Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
By Fr. Claude Perera, OMI


First Reading: 1 Kings 19:9a,11-13a
The Lord mMkes Himself Known to Elijah in Silence.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 85:9-14
A Prayer for Peace

Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5
Privileges of the Israelites

Gospel Reading: Matthew 14:22-33
Jesus Walking on Water

Background on the Gospel Reading

Last Sunday, we read the account of the multiplication of five loaves and two fish for a crowd of more than 5,000 people. After that miracle, Jesus wanted to be away from everyone and climbed a mountain to pray. At the same time, He sent the disciples by boat to go ahead of him to the other side of the lake.

During their boat journey, the waves of the lake became rough and the disciples were in difficulty. Then, Jesus came towards them walking on water. To make matters worse, they did not recognize him and thought him to be a ghost and cried in fear. Jesus calmed them saying, “Do not fear, it is I.” Impulsive Peter wanted proof and assurance and challenged Jesus. He said, “If it is you, command me to come to you on water.” Then Jesus replied, “Come.” Peter got out of the water and started walking towards Jesus. But that was not for long. He began to sink in water and yelled out, “Lord save me, for I am sinking.” Then Jesus reached out to him and blamed his lack of faith and the disciples got into the boat. Just then, the wind ceased.

To understand this episode, we need to know something of the Semitic Cosmogony or how the universe was made up. Their universe was full of water. There was water above (Gn 1:6-8) and below (Gn 1:9). The Highest Heaven was beyond the waters above, while the waters below lay deep down. Sheol, the Abode of Demons and Dead Spirits was located there. The earth which was like a flat disc floated on the surface of these subterranean waters. They believed that any opening of water like seas, lakes, rivers, or wells were gates of the Abode of the Demons. Any turbulence in water sources was thought to be resulting from demonic activity. In the Semitic mentality, the rough waves and the headwind in today’s gospel were such manifestations of demonic phenomena. But God is in control of such nefarious activities. At the dawn of creation, the Spirit of God was hovering over the evil powers, holding them in check. Jesus, the Son of God was walking on the water, i.e. on the surface of the abode of demons. It is shows him to be the Victor over evil. He says to the frightened disciples, “Be not afraid. It is I” (Mt 14:27). This second half of the phrase reflects the revelation of the name of God, “I am He who is” in Ex 3:14. This was a statement about His divinity to strengthen the wavering faith of the disciples. Yet, Peter wasn’t ready to believe. He looked for empirical evidence like Thomas after the resurrection (Jn 20:25). He demanded an ordeal. In the process of the ordeal, he was still doubting, and thus, began to sink. Jesus found fault with Peter’s lack of faith.  See how the dialectics of belief and disbelief interplay. They are the two sides of the same coin. The winds of the tempter can turn the coin either way unless our faith is strong enough not to be shaken by the tempter.

As the disciples got into the boat, the wind dropped (Mt 14:32). There was a great silence. That’s where God’s gentle presence is to be found. In today’s first reading, we had a similar situation.  On Mount Horeb, as Elijah was waiting to experience the divine presence, a strong wind rent the mountain, but the Lord was not there in the wind. Then, there was an earthquake and the Lord was not there in the earthquake. After that, there was a fire and the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, there was a tiny whispering sound and the Lord was in that whisper. Instead of the “whispering sound” some translations like the NRSV have, “there was sheer silence.” The NRSV has caught the real meaning of the phrase. Elijah experienced God in the silence. In today’s gospel episode, after the storm, there was a great calm. Turbulences occur before a theophany to prepare the receiver. But at the actual theophany often there is silence or a voice from heaven (Mt 3:17).

Noise is not a sign of divine presence. God speaks to the human heart in the silence of the heart or of nature. We have too many noises and voices around us. Modern civilization is a cacophony rather than one of harmony. Harmony is where God dwells. It is into the harmony and silence that God speaks. God keeps speaking all the time in the silence of nature and in the silence of our hearts. But are our hearts silent? Do we await God to speak in the silence of our hearts? Is there silence in and around us so that we clearly hear him talking to us? I do not know. Noise often accompanies our Godless modernity. We are all caught up in that noisy culture. Our children and youth are often its agents. Silence is a long-lost value in our modern civilization. Can we rediscover silence so that we may hear our fast-losing Absolute, i.e. God? Yet, God is in control. Can we listen to some heart-soothing music rather than sonorous cacophonies? Shutting our ears to illusory voices and noises of deception, shall we keep our ears wide open to hear him?

Happy Sunday! Bon Dimanche! Buona Domenica! Schönen Sonntag! Gelukkige Zondag! Szczęśliwej Niedzieli! Sretna Nedjelja!

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