The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time August 13, 2017
1 Kings 19, 9-13 + Psalm 85 + Romans 9, 1-5 + Matthew 14, 22-33
St Peter and St William Parishes in Naples, FL
Last week we were told by a voice to “Listen”. In the transfiguration as told by Matthew, it is not enough for those apostles to “see” Jesus, they must also “listen.” In these verses today, Matthew reinforces that demand if you follow the details carefully. Notice that when they see Jesus, they are terrified. When they hear his voice, they calm down. They need to hear his voice. Then, as if we might not get the point, Matthew says it again with Peter. Until he hears the voice that commands him to get out of the boat, he stays where he is. Only when Jesus gives the order does he step out to do something he thought he could never do. He fulfills his vocation. Then, at the moment he acknowledges another power, the wind, there is trouble. He has a divided heart, or a divided faith. Two powers are there for him to choose between, and until he makes the right choice, the saving choice, he’s sunk, so to speak.
When Peter does make his choice affirming that Jesus is his Lord, when he reaches out to grasp the hand that is offered, he too walks on water. With that, we see that doing something that seems impossible is not a sign of divinity, (because Peter does it too) but rather a sign that Peter is empowered to do what Jesus does. The apostles are being empowered with their faith to do what Jesus does. Just a few verses earlier, we saw that happening when the multitude were fed. The apostles did what they thought impossible because Jesus told them to it. When Jesus walks on that troubled water toward a boat in distress, Matthew reveals not just what Jesus is, but why Jesus is. This miracle story is about the function of Jesus, not his nature.
So today, God speaks to us about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, a disciple caught between faith and doubt. Today God puts before us this man, Peter who, like all of us is torn between two powers, this world and the Kingdom of Heaven. Today God puts before us this man who takes a risk, but then looks around or looks back and gets into trouble. There can be no looking back for us, my friends. We learn from Matthew to live with uncertainties yet with the knowledge and faith that when we respond to the command and call of the Lord, an outstretched hand is there to pull us along.
I have always found it fascinating and empowering to know that in John’s Gospel, the word “Faith” is always a verb. It is never a “noun.” Remember that. Faith is not about something we have or possess. Faith is an activity, or a way of doing things. It is like a song that disappears when we stop singing. Sometimes I remind myself of that truth with a wonderful old hymn we sometimes sing here. “My life goes on in endless song above earth’s lamentations. I hear the real though far off hymn that hails a new creation. Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear its music ringing, it sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing? While though the tempest loudly roars, I hear the truth, it liveth, and though the darkness round me close, songs in the night it giveth. No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging. Since love is lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”