19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 13th August 2017

God is always very close to us

First Reading

1 Kings 19:9,11-13
When Elijah reached Horeb, the mountain of the Lord, he went into the cave and spent the night in it. Then he was told, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ Then the Lord himself went by. There came a mighty wind, so strong it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire. But the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there came the sound of a gentle breeze. And when Elijah heard this, he covered his face with his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Second Reading

Romans 9:1-5
What I want to say now is no pretence; I say it in union with Christ – it is the truth – my conscience in union with the Holy Spirit assures me of it too. What I want to say is this: my sorrow is so great, my mental anguish so endless, I would willingly be condemned and be cut off from Christ if it could help my brothers of Israel, my own flesh and blood. They were adopted as sons, they were given the glory and the covenants; the Law and the ritual were drawn up for them, and the promises were made to them. They are descended from the patriarchs and from their flesh and blood came Christ who is above all, God for ever blessed! Amen.

Gospel Reading

Matthew 14:22-33
Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’

Scripture readings – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“God is always very close to us”

by Fr Dan Carroll SDB

We all want to walk on solid ground and be safe wherever we go. But, to grow we have to take risks, trust and learn from out failures.

St Matthew tells how Jesus sent the disciples ahead of him on a boat journey. Jesus loved the disciples but he had to give them the freedom to grow in discipleship. He went to the mountain to pray for them and be one with his father. At sea the disciples began to experience strong winds and rough seas. Life was getting difficult. Jesus was aware of what was happening. The disciples did not ask for assistance, but Jesus went immediately to their aid. He walked on the water, but when the disciples first saw him they though he was a ghost and were frightened. “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”, he said to them.

Jesus was trying to teach his disciples that, no matter what adversities, challenges and struggles life brought them the Father’s love will always be with them, but they must put their total trust him.

When the disciples recognised Jesus, Peter sought permission to walk on the water which Jesus granted. Initially Peter walked on the water and he was like Jesus. But then the winds rose and he lost his focus and began to sink and cried out, “Lord, save me!”

St Augustine, a 4th century saint said “the Lord leaned down and took Peter by the hand.”

Peter and his fellow disciples learned that it was not by their strength or their own efforts they would succeed, but by God’s grace and protection. Jesus gave them the space to learn for themselves, but he was with them all the time – even when he was on the mountain.

There are times when we experience the closeness of this relationship and there are times God seems far away and silent. Evan before the disciples sought help Jesus was with them. As we grow close to God we let go of our fears and learn to trust. We grow into a humanity that is free and loving.

Lord, teach us to put our trust in you. Protect us when we think we are sinking. Give us the courage to go forth and offer ourselves to you in a new way every day. Amen.

LECTIO DIVINA

by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB

Introduction to Lectio Divine

When Jesus had satisfied the hunger of the crowd with the multiplication of bread, he wanted to be alone again with God. He had satisfied other people’s need for food. Now he went off to pray in order to satisfy his own need for God. We are less enthusiastic about this Jesus who dismisses the crowd and his disciples because he wants to be alone with God.

We should not be surprised that he prefers solitude with God to the company of those who were present for the miracle. But a Jesus who leaves us alone because he wants to be with God, whether just for a moment or for a whole night, is of little use to us. The disciples on the lake that night were in danger of perishing simply because they had lost sight of their Lord. And yet, disciples must accept that Jesus can leave them at any moment of their lives. Only then will they appreciate the moments that they pass in the company of Jesus, and come to realize how much they need his presence.

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

The account consists of a short narrative and a dialogue or conversation. The narrative introduces and explains the dialogue. The narrative speaks of Jesus and his disciples but the conversation is between Jesus and Peter alone. The disciples return to the scene as believers, but only when they are saved, when the wind has died down, and Jesus and Peter have got into the boat again.

When he had satisfied the hunger of the crowd, Jesus felt the need to be alone. He left them to sail by themselves, by night, in the storm. This is not the first time that Jesus abandoned his followers for a while, but he did not normally leave them alone on the sea in a storm. However, Jesus did not hesitate to come to their rescue, even though he had not been asked to help. As he came towards them, the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost. They could not imagine that it was the very one whom they had seen feeding the crowd a short time earlier. How little they understood of what they had just seen!

The familiar voice of Jesus, coming to them in the storm, took them out of their fear and encouraged Peter to imitate him by walking on the water. But the sea and the fear were stronger than his faith. The invitation of Jesus to come to him on the water was not enough to save him from his doubts. The incredulity in the heart of Peter increased as he walked on the water and he began to sink. Obedience to Jesus was not enough (“tell me to come to you”). Only the hand of Jesus saved his life.

Jesus redirects our attention to Peter, who had risked most and had doubted. In the end, they all, together with Peter, professed their faith, relieved to have Jesus with them again in the boat. It shows that the faith of one always strengthens the faith of the others.

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

The disciples had to face the storm together without Jesus beside them in the boat. They were afraid before ever they got into the boat. They were so gripped with fear that they did not recognise Jesus as he came walking on the water to help them. And because they were unable to believe that it was Jesus, they thought it was a ghost. It shows how little they knew about the Lord and his power, even though the previous afternoon they had seen him multiplying bread and feeding the crowd. This often happens to us. We get so weighed down by our difficulties that we forget the help that God has given us, even a short time previously. The latest danger, the most recent need, or some new suffering makes us think that Jesus has forgotten us. And we thwart the efforts of Jesus to come to our help, because we cannot imagine that he would take the risk of walking on the water to save us when we are threatened with death. We still mistake him for a ghost whenever he wants to help us. We find it hard to believe that, after he seems to abandon us for a while, he should appear again to save us. Our years of following Jesus and living close to him have done us little good if we are incapable of recognising him when he comes to save us. His coming does us little good if we think he is a ghost!

We might at least allow ourselves to be called by his voice. The only sure way of recognising him in the night, in the midst of our anxiety, is to listen to him, as the disciples did in the midst of the storm. When we hear his word, then we will know that he is our Lord. Until we regain hope that we are saved, we have to allow Jesus to speak to us. The greater the danger, the more we feel abandoned, the more we must pay attention to him. If we do not allow the noise of the storm to drown his voice, then the fear in our souls will not prevent us from hearing him, and we will know that he is close to us. His word will take us out of our fear, even if the storm has not abated. His hand will hold us with power far greater than the storm. He will relieve our pain, even if we are still suffering. He will give us the assurance that we are saved, even when we are still in danger. His word will be the anchor that holds our boat safe, as it was for the disciples that night on the lake.

Listening to his word is the best way to recognise that Jesus is close to us. The worst storm that can befall us is not the one that most endangers our life but the one that keeps us from recognising God and makes us doubt his concern for us.  As long as we listen to him, as long as we follow him and try to hear him better, we still have reason to count on his presence and his help. For Christians, difficulties are never unbearable. They do not get the better of us, provided they do not keep us from hearing the voice of God. No matter where we are, no matter how we feel, if we listen to God we are close to him and we can count on him. We lose God, and we lose ourselves, when we become so busy working to save ourselves that we do not have time to listen to him.

The reaction of Peter when he recognised the voice of Jesus in the middle of the night shows us very well what a disciple can do, if he or she is able to listen to the Lord even in the stormiest periods of life. Though threatened by the sea, Peter found enough courage to challenge the sea, and his fears, and to step out on to the stormy waters. Trusting Jesus will make us more courageous. We show that our fear is greater than our obedience when we lack the courage to confront situations of danger.

We will never know for sure if Jesus is come walking on the water to save us if we do not trust him as Peter did and throw ourselves into the deep. It is our lack of faith that gives situations of fear and uncertainty their power over us. If we had the courage to realize that behind every threat and in the midst of every tribulation Jesus is waiting for us, then, like Peter, we would be able to come to him.

We feel attracted to Peter who risked so much. Jesus’ invitation did not save him from his lack of trust. As soon as his feet touched the water, the enthusiasm he experienced on hearing the Lord left him. The closeness of Jesus is not always enough to work a miracle in the disciple. It is interesting that Peter was able to walk on the water while he trusted the Lord’s invitation. He began to drown when he paid more heed to the danger than to the word of Jesus. He was drowned in doubt before he began to drown in the water. The miracle was worked the moment he began walking towards the Lord on the water, obeying the Lord’s invitation. But he was submerged in lack of trust before his body sank in the water.

It is not hard to agree with those disciples who felt the absence of Jesus so much. No sooner had the Lord left them than they found themselves in the middle of a dangerous storm. They did not believe that Jesus could come walking on the water to help them. They did not dare to follow blindly the invitation of Jesus and they were paralyzed by fear even though he was near at hand. We understand their difficulties, because they are also our own.

We should not forget that having Jesus close at hand is of no value if we believe we are abandoned, if in time of danger, our fear is greater than our faith. If we pay more attention to the dangers we are facing than we do to the Word of God, any storm and any setback will be enough to drown our faith and shipwreck our trust. It is no use counting on Jesus and his word, if our fears prevail and our anxiety at being alone in our difficulty. Jesus does not leave us alone. We must trust him. His word strengthens our faith. He comes to us, even across a stormy sea. Those who doubt will not be saved.

PRAYER

Almighty, ever-living God,
we confidently call you Father as well as Lord.
Renew your Spirit in our hearts:
make us ever more perfectly your children,
so that we may enter upon the inheritance you have promised us.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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GodIsAlwaysVeryCloseToUs