We are disciples because God has revealed His love for us. The readings this Sunday remind us of the many ways that God reveals Himself. In the first reading, Elijah was searching for the Lord and thought that He would reveal Himself in the fire, wind and earthquake, similar to how God had manifested himself on Mount Sinai to Moses (cf. Ex 19:16-19). This time, however, God chose to show Himself in “a tiny whisper” and Elijah knew it and immediately “hid his face in his cloak.”
The Gospel follows this theme and shows us moments when Jesus revealed the love of the Father and invites us to a transformative encounter that can lead us to say with the disciples, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
The first encounter is in the very desire for closeness with Jesus. Matthew tells us that Jesus “made” the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side. The Greek word used is “α’ναγκάζω” which means to force, compel, constrain, or urge. Picking up on this point, Saint Jerome comments, “These words show that the disciples left the Lord unwillingly, not desiring through their love for their teacher to be separated from Him even for a moment.”
The second encounter is the experience of community within the Church. Augustine, like many Church Fathers, recognised that the boat in which the disciples entered with Peter as head, is symbolic of the Church, “While Christ prays on high, the boat is tossed with great waves in the deep; and for as much as the waves rise, that boat can be tossed; but because Christ prays, it cannot be sunk. Think of that boat as the Church, and the stormy sea as this world.”
The third encounter is through the mercy of God. Peter’s faith moved him to request that Jesus bid him come, but his lack of faith caused him to sink and cry out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus’ mercy moved Him to immediately stretch out his hand and catch Peter. Commenting on this passage, Rabanus, the ninth-century archbishop of Mayence, writes, “The Lord looked back upon him, and brought him to repentance; He stretched forth His hand, and forgave him, and thus the disciple found salvation, which is not of him that wills or desires it, but of God who shows mercy” (cf. Rom 9:16).
There is also one place in which we do not encounter God and that is through vanity. The miracle of walking on the water came after the feeding of the large crowd. Matthew tells us that Jesus proceeds to dismiss the crowd and then retreats up the mountain to pray, but in John’s Gospel, it is revealed that Jesus retreated from the crowd because they wanted to make him king (cf. Jn 6:15). Commenting on this humble act of Jesus, Augustine writes, “The danger of vanity which should have been taught by our Lord’s movement away from the crowd — Do you love God? You will walk on the sea; the fear of this world is under thy feet. Do you love the world? It swallows you up” (Sermon 76). John Chrysostom confirms this interpretation: “When the Lord works a great miracle, He sends the multitudes away, teaching us thereby never to pursue the praise of the multitude, nor to attract them to us.”
Sometimes, we want to experience God through great miracles, similar to the experience of walking on water, but reflecting with the Church Fathers, we are reminded that God is right next to us.
* Abbot of St. Martin Abbey Lacey, Washington
By Fr Marion Nguyen, osb *