August 11th, 2002
Larry Gillick, S.J.
Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.
|Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary
1 Kings 19:9, 11-13
Psalm 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
For a more prayerful reception of the Word of God in this Sunday’s liturgy, try to remember the noise of a storm in which you heard windows rattle, trees slap their leaves together, waves test the shore and thunder announce majesty.
Picture yourself in a small boat and you are wondering where the
life jackets might be. Then all grows quiet, calm and perhaps this
makes you even more worried.
Where is God’s grace and presence to be found? We pray to be open to the God who continues to pass by, but not pass us by in that abandoning sense. We are tempted to pray that storms never arise, or if they do, we pray that they end soon so we might find Jesus in the calm. WE are called by these readings to be aware of God’s grace in all weather, of relationships, spirit, mind or body. We pray for the openness to his comings and calls in all life’s happenings. We are invited also to be attentive to his call, even to trusting him beyond our sense of security.
The great prophet Elijah has seen all the other prophets of Israel put to the sword and is fleeing for his own life immediately before the story we hear in the First Reading. He has asked God to allow him to die, but instead received bread for his journey and a kick in the pants to get going.
After forty days of travel, he takes refuge in a cave. During the night, God asks him, “What are you doing here?” Elijah professes his life’s mission has always been to restore the convenantal relationship between Israel and God, but things do not look very good at the present moment.
WE then hear the mysterious story of God’s appearing, not in fire, earthquakes and thunder as in the history of Israel, but in a small gentle breeze. Elijah makes a gesture of understanding that God is still with him. The voice asks him again, “What are you doing here?” Elijah realizes that he must return to his homeland and anoint other prophets and leaders who will assist the return to God.
There is great encouragement for the Christian Community in today’s Gospel. The Apostles are sent off in a boat while Jesus cleaned up after the feeding with the loaves and fish. While He is doing this and then praying, a storm comes up and so does a storm of communal fear. Jesus comes to them walking on the water. He calms their terror by the familiar words, “I am who I am”, or “It is I.”
Then we have the wonderful picture of Peter who affirms Jesus’ reality by inviting him to climb out of the boat for a water-walk. Taking more account of the wind than the call of Jesus, Peter begins getting wetter and wetter.
Peter, the captain of the ship has shown his doubt-ability and Jesus asks him about the little faith he has after all their experiences of Christ’s love. The two of them climb back into the boat and the storm dies and they all make their gestures of faith and worship. So where is the encouragement for the Christians of Matthew’s day in this Gospel and for us today?
By being immersed in the waters of Baptism we all climbed into the boat of the Church and set off across the unknown. We have been fed in the sharing of the Bread as was Elijah and the Apostles before their going rowing. As with Elijah, we may have wanted to give up the journey of following our faith commitment. As with the Apostles, the waves tossing us and our boat around may have caused us great fears.
The readers of Matthew’s Gospel in the early days of the Boat’s floating, knew the opposition to their “New Way.” Their beliefs in Jesus and all that he taught and all that to which he had called them, was all being attacked. They then, as we do now, knew the fears that come with being suspected and challenged.
“What are you doing here? God asked Elijah and now asks us. Jesus asks us who are still in the boat of the Church, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” We doubted for lots of reasons. We thought your Church, your Boat, was a safe place in all kinds of storms, but some waves have been hitting us broadside. We have been finding out that some of the most trusted people in the Boat were injuring the little believers and so, many of us started to jump ship.
I am a priest who is staying in the boat, but I know that anybody else in or out can suspect me, though they might not want to. I find encouragement in the calming words of Jesus announcing that he has not abandoned the Boat and its passengers. I hear him call to each of us not to jump overboard, but accept his invitation to walk towards him in the truth of our storm and the reality of our simple doubts.
In a way, I find this a second immersion of my humanity and a second
grasping us and saving us by helping us back into the Boat. The storm
can be a very valid excuse to jump out for good. I do understand
that. I pray with the calming of the storm within me, even though
the storm-scandal may rage. “What am I doing here, me of little faith?”
I am one with Elijah who journeys; who hears the freshening breeze and
has zeal for what is God’s call. I am one with the frightened, doubting,
yet trusting Apostles and with Peter who hear his call of intimate identity
and accompaniment. I continue to be rebaptized in the
waters of stormy fears and the abused, tears.
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