Reflection for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – “Going to a mountain to pray” by Sr Bridget O’Connell
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A – Lectio divina on Mt 14,22-33
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.
[After the crowd was satisfied] 22 Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. 27 But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; 30 but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
I. 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.
II. 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 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 could 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 at 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.