HOMILY FOR THE NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A
HOMILY THEME: “IT IS I, DO NOT BE AFRAID!”
BY: Fr. Johnbosco Obika
1. 1Kgs. 19:9, 11-13
2. Rom. 9-15
3. Matt. 14:22-33
The greatest tragedy in the world is not that we are often in the pit of one problem or the other but being so blind not to see the hands God is outstretching to lift us up out of the pit; and also missing the message in the trial. Of course all we are familiar with the expressions and experiences like: “I can’t go on anymore”, “my patience has reached its elastic limit”, “I’m burnt out”, “I’m better dead than alive”, “I have hit the rock”, “I have reached the end of my strength”? These are moments in life when we are broke and broken. In the readings of today we see such moments that made Elijah cry, made Paul lament and made Peter panic. But beyond the things that make us cry is God’s revelation of his power. The church invites us today to look deeply into these moments to see a face God is revealing, a message he is passing. This is the theme that runs through the readings of this Sunday.
God has never ceased to reveal himself in times of crisis and human predicament. Take for instance, at a time when the Israelites suffered greatly in Egypt and there seemed to be no hope, he appeared to Moses and revealed himself as “I am” (same as Jesus revealed to his disciples saying “It is I”). He entered into the heart of their problem and liberated them from the shackles of slavery in Egypt. Today the readings of the mass tell how God has continued to show his face and his presence amidst the storms of life. They explore the reality of human suffering and the reality of God’s intervention.
Elijah in the first reading experienced God in the gentle breeze at the peak of his crisis of faith. Earlier before that, he was disgusted by the bad attitude of his people who were chosen by God but abandoned him to the worship of alien gods introduced by the wicked queen Jezebel. Elijah passionately fought against this evil, killing over 450 prophets of Baal. Infuriated by this, Jezebel vowed to take the life of Elijah. Running away from this wicked queen Elijah found himself in the cave frustrated and despondent waiting to take a final bow. He actually reached his elastic limit; a point where he had to question God and even dared him to take his life. God intervened, fed him and by the strength of this food he traveled for forty days and forty nights to meet God at Mount Horeb. There, God revealed himself not in the earthquake that shattered rocks nor in the fire that burnt everything, but in a gentle breeze that whispered hope, help and consolation to Elijah.
St. Paul in the second reading feels the grunt of human suffering. He speaks of how great his sorrow was and how constant was his anguish all for the good of his brethren. As a human being he voiced out his pain and agony but he was consoled by the power of Christ’s presence that never disappoint his beloved in moments of confusion and grief.
The theme and the message of God’s revelation of his might in moments of difficulty is expanded by gospel narrative that highlights the fury of the storm and the tragedy of the sinking Peter. This is followed by his rescue from sinking and the miracle of calming the storm by Jesus. In ancient Jewish believe, the sea was a symbol of evil. It was believed that all sorts of evil spirits inhabited the sea. Besides this, it is in the nature of the sea of Galilee to be turbulent. In what ever way we look at it, the point is that Jesus walked on the sea to rescue his disciples to remind us that he has authority over every power, natural or supernatural. No matter how deep the sea of our predicament, how fierce the wind of our fear he reminds us today that he is still in control. Therefore, let us keep the following in mind.
1. If he wills it he will make a way. Why did Jesus send his disciples to the boat knowing what they would pass through as omniscient God? After the miracle of the multiplication of loaves that led to the feeding of 5000, Jesus had to force his disciples to the boat to cross over the other side. This is because of the reactions from the crowd. They saw what they wanted in a Messiah in Jesus and so they wanted to make him king by all means. The disciples of Jesus were already thinking in this direction with the crowd. This is the second time Jesus rejected earthly kingship. He made them enter the boat and cross over to the other side of the sea while he dismissed the crowd. He did this to save them from the corruption of the crowd and the spirit of the moment mentality. Jesus willed their journey across the sea and so he was there to see them through. We should learn to seek God’s approval for every adventure we take in life. If it is his will he surely provide the ways and means to achieve it.
2. Fight fear with faith. Fear is false evidence appearing real. It is like a virus that attacks our root of believe in God. Obviously, we have reasons to fear and our fear is real giving the situation of things in the world today (economic recession, insecurity even in places of worship, sickness, sudden deaths, to mention but a few). The disciples of Jesus also encountered real fear: the boat being far from the shores and tossed around in the middle of the sea by the violent storm, the darkness of the night, and the ‘ghostlike’ image that turned out to be Jesus. However, Jesus revealed himself to them saying: “It is I, ‘the I am’, courage! Do not be afraid”. They believed and their fear vanished. Today, he still makes this proclamation of his power to us asking us not to be afraid because he is there for us as we sail on the sea of life. Though he does not promise a storm free voyage but he promises to be there for us. Of course a smooth sail does not make a good sailor. So, we need faith like Peter who asked to join Jesus walking on the sea. Faith can achieve beyond our human capacity.
3. Peter’s faith kept him walking on the water to Jesus. But the moment he removed his gaze on Jesus and focused on the storm he started to sink. To stay afloat on the sea of life we must fix our gaze on Jesus not minding the rate of the waves. Focus on Jesus, not on the problem.
4. Learn from hard times. Jesus could turn our trials into great opportunities; and our trials could either a training in the school of faith or a lesson in the school of life. The storm was an opportunity for Peter and the rest of the disciples to believe. Finally, as we battle with the forces that prevent us from crossing over to the better side of life God is directing us to, let us never fail to call on him like Peter when it feels like we are about to sink. May the power of his providence and presence ever be with us to rescue us always.