Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
Psalm 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
The readings for Sunday seem particularly appropriate for a community that has endured and survived Hurricane Charley some thirteen years ago. The trust that Elijah has in the first reading, the faith that Peter manifests in the gospel, is the same hope and trust manifested in those who picked themselves up after the hurricane and cleared the debris and began to fashion a new life for themselves and for the island of Sanibel. It was a deep faith in God’s providential care that caused the people of St. Isabel parish to come together and build the magnificent house of God that is the jewel of the Diocese.
Elijah in the first reading from Kings had been busy calling his people back to authentic worship. As prophets so often do, Elijah incurred the wrath of those in power and they were intent on killing him. Tired of fighting King Ahab and his lovely wife Jezebel, and worn out by his battle with the 450 pagan priests of Baal, Elijah fled for forty days and nights, finally coming to Horeb, the holy place where God had established His covenant with Moses. The God of the Old Testament was no stranger to earthquakes, and fire, and mighty winds, and the forefathers of Elijah had often experienced God in and through them. Elijah, however, did not find God in the dramatic, but rather discerned God in the tiny whispering of a breeze. Sometimes God is unexpectedly found in the most unexpected of places, in the most unexpected of people.
In our gospel passage from Matthew, Jesus, too, was looking for some down time. Jesus wanted to refresh himself in prayer, and so he sent the disciples in a boat ahead of him. He would catch up with them later. The storm the disciples encountered was surely not unfamiliar for fishermen, and they could not have expected that it would provide the opportunity for God to manifest himself to them in the most special of ways. The disciples’ boat was being tossed about by the growing waves, and they no doubt were concerned. But soon they would be terrified when they beheld a figure walking towards them on the sea. It is only when the figure speaks to them – “Take courage; it is I; do not be afraid.” – that they realize it is the Lord. Not unlike Thomas the doubter, Peter responds if it really is you, Lord, “command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus summoned him, and Peter, perhaps puffed up with the kind of pride we have seen manifested elsewhere, jumps out of the boat. All was going well, until Peter recognized how strong the wind was and he began to sink.
The Fathers of the Church, great spiritual writers, and even Pope Benedict XVI, see in Matthew’s story a lesson for the Church: “The sea symbolizes this life and the instability of the visible world; the storm points to every kind of trial or difficulty that oppresses human beings. The boat, instead, represents the Church, built by Christ and steered by the Apostles.” But the gospel passage admits of an even more personal interpretation, for Peter does truly represent all of us who have ever been troubled or frightened. In life the wind sometimes picks up and threatens us. In life there are storms of sorrow, storms of doubt, tension and uncertainty, there are storms of anxiety and worry, storms of anger and despair. When these storms cause us to lose our footing and lose our focus, and we begin to sink below the surface, it is then that the Lord Jesus comes to us and tells us to “take courage… do not be afraid.” As he did with Peter, God stretches forth his hand through the storm and raises us up, calming the winds of life and restoring our balance and focus. Whether the seas are calm or turbulent and stormy, we are called to be vigilant, recognizing our Lord and Savior, who reaches out to us through the storm, sharing with us a peace that only he can give