August 7, 2011 – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The power of nature is awesome, and sometimes frightening. Television provides us with vivid images of the destruction wrought by earthquakes and tsunamis. And even if you’ve never been through a tornado or a hurricane or a flood, you’ve seen pictures of the havoc one of them can cause.
How much more frightening it must be to be in a small craft when a storm arises! If you made your living by commercial fishing, like Peter, Andrew, James, and John did, you would undoubtedly have seen a boat capsize during a gale. You’d probably have known people who drowned when their vessel overturned during a squall. And for a dozen men trying to cross the Sea of Galilee in a crowded fishing boat at night in the midst of a tempest, not all of them used to the water, it must have been terrifying.
But wait, you say. Hadn’t they seen Jesus’ power over the elements just a few hours earlier at the feeding of the five thousand? Indeed, they had. But we all can quickly forget all the blessings we have received from God whenever the storms of life threaten to overwhelm us.
In the same way the prophet Elijah had fled in fear, even though he had just come from the contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. (See 1 Kings 18.) Despite seeing the power of God who had sent fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice on the altar, he turned tail and ran when Queen Jezebel of Israel threatened to take her revenge on him. He too needed reassurance from God, which he received from the “tiny, whispering sound” of God’s voice.
The disciples also received encouragement from the Lord, although it came from an unexpected direction. They saw Jesus walking across the sea toward the boat. In the darkness with the wind and the rough sea, they did not recognize him at first and thought he was a ghost, adding to their terror. And then he spoke words of comfort, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter, being Peter, cannot leave it at that. He wants to test Jesus. Jesus accepts the challenge. “Come,” he says to Peter. So Peter gets out of the boat and begins to walk on the water toward Jesus. And then Peter gets distracted, just like we do. Instead of keeping his eyes on Jesus, he begins to look at the weather around him. How strong the wind and high the waves! How great the danger awaiting him! And he begins to sink.
Most of us can identify with Peter. The question we have to face is, “How much do we trust God?” Are we willing to get out of the boat of our familiar surroundings to reach Jesus?
This matter of trust is crucial for our stewardship. We are all stewards, but some of us are good stewards and others poor stewards. Do we believe that God can care for us in the storms of life when we plan the use of our time, our talent, and our treasure? Do we keep our eyes on Jesus, or do we pay more attention to the wind and waves around us?
It may be most evident in our use of treasure. Do we trust God to provide what we need – not necessarily everything we might want – in our material life? If so, we find we become free to commit to giving regularly to our parish offertory. If not, we decide we have to hoard every penny we can get, because we just might need it some day. That fear leads to a grasping attitude.
It is true that we do not know exactly what the future holds. However, those who trust God to provide what they need are freer and happier. They accept what the Lord gives them and make do with it, and they still share out of whatever is available. Their priorities involve both giving and thanksgiving.
Those who trust God use the same approach with their time and their talent. They have faith that they will receive what they need, so they are not afraid to share.
As he sank into the waters, Peter cried out in fear, “Lord, save me!” Jesus stretched out his hand to him, and they both reached the boat safely. God has as much power today as when he brought Peter into the boat. Can we grow to trust him to save us as well? Can we pay more attention to Jesus than to the storm around us?