19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - 13th August, 2017

Liturgical Reflections

1Kgs19: 9, 11-13; Rom9: 1-5; Mt14: 22-33
 

Today’s readings are about finding hope in seemingly impossible situations – of going from depression and despair into at least a glimmer of light, coming not from ourselves, but from God, the mysterious, loving Presence who is calling us not to be afraid.

To get the full impact, it is good to go to the bible and read what happens before each of the incidents recounted in today’s readings.

In the book of Kings, Elijah is in despair – depressed, defeated, unwilling to save himself, facing death by starvation in the desert, until God forces the issue by sending an messenger/angel to make him eat, get up, walk, run – escape to the mountains: but he still has no hope, no direction. He looks for God in the spectacular – but God is not in the thunder, nor in the earthquake nor in the silence but then at last, in the gentle breeze, comes the wind of the Spirit of hope and life.

St Paul is depressed and in anguish at his failure to bring his own Jewish people – relatives, friends, colleagues - to faith in Jesus and in God as revealed through Jesus. He clings on to his belief that God cannot possibly fail! In the long run, the promises and covenant will be fulfilled, but he cannot see how. The situation does not change. He just has to live with it.

In the gospel of Matthew, news has just come that John the Baptist has been beheaded. Jesus goes off by himself to pray in the mountains well into the night. The disciples take off in the boat. Were they panicking? Escape at all costs. Herod beheaded John – who is next?

 

Then the seas get rough and it is not one person who is panicking: everyone is! Then Jesus ‘sees’ them. It is night and stormy so what kind of vision sees though this darkness? The disciples think ‘it’ is a ghost – even more panic - until Jesus reassures them by speaking and they recognise his voice. Yes, he is walking on water, but the message is ‘Don’t be afraid’! It works. Peter gets overconfident and launches into the water to do likewise and sinks once his fear comes on strongly again. Scripture scholars debate the timing and sequence of this passage but the message is clear. In impossible situations, ‘Do not be afraid’: change for the good will happen. God will encourage you to act.

The media is full of news that tends to makes us all depressed and anxious. Who or what can save us? Humanly impossible! Like Elijah, we can get up, search, listen and find God in the unexpected. Like Paul, we can live through apparent failure, trusting God will make sure it works out in the end. Like Peter, we can fear, then become overconfident and sink again. The love of God is calling us to stop being afraid. We can keep on living and searching. More than we can hope for or recognise, God is actually with us.

Rose Mary Kinne OP

1Kgs19: 9A, 11-13A; Rom9: 1-5; Mt14: 22-33
 

Taken together these readings from Scripture offer us both challenges and reassurance.  As happens occasionally, the lectionary omits something significant in the first reading.  Verse 10 in 1Kings contains God's first address to Elijah, sheltering in a cave in his flight from Jezabel's wrath.  It is a challenging question, which we too may find difficult to answer: Put in your own name in place of Elijah and listen: 'What are you doing here, Elijah???'

 

If God addressed this question to you or me now, where would the emphasis fall?  Would the question be about what I am doing?  Or about where i am doing it?  Or why I am doing this at all?  So the question probes conscience in various ways.  But as Elijah faced it he was not left without support.  God revealed to his that he would not find God in noisy, stormy images but in 'a tiny whispering sound' or in 'silence' - depending on which Bible you are using.

So, despite the challenging question, God came to Elijah gently, as the same God comes to us, empowering us beyond our strength to be where God wants us and do what He is asking of us.  Both challenge and reassurance come to the disciples in the Gospel reading.

They experience the force of a typical sudden storm at night on the Sea of Galilee.  In their fear they cry out for help but as Jesus comes to them on the water they mistake him for a ghost.  Peter, in such danger, dares Jesus to prove himself by enabling Peter to walk on the water.  Given what he asked for, the frightened fisherman forgot the source of his miraculous stength and lost it.  Jesus' action to resuce him was immediate; but he challenged Peter to greater faith, evoking the response from the group in the boat: 'Truly you are the Son of God.'  Can we take heart from both stories to trust, in faith, the unfailing presence of God with us in every situation, no matter how difficult or threatening?

Mary Britt OP