“LORD, LET US SEE YOUR KINDNESS, AND GRANT US YOUR SALVATION.”
- There is a story told about a young man and an old preacher. The young man had lost his job and didn’t know which way to turn. So he went to see the old preacher. Pacing about the preacher’s study, the young man ranted about his problem. Finally he clenched his fist and shouted, “I’ve begged God to say something to help me. Tell me, Preacher, why doesn’t God answer?” The old preacher, who sat across the room, spoke something in reply – something so hushed, it was indistinguishable. The young man stepped across the room. “What did you say?” he asked. The preacher repeated himself, but again in a tone as soft as a whisper. So, the young man moved closer until he was leaning on the preacher’s chair. “Sorry,” he said. “I still didn’t hear you.” With their heads bent together, the old preacher spoke once more. “God sometimes whispers,” he said, “so that we will move closer to hear Him.” This time the young man heard and he understood.
We all want God’s voice to thunder through the air with the answer to our problem. But God’s voice is the still, small voice… the gentle whisper. Perhaps there’s a reason. Nothing draws human focus quite like a whisper. God’s whisper means I must stop my ranting and move close to Him, until my head is bent together with His. Then, as I listen, I will find my answer. Better still, I find myself closer to God.
Today is the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Scripture Readings of today speak of God’s kindness and His saving presence amidst trials and afflictions. In the First Reading from the 1st Book of the Kings, we hear about the Prophet Elijah’s encounter with God. The prophet Elijah is running for his life from the death threats of Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife for he killed all her priests of Baal on Mount Carmel. He has taken shelter in a cave in Mt. Horeb (Sinai), God’s mountain. There Elijah recognizes God who appears in a tiny whispering sound, and who comes to help him when he is struggling against the storms in his life. In the Second Reading from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul is overwhelmed with sorrow for the rejection of the Gospel of Christ by the chosen people Israel. However, by recalling God’s irrevocable gifts to Israel, his faith is strengthened. In the Gospel Reading from St. Matthew, we see that the disciples are caught in the midst of a storm. Jesus comes to them walking on water. He tells the frightened disciples to have no fear. Peter wants to walk on water too, but is too afraid of the storm to do so. He asks his master to save him. Jesus tells him to place his trust in him. Finally, when they got into the boat, the wind died down.
“THEN THERE WAS A TINY WHISPERING SOUND …”
In the First Reading of today from the 1st Book of Kings, we hear about Elijah’s encounter with God. Elijah has hidden himself in a cave in Mt. Horeb (Sinai), God’s mountain, for the fear of being killed by Zezebel, King Ahab’s wife, for he killed all her priests of Baal on Mount Carmel. The Prophet Elijah is a man of God and a defender of faith. There a voice tells him to go and present himself on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord would be passing by. Elijah goes and waits for the awe-inspiring presence of God. As he must have expected, there was a huge wind that threw boulders around like pebbles. But Elijah, the prophet of supreme faith, did not sense the presence of God in the mighty wind. Then there was an earthquake; but Elijah’s faith told him that the Lord was not in the earthquake. Then followed fire; but again Elijah’s faith told him that the Lord was not in the fire. Then there was a tiny whispering sound, and Elijah hid his face, for it was the voice of God which was more powerful than wind, earthquake or fire. That voice was the voice of faith, enabling him to recognize God, who came to help him when he was struggling against the storms in his life.
The heart of the story is its description of how God’s presence is known. Rather than the cosmic displays viz. wind, earthquake and fire, that have been a standard feature of the manifestation of God’s presence, it is revealed in ‘a tiny whispering sound,’ an enigmatic phrase which indicates the paradox of something heard within silence. The nature of the Prophet Elijah’s encounter with God opens up a whole new understanding of how the Divine presence may be experienced and known.
PAUL’S GREAT SORROW AND DEEP ANGUISH:
In the Second Reading of today from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, we see St. Paul expressing his great sorrow and deep anguish for the rejection of the Gospel of Christ by God’s chosen people, blessed by God beyond all other peoples of the world. They have been given His sonship, the glory, the covenants, the law, the worship, and the promises of God. The patriarchs belong to them, and above all, it is from their race that the Christ has been born. Israel has all it needs in order to understand the word of God and to become part of Christ’s new people. Yet all that did not make them understand in seeing and acknowledging Christ as their Savior. They did not have faith in him and did not accept him as the Messiah. For St. Paul, this is the reason for an immense feeling of sadness. He was even willing to be accursed, that is, to undergo the worst possible fate, in imitation of Christ’s suffering, so that the obstinate chosen people may experience life and salvation.
