Posted by: Fr Chris | August 10, 2019


Gospel of Matthew, 14:22-34

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In the previous storm on the lake, the disciples had Jesus with them. He was asleep in the stern while even the experienced sailors of the apostles were in a panic over the ferocity of the storm. This time He sent them out by themselves, so He could pray alone. Matthew tells us that Jesus does not appear until the fourth watch of the night – that means the disciples have been facing this fierce storm for about twelve hours, in darkness. The sea, even an inland sea, was something to fear: for all the ancients the visible sea was the portion of the abyss on which the earth rested. And in the world of the Hebrews, the sea represented chaos, a monster that God alone can conquer. In the Book of Job, God is described as trampling the dragon of the sea, in Psalm 24 that we use so often it says the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness of it, the world and those who dwell in it, for He has founded it upon the seas. Jesus is having them visit alone, in the dark, both the primal chaos of creation and  their own fear and failure to truly rely on God.

The words Matthew uses for the storm are powerful: it is not just waves, but waves that torture, that cause terrible distress. The apostles are paralyzed with fear and lack of faith. Then out of the darkness comes a figure across these huge waves, walking toward them. No wonder they yell that it is a ghost after twelve hours of this tossing around with no one to comfort them and no hope of getting to land. What Jesus says to them is extremely important, and poorly translated in the New American Bible reading we just heard. He says, Take heart, or have confidence. And then He says  I AM – the Name of God – and then have no fear. The storm that was their greatest fear now reveals their beloved Teacher. He does not swoop down in glory from the mountain and wipe out the storm – He comes to them from inside the storm. Peter knows Who it is by His Voice – they still can’t see Jesus. And Peter again is the voice of faith: He calls Jesus Kyrios, Lord. And then in true Peter style, If it is You – a mix of belief and unbelief – call me. The storm is still raging, but Peter and Christ are talking to one another inside the storm. Jesus invites Peter to come to Him, and after twelve hours of absolute misery Peter has such faith that he steps out of the boat; he leaves his only security and gives himself over to the fury of wind, crashing waves, fearful noise, and heads toward Jesus, Who is still a distance away.

Peter does just fine until — he notices the strong wind and is afraid.  The moment he takes his eyes off Jesus, he sinks into the chaos. There was a bridge between Peter and Jesus: Peter said, bid me come to Thee; Jesus answered Come! and now Peter breaks the bridge. Only as he sinks does he cry again, Lord, Kyrios, Save me!

All of this obviously is a parallel for us. Every Christian, every believer, every person has a time of darkness, when we feel bereft, tortured, frightened. In the end it is God alone Who can answer our fears, it is God Who can break through. And how does He choose to do this? So often it is not with an earth-shattering miracle, but that thin small sound of silence that Elijah heard in the cave. God speaks to us while we are in the scary swamp of fears. He is not a God Who shows up when things are finally bright and cheery – He is there in the muck with us.

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When do we get in trouble? When we take our eyes off God, when we push God’s grace aside, when we ask God to step aside for a little while so we can do what we want – my parents say go take out the garbage and I don’t because I am playing a video game; my brother says play with me and I say no because I want to do something else; my boss tells me I am needed somewhere and I don’t want to go there so I don’t; that bottle of beer or whisky seems to be calling me even though I am supposed to avoid alcohol. Sin is when we take part in the dark chaos, and sin can slowly, quietly become habitual until suddenly I realize where I am, what I have lost, where I might be going and we cry out Lord, save me! from the depth of our hearts.

What does Jesus do when Peter cries out for Him? He bends over and extends His hand – He does not have lean down into the turbulent waters and haul Peter up. Jesus simply extends His hand. And this also means that Peter had almost made it to Christ – he had walked over the chaos, through the darkness, out of the fears and was close enough to Jesus that Jesus simply had to bend down. He was that close, and he lost his faith and gave in to the fear and sank. He had set out in full confidence, and at the last moment, became afraid.

Here is the key to take home today: Jesus waits for us always. Jesus is close enough, even when we are swallowed up by sin, to extend His hand to us. Jesus never abandons us, the way we too often abandon Him and His teachings. Jesus does not walk away, does not yell at Peter, does not let him drown, He simply makes the comment, You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

Peter was close enough to Jesus to touch Him, but suddenly he had doubt. Jesus stretches out His hand – the same divine hand that opened and closed the waters of the Red Sea, the hand that made the seas themselves – and Peter is safe. And what does this hand do? Jesus grasps Peter, it is a Greek verb that emphasizes great strength. With that firm grip, that firm powerful hand, Peter is truly safe.

One of the great mysteries of life is that the God Who created light out of the void, Who made the entire universe, intimately cares about each and every soul on this planet. In particular, He is close to those baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity, as we literally belong to Him. Jesus is the savior – He saved us. And Jesus saves me, over and over again. When we step out of the darkness and chaos of sin, then we are stepping into His embrace. When we approach and receive His Most Precious Body and Life-giving Blood, we are grasped by Him, He takes hold of us, He encourages us, He feeds us, He strengthens us and He embraces us. Each reception of Holy Communion is the opportunity to repeat Peter’s adventure of falling into Christ’s embrace.

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The prestigious Pew Research Center published a study of American Catholics last week: nearly seven-in-ten Catholics (69%) say they personally believe that during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine used in Communion “are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” Not even one-third of U.S. Catholics, a mere 31%, say they believe that “during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.” Only 22% know Church teaching on the Eucharist.

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I’m going to presume this – but if you come to our Divine Liturgy and recite that prayer before receiving Holy Communion, you cannot but know, be absolutely convinced, that this is indeed the fullness of Jesus Christ. Here is the firm grasping hand of the Lord, here is the loving embrace of the divine Savior, here is the fullness of revelation made real. If it is not Christ’s full Personhood, then forget it! No wonder many American Catholics don’t go to Mass – I wouldn’t bother either if this is just a symbol. I’d get another job. Men and women have died over the centuries for the Mass; people have lost their jobs, their families, over their faith in the Holy Eucharist. If you know a Catholic who thinks this is a symbol, I urge you to invite them to come with you here. Because you cannot leave here thinking that!  And you cannot leave here without knowing that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, has spoken to us, and wanted to meet us. He awaits us in every tabernacle, He comes at every Liturgy or Mass, and the chaos of sin has no power in His presence. Let us come to Him, and be firm in faith, and have no doubts in God’s great mercy.

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