The safest place in any storm

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19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A: August 7, 2011
1 Kg 19:9, 11-13; Ps 85; Rom 9:1-5; Matt 14:22-33

Does Peter’s response seem odd to you? In today’s Gospel reading, he says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Is that what you would say to Jesus if you were in the same situation?

Well, what was that situation? The day had begun with the news that John the Baptist had been beheaded—which surely hit Jesus and many of the disciples hard, since they knew him and valued him. And they tried to withdraw to a deserted place to pray. But the crowd followed them there—a crowd so big that it numbered 5000 men, plus women and children. And Jesus spent the day healing them; and then, in the evening, miraculously fed all, from just five loaves and two fish.

And then he had made the disciples get into a boat to sail across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee ahead of him. But a terrible storm had come up, with strong winds and tossing waves. So by the fourth watch of the night, sometime between 3 and 6 a.m., they still had not reached the shore, and they were cold, wet, exhausted, and afraid as they kept straining to fight the waves. Then, just when things couldn’t get any worse, one of them spotted a human figure through the darkness, walking upon the waves. It had to be a ghost!—and they were terrified and cried out in fear.

But then they heard the voice of Jesus through the darkness. “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter said to him in reply— And what would you say at that moment?

  • How about: “Lord, don’t scare us like that!”
  • Or: “How are you able to do that?!”
  • Or perhaps the most likely: “Lord, it’s about time you got here! Would you please command this storm to cease—like you before?”

But Peter doesn’t say any of these things. Instead, with the storm continuing to rage, while he is cold, wet, and exhausted, he says: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

What a strange thing to say at that moment! But how very like Peter!

Because Peter always wants to be with Jesus. No matter where that is, or what is going on.

  • We remember the incident, after Christ rises from the dead, when Peter and some of the disciples are fishing; and, as soon as he realizes that it is Christ standing on the shore, he jumps out of the boat and swims to him. (John 21:7)
  • Or there is the time before the crucifixion, when Jesus says to him, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now”; and Peter responds, “Master, why can’t I follow you now?” (John 13:36-37)
  • Or the time when Christ had been telling the crowd that he would give them his actual flesh to eat, and we read that many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. And Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” And Peter answered, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:66-68)

Wherever Jesus is, Peter wants to be with him. And so at this moment, in the middle of the stormy sea, Peter doesn’t try to understand what is going on, and he doesn’t ask for the storm to stop; he asks Jesus to command him to come to him on the water—so that he could be with him once again.

Because Peter, like the prophet Elijah in our first reading, has spent enough time with the Lord that he recognizes his voice. And so no matter what storms might be roaring around him—earthquake, or wind, or fire, or a storm at sea—or whatever storm that life might throw at you, around you or inside you—

  • they both could recognize the Lord’s voice when he spoke, over the roar of the storm;
  • and they both were ready to leave the shelter of their cave and their boat to be near to him.

Does that seem like a natural or easy thing to do? I don’t think it is. Because I know that when storms rage around me, all too often I become angry at the Lord for not calming the storm the way that I want him to; and I may pull away from him; and clutch onto whatever odd security blanket might make me feel safer or in control; even though I know as well as St. Peter that the safest, calmest place in any storm is right next to Jesus.

And how about you? You have plenty of storms in your life, I’m sure; perhaps right now.

  • Do you know the Lord like Peter did? Do you have a firm confidence in his power over any storm? Do you know his love for you personally?
  • Have you spent enough time listening to him that you can recognize his voice in a storm? Spiritual discernment is not easy, and it takes practice. Do you spend time listening to his voice every day in prayer? Do you listen to his voice in Scripture and the teaching of the Church?
  • Where do you turn when life gets rough and painful? If you turn to anyone or anything besides Jesus—wouldn’t it be better to turn to him?
  • Or is there anything keeping you from him—such as some unconfessed sins that you carry around as a great burden and barrier? Please bring these to him in sacramental confession today