“LORD, SAVE ME!”:
In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Matthew’s Gospel, which is the continuation of the Last Sunday’s Reading, we see how the disciples recognize God in Jesus in the midst of a storm. After the miraculous feeding of five thousand, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. He then went to the mountain to pray. It was Jesus who always experienced God in the silence of his heart and always united himself with God through prayer, and especially in the storms of his life.
a) Storm in the sea: The story now switches back to the disciples. They are far out on the lake by now and we see them struggling against a storm in the sea, being tossed about by its strong waves. They are there in the lake without Jesus. It is quite clear that here we are seeing a picture of the early Church itself, represented by the disciples in their fragile boat surrounded by hostile winds and waves. It was a common experience of the Church during its first centuries. It was a difficult situation filled with much fear and anxiety.
b) “It is a ghost!” We then have a vivid picture of Jesus walking early in the morning on the sea towards the boat containing his struggling disciples in the storm. They do not recognize him. Far from feeling reassured they become even more terrified, and panic, saying, “It is a ghost.” It is a measure of their superstitious natures and, as such, a measure of the long way they have to go in exorcising such superstitions and replacing them with a genuine faith in God. One still meets a great deal of such irrational fears in people, including we Christians, today. For instance, how many of us here would be comfortable walking alone through a large empty cemetery on a dark, moonless night, even though it would probably be a lot safer than walking down one of our city streets at such a time!
c) “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid!” Then out of wind and wave and terror comes the comforting voice of Jesus, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” The disciples needed courage whose source was their confidence and trust in the protection of their Lord. Again, Jesus is there to protect us and take care of us and when we are in difficulty and struggle, he will come to our help. As such, there is no need for fear or anxiety in spite of the apparently threatening dangers around us. We need total trust and faith in him.
d) “Lord, save me!” Peter, who often put his foot in his mouth, does it again. He is the impulsive one but he is also the group’s leader. He immediately says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water,” and Jesus invites him to put his feet on water by saying – “Come.” Peter eagerly responds, but gets a sinking feeling, and cries out, “Lord, save me!” At that moment, Jesus must have been amused at the ever-changeable Peter. He reproaches Peter’s lack of faith, takes him by his hand and saves him. In Peter’s walk on the water and desperate grasp of Jesus’ hand, we are presented with a stunning image of how important it is to reach out in faith to Jesus. Again, “Lord, save me!” is the cry, a cry echoed by Christians all down the ages who have felt that the world was ready to crush them.
e) “Truly, you are the Son of God.” When they got into the boat, the wind died down and there was calm. Experiencing calmness in the presence of Jesus, in the midst of a storm makes the disciples to recognize the presence of God in Jesus and they profess their faith in Jesus saying – “Truly, you are the Son of God.” In the dark of that stormy night, the person of Jesus is revealed as the cosmic Lord, able to subdue the forces of chaos represented by the raging sea. Here Jesus manifests his divine identity by calming the stormy waters, just as in the beginning God brought order out of the chaos of the raging waters.
The Scripture Readings of today tell us that there is never any need for fear and anxiety, for God is always close to us. He is there stretching out his comforting and saving hand so that we may not sink in our storms of life. No matter what may be happening in and around us, his peace is there for us to share. We live in this stormy world – there are many difficulties & problems, anxieties & worries, sufferings & pains, failures & losses and so on – they threaten us and make us frightened. In the midst of them we cry for help. God does come to our help as He came to help Elijah during his stormy life; Jesus too comes to save us as he approached his disciples walking on the sea and calmed the storm. But we often fail to recognize God when He comes, because often-time He comes as we do not expect. We need to conform to God, rather than God conform to us. Today let us ask then for the gift of faith that we may be able to recognize Him in the ordinary situations of our lives, and humbly pray to Him saying, “ Lord, let us see your Kindness, and grant us your salvation.” And this is the Good News of today.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.