of these elements. The storm quietened and God came to Elijah rather, in the sound of a gentle breeze. Elijah expected a spectacular miracle from God to protect and vindicate him, or an appearance of God with great power in thunder and lightning to bolster his faith as He did at the time of Moses (Ex.19:16-19). However, the presence of God was not in the spectacles of thunder, earthquake or fire but in the tiny whisper of sound. Like Elijah, we can fall into the error of limiting our experience of God to certain places and persons and forgetting that He is everywhere. We have to experience God’s presence in our lives and listen attentively to everything going around us, because we encounter God in insignificant as well as spectacular events. In the second reading Paul, who was temporarily blinded by his encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus, anguishes over Israel’s blindness to the miracles and teachings of Jesus.
The Gospel echoes the same theme of God’s presence, but here in the person of Christ, the only Begotten Son of God. The disciples are in the boat battling against the waves of the Sea of Galilee. All seems lost. Matthew, writing to his Jewish converts, here expresses the Christian belief that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. He is the only one who can walk on the waves of the sea (Job 9:8). Christ is the Master of all the forces that threaten humankind. The Gospel also speaks of Peter’s invitation to walk on the water and his fear, his sinking and his ‘little’ faith. Peter turns his focus away from Christ and he gets the consequence. Matthew is telling us here that the disciple should never fear, as if he were relying solely on his own powers. As long as we focus on Jesus and aware of His saving presence in our lives, there is nothing to fear. But, like Peter, the moment we take our eyes off Him and focus on the forces around us, trying to destabilize us, we are in for serious trouble. We begin to sink. It is part of growth; often through doubting we get to know Jesus better when, like Peter, we confess Jesus as Lord and come to a deeper faith.
Neither Elijah nor Peter has the faith to match their zeal, but God supported them in their dangerous tasks. While stressing Peter’s fear and sinking, it is important also to look at his leap of faith. Peter is the archetype of all who dare to believe that Jesus is savior, take their first steps in confidence that Jesus is able to sustain them, and then forget to keep their gaze fixed on Him when they face the storms of temptations. In the moments of crisis, however, they remember to call on God and they experience the total sufficiency of his grace to meet their needs. Despite the ‘little faith’ Jesus declares Peter as the rock on which he will build His Church. No matter how little or big, the only faith that Jesus expects of His followers is one which concentrates solely on Him. Hence, we can do great things when we simply need our Lord. The Risen Lord is always with us and He will, in different times and moments, stretch out His hands and give us strength. As individuals and communities, we usually get the ‘sinking feeling’. Gathered in faith, we have the word of God and the Bread of life and the support of each other to keep us afloat.