NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME A
Texts: 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a; Rom 9:1-5; Matt 14:22-33
By Fr. Augustine Agwulonu, OP
THEME: JESUS SAVES
He came to them walking on the water… Then Jesus spoke to them saying, take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.
The Lord Jesus Christ was walking on the water in order to save his disciples. Our Lord’s mission and all his actions on earth are for the sole purpose of bringing salvation to God’s children. We are often battered and tossed about by the waves of life’s existential challenges. According to this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus’ movement and speech brought calm, peace, courage, and instruction to his disciples on troubled and dangerous water of the sea.
Contextually, Matthew narrates that Jesus finished praying on the mountain and then descended to the seashore. The Lord had hoped to find a boat to ferry him across to the other side of the sea. When he found no boat, Jesus began walking on the water towards his frightened disciples. Their state of fear and worry was not only caused by the headwind against them, but also by Jesus’ appearance walking on the sea. They thought that he was a ghost given that it was the late hour of the night. We would certainly not imagine that the Lord met his disciples accidentally as he was walking on the water. He surely knew about the danger they encountered as they sailed on the water. That was most likely the reason that the Lord neither went back to the mountain to continue praying nor waited for a boat to arrive at the shore for him. He began walking on the water towards his disciples. Our lives unfold in the full view of God’s omnipotent and omnipresent eyes, in his vision of creation with the seven eyes, which reaches to every corner of the world (see Zech 3:7).
Now, like the prophet Elijah in the first reading, the Lord Jesus Christ has power over nature. For instance, we read about Elijah’s prophecy, which stopped rain from falling for three years (1 Kgs 17:1). Elijah divided the river Jordan and crossed it on dry land (2 Kgs 2:8). There were other miracles of nature that the prophet Elijah performed during his life time. Today, the prophet Elijah is on mount Horeb to meet the Lord of Host. It is curious but also consoling that God did not reveal himself to Elijah in the devastating natural phenomena: “strong and heavy wind shattering the rocks,” the “earthquake,” and the raging “fire.” The Lord rather made Elijah feel his presence “in a tiny whispering sound.” This was the kind of environment, which Jesus replicated for his disciples after the strong head wind had threatened to sink their boat with them in the water. And so, just as God restores peace to the prophet Elijah after his rough, rock shattering windy kind of life, and the not so enviable function of having to call down fire from heaven to consume God’s enemies (2 Kgs 1:12), so the Lord Jesus brings quiet and tranquility to the sea and to his troubled disciples on the agitated water.
According to how Matthew presents Jesus’ movement to save his disciples from the head wind on the sea, we can say that this Gospel miracle story today reveals the saving power and intervention of God’s presence with us. Matthew uses the Greek word peripatōn, which means walking about, to describe Jesus’ movement on the water as he went towards his disciples. Thus, even with the threat of the turbulent wind, Jesus was walking about on the sea. The wind represented none other than the spirit of God that hovers over the waters as we read in Gen 1:1. Then the Lord called out to his disciples in order to encourage them. All these events mirror God’s presence that fills the atmosphere of the sea. God never withdraws his presence from us.
The challenge is that we often lose sight of this constant and continued presence of God with us. We often think about Jesus as a historically fashioned mythological mirage or a phantom created by the human imagination. Today’s miracle narrative invites us to always have it in our minds that the presence of God constantly resides in our midst, even when we experience worries, needs, and the struggles of life. We remember Psalm 81:7, where the Lord says: from my hiding place in the storm, I answered you. How great and wonderful it is to know that God hides in the strong and shattering headwinds of the troubles we encounter in this life! There is nowhere we can go to escape from God’s presence. He is always near to us and nothing can harm us (see Psalms 139 and 16:8).
God’s divine salvation through his presence is constantly available and accessible to us. We only suffer as long as we do not recognize God’s presence within and around us. We fight the dangers of the inimical waves of life alone if we do not acknowledge Jesus’ presence and consciously revel in the Spirit of God that hovers over us and on the surface of the rivers of our lives. This is the reason that it pained St. Paul so much, according to today’s second reading, that his kinsmen and women were hesitant to consider and accept the gift of salvation, which God offers to them in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. To reject Christ is to ignore the salvation he brings and offers to us. However, through the power of the Holy Spirit and St. Paul’s faith conviction, we all rejoice in the salvation of God, which has been revealed to us in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the Good News, which gladdens our hearts this day and always. Therefore, we confidently confess and declare:
Jesus saves! And he does so through his presence, which also mediates God’s presence to us, and also through the blowing, wavy, and surrounding movement of the Holy Spirit. Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid, says the Lord.