Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 13, 2023 — Year A
Readings: 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a / Ps 85 / Rom 9:1-5 / Mt 14:22-33
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Visitors to the Holy Land like to take a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, the sea that Jesus walked. A certain tourist wanted such a ride, and the boatman told him that the fare was $150.
“One hundred fifty dollars!” exclaimed the tourist. “That’s why Jesus just walked.”
If we go deeper into the gospel passage for today, this story of Jesus’ walking on the sea teaches us a lot about who Jesus is, about the Church and her journey through the world, and about the life of faith of individual believers.
First is the lesson about Jesus. The miracle of Jesus’ walking on the sea shows that Jesus is Lord and has authority over all forces, natural and supernatural. The Jews believed that the sea is the domain of supernatural demonic forces. A rough and stormy sea is regarded as the work of these hostile spirits. By walking on the raging waves and calming the storm, Jesus is showing Himself to be One who has power and control over these hostile spiritual powers.
There are Christians who have surrendered their lives to the Lord but still live in constant fear of evil spirits, sorcery, witchcraft, potions, and curses. There are many of us who go to fortune tellers and ask them, “What is ahead of us?” Many of us, too, read horoscopes to know what will happen to us during the day. Today’s gospel readings bring us the good news that these powers of darkness stand no chance at all when Jesus is present and active in our lives and affairs.
The second lesson is about the Church. The boat on the sea is one of the earliest Christian symbols for the Church in her journey through the world. Just as the boat is tossed about by the waves, so is the Church pounded from all sides by worldly and spiritual forces hostile to the kingdom of God. In the midst of crisis, Jesus comes to strengthen the faith of the Church. He assures us that no matter how strong the storm of life is at the moment, He is always to remain with His Church, and He keeps His promise always.
Some of our priests and bishops in the past have felt the persecution of the Roman emperors, the threat of the Anti-Christ, and heresies. The sexual conduct of some priests has cracked the Church. But the Church still exists and will continue to exist in the future, because Christ is with His Church.
The third lesson is about the individual believer. The first rule I learned regarding driving a motor vehicle is: Keep your eyes on the road always. And not on the steering wheel, not on the clutch or the accelerator, because if we do that we will certainly crash. The sight of Jesus walking on the sea, especially the involvement of Peter in the story, is a lesson for us who are tempted to take our eyes off of Jesus and to take more notice of the threatening circumstances around us.
Peter had said to Jesus, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (Mt 14:28). Jesus gives him the command, “Come” (Mt 14:29). But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and began to sink (Mt 14:30).
The strong wind in our lives could be sickness, death, poverty, family problems, inability to correct unjust conditions, difficulty in finding decent work, apathy, impatience, the urge to give up in despair, and many more. Why did Peter sink? When Peter kept his eyes fixed on Jesus, he walked upon water well enough. But when he took notice of the danger he was in and focused on the waves, he became afraid and began to sink. So, today’s gospel reading holds the spiritual message for each one of us to focus our eyes on God at all times, and to fulfill His will.
Keeping our eyes focused on Jesus could be difficult. The gospels suggest three ways to us on how to do it. First, let us recognize that we cannot save ourselves. Like Peter, we have to face the fact that he could not save himself as he was slowly sinking. Some of us may have trouble admitting that we can’t make it through life on our own, but we can’t. We really can’t. It is not weakness to admit that we need God. It is foolish to think we don’t.
Second, reach out to Jesus. After we admit that we cannot save ourselves, reach out to Jesus like Peter did, and cry out to the Lord when we slip, “Save me!” But how?
One way could be by going to Confession. Reach out to Jesus in the Eucharist, and then reach out by seeking the help of Christian friends who will support us in our efforts to keep our eyes on Him. In other words, the three C’s of reaching out to Jesus are Confession, Communion, and Community.
Third, keep your grip on Jesus strong, like Peter did. He held onto Jesus for dear life. That is why he eventually made it back to the boat safely. How do we keep our grip on Jesus strong? That is through prayer, studying our faith in His words, and by making the daily effort to put our faith into practice. If we take prayer seriously, and not just make a few formal prayers to satisfy our consciences, if we study our faith diligently, and if we make the effort to live it out there in the world, then our grip on the Lord will not loosen.
If we lose our grip and fall into serious sin and suffering, then let us go back to Step One and start all over again. As long as we make Christ our vision, our point of arrival, and the center of our lives, we can survive. We believe that when big storms come our way, God is always there to help, and rescue us. We have to trust Him.
May the Lord increase our little faith, so that through all the storms of life, we should have our eyes and our trust constantly fixed on Jesus and His power and not on ourselves and our weaknesses.