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Caution: Putting a Sunday homily on the Website is tricky business. All the viewer has is a written text. A homily, on the other hand, is "an oral event". It may not have been said or heard the way it was written. In addition, a roughly ten-minute homily is part of a roughly one-hour worship event in which God and God's people communicate with each other by means of ritual, symbol, song, proclamation, prayer. Not everything in these homilies is original. As a homilist, I rely on and at times borrow from other homilists and writers who are not properly mentioned in this format. I am often indebted to them.

Father William Marrevee, s.c.j.

19th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Be careful with this Gospel story. Some might say, “If Peter had had enough faith, he could have walked on the water.” The story is about more than the ability to physically walk on water; it is about more than defying the laws of gravity.

The Bible loves to play with the image of water. It does it in two ways. The first way is to express God’s care for people who recognize in their heart a deep longing, a thirsting for peace, for restfulness. When people are weary and tired, then often God is presented as the one who provides water, streams of living water. You may know the song “Come to the water”. The song evokes God’s caring for people who seek hope and strength.

There is a second way in which the Bible uses the image of water; it is this second way that is at play in our Gospel story. In this case, the sea, the waves, the waters represent the places of chaos, the anxieties and dark powers that threaten us. Water becomes an image of moments when we people cannot make much sense of life anymore. Then the Bible knows of one who can contain the waters. So the Bible has God walking on the sea; God is the one who overcomes the powers of chaos. The story of the Exodus, so foundational to the Christian faith experience, is a perfect example of that. God provides a path through the waters for captive Israel on the way to freedom. When Jesus then, in today’s Gospel story, walks on the water, we get an instance of divine presence and assurance mediated by Jesus. In this Jesus we stumble upon God-with-us, Emmanuel.

Over and against this Jesus, who is among us on God’s behalf, the story presents Peter. But Peter here is the representative of all of us. There are few of us, if any, that do not have moments in which we feel as though we are drowning in a sea of trouble: serious illness, the death of a loved one, being unemployed, a family crisis, the experience of our marriage breaking down, the confusion about what is right or wrong. Or for myself – I am not having a bad day – what it is to be a minister of the Gospel today. There is not much of an appetite for the Gospel today; it does not find much of a hearing. Look at the sparse crowd in our church, Sunday after Sunday. Not much seems to work. It is tough to be a minister of the Gospel in today’s context.

In those moments we, like Peter, are faced with the question, do we still know whose name to call and whose hand will catch us? Do we dare – do I dare – to put our trust, our faith in Jesus? Do we dare to believe, sometimes in the face of all contrary evidence, that God is with us, prepared to see things through with us and to rescue us?

Peter shows himself a true, albeit frightened, believer, not by walking on the water physically, but by crying out to Jesus “Lord, save me. ” and by taking the hand that Jesus stretches out to him. Faith has everything to do with knowing whose name to call and whose hand will catch us, when we are threatened, frightened, discouraged.

That image of being drawn out of the water is so foundational to the Christian faith experience. Look at the parallels:

Moses: “I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:40)
Peter: he is drawn out of the water.
All the baptized: all are drawn out of the water.
The Christian faith has everything to do with trying to take that hand that is stretched out to us, that will steady our path through the ups and downs of life and that finally will bring us home.

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