19th Sunday O T Year – A – 14
1 Kings 19:9, 11-13; Rom.9:1-5; Matt.14:22-23
A man named Smith climbed upon the roof of his riverside house during a flood, confident that his God would save him miraculously. When the flood waters had covered his feet a neighbor in his canoe paddled past and shouted, “Can I give you a lift to a higher ground?” “No, thanks,” said Smith. “I have faith in the Lord and He will save me.” Soon the water had risen to Smith’s waist.
At this point a motor boat pulled up and someone invited him to get into the boat and escape. But Mr. Smith adamantly refused the offer declaring his faith in the saving power of his God. Later when Smith was standing on the roof with water up to his neck somebody from a helicopter dropped a rope and the pilot yelled at him, “Grab the rope before the water currents push you down.” “No, thanks,” said Smith. “I have faith in the Lord and He will save me.”
But after a while Mr. Smith lost his grip on the roof, fought for his life for a time and finally drowned. As he arrived at the Pearly Gates he met his God and launched a complaint about this turn of events. “Tell me, Lord,” he said, “I had such faith in you to save me and you let me down. Why? It was not fair.” The Lord replied, “What did you expect me to do? I sent two boats and a helicopter to save you.”
The readings for this week speak of God’s saving presence for His people and the need for trusting Faith in a loving and providing God Who always keeps us company. The first reading tells us how the fascinating story of the prophet Elijah begins today. But it is interesting to find him hiding in a cave on the mountain Horeb. What was he doing in the cave? How did he end up in a cave?
The answer is he was a runaway criminal. He had just crossed words with the reigning ruler, Queen Jezebel. He had mocked her pagan prophets, ridiculed them publicly and proven their gods were frauds. Queen Jezebel did not take kindly to this humiliation so she declared Elijah an outlaw and send her soldiers to fetch him for execution. And so here he is, a fugitive from justice, hiding in a cave for fear of his life, and rapidly losing faith in God.
As the prophet Elijah sat in the mouth of the cave feeling depressed and abandoned, he expected to see God in a storm that passed by, an earthquake that shook everything, and a fire that burned everything before him. But God was not there in any of them at all. Then he heard it, a kind of tiny whispering sound in his own heart. And he knew God was there. When all the noise is gone there is only God. Ralph Emerson says, “Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of God.
In a culture, so loud and noisy, we think we will find God in special effects and grandiose events: wind, earthquake, fire, Jurassic Park and Woodstock. But we will not find God there. God is in the quite. God is in the time we spend apart in silent prayer, on a retreat, on a pilgrimage, the time of reading a spiritual book. When we quite ourselves, we will find God, closer to us than our own breathing.
In the second reading, Paul laments and mourns over the Jews who, having lost their faith in Yahweh and His prophets, had rejected their promised Messiah, Jesus. The Gospel episode occurred during an unexpected storm on the Sea of Galilee in the early morning hours. A proper understanding of the Gospel story of Jesus walking on the sea has a lot to teach us about who Jesus is. Jesus comes to us in our trials and temptations. He comes very calmly and quietly.
As Jesus approached the apostles, miraculously walking on water, he allayed their fears by telling them, “It is I.” The Gospel also explains how Peter lost his trusting faith in Jesus for a few seconds and consequently failed during his attempt to walk on water.
A doctor phoned his patient one afternoon and told him: “I have some bad news and some worse news. The bad news is that all your tests show, you have 24 hours to live.” The patient said, “What could be worse than that?” The doctor answered, “I’ve been trying to reach you since yesterday.”
Fear, of course, is a healthy thing when it motivates us to protect ourselves from some threat to the wellbeing of ourselves or of those we love. Fear stimulates us emotionally to prepare for fight or flight. But a lot of us are consumed by fears that are groundless, irrational, or certain things we can do nothing about except to pray.
In last week’s gospel, we heard about Jesus miraculously feeding over 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Matthew immediately follows that gospel with today’s gospel. The miraculous feeding took place on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and he went off to the hills alone to pray.
Matthew leaves us to wonder why Jesus acted this way. But St John fills in some of the details. John tells us that after the crowd had seen what Jesus did in healing the sick and feeding all of them, they decided they were going to make him their king. As king, he would be their liberator and savior. He would raise an army and drive the Romans out of Israel and Judea.
He would rule them, may be even fulfill every need they had. Jesus knew that’s not what the Father sent him to do. As savior he had much greater things to offer them than freedom from the powers of Rome and free meals. So Jesus sent the apostles away because he knew they would be particularly excited over the prospect of Jesus taking over as king.
Some of them already imagined themselves having important places in Jesus’ kingdom. So he sent them off, away from the crowd, dismissed the crowd himself and went off alone to pray.
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Matthew recorded his Gospel after Peter was crucified, when the Christians were being persecuted. The storm story addresses issues of danger, fear and Faith. The boat seems to represent the Church, buffeted by temptations, trials and persecutions. Jesus appears as the Church’s champion, strong to save those who call on him in faith.
The recounting of this episode probably brought great comfort to the early Christians, especially those of Matthew’s faith community. For it offered them the assurance that Christ would save them even if they had to die for their faith in him, and that, even in the midst of persecution, they need not fear because Jesus was present with them.
The episode offers the same reassurance to us in times of illness, death, persecution, or other troubles. It teaches us that adversity is not a sign of God’s displeasure, or prosperity a sign of His pleasure, that illness is not a sign of inadequate Faith, or health a sign of great Faith. Paradoxically, the storms of life can be a means of blessing.
When things are going badly, our hearts are more receptive to Jesus. A broken heart is often a door through which Christ can find entry. He still comes to us in the midst of our troubles, saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Amen.