Focused on Jesus

08-09-2020Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian

At Mass this weekend our opening prayer reminds us that the Spirit is the one who is given to us and that the Spirit will guide us to our promised inheritance. Certainly, this Holy Spirit is hard to pin down or see or recognize most of the time. For us to sense the presence of the Spirit of God requires us to become quiet, centered, and focused. None of this is easy for us as our heads are often filled with flashy lights and booming sounds.

In our first reading, we learn that the prophet Elijah, with a very open mind, was willing to wait for the Lord to appear in some form or way. Recall that the great appearance of the Lord on Mount Sinai was accompanied by great rumbling of thunder and gobs of thick smoke. It made sense that Elijah would be right to expect some dramatic natural event to signal the Lord’s presence. We learn instead that God was not in the earthquake nor in the mighty wind nor in the fire; he was, instead, in the quietest possible breeze. We are happy to learn that Elijah discovers the Lord’s appearance and responds to it. Elijah, who never writes a word, is indeed a man of God for he was in the Lord’s presence and he knew it. Clearly he is a prophet worth listening to and heeding.

In the Gospel reading, we hear how Jesus is the central figure and that Peter is the object of his attention, and also of ours. The three Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, and John, all tell the story of the storm at sea. They give us the captivating image of a small boat battered by the angry winds. We must note, however, that their versions of the incident vary in significant ways. Mark and John have Jesus walking over the waters toward the boat. Peter stays put. In addition, the actual endings of these three stories all differ also. The disciples are amazed and speechless. Only in Matthew does Peter act and speak. Jesus calls and invites Peter to meet him on the waters of the sea. Peter is okay as long as he is focused on Jesus; he begins sinking the moment his focus changes and in fact, he focuses on himself. Without skipping a beat, Jesus reaches out to steady Peter. Jesus also names out loud the cause of Peter’s near-drowning— “Why did you doubt?” Peter, sadly, does not respond. And then Jesus gets on the small boat. The wind ceases. Then we witness in the story the confession of faith by the apostles. They exclaim: “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

What are we to make of these dramatic and spectacular happenings such as the calming of the sea, not even to mention walking on water? What are we to make of our Gospel passage? To-wards what is it pointing us and teaching us? It may be that it is an image of the early church—a small boat tossed about by the storm at sea. Although the Catholic Church is now far from little, it is still tossed about on the sea of life. In the Gospel passage, the vision of Jesus walking on water inspired fear and awe. Recall that Peter made a request. “If it is you …” and Jesus responds by saying: “Come!” and reaches out his hand. This reaching out to grasp the extend-ed hand of Jesus is what we all need to do as individuals and as a church community. In the strength of Christ, the Church can stand against the storms and winds of our lives. The Church, much like ourselves, may at times falter, but when we hear the Lord Jesus say “Come!”, all we need to do is take his hand and follow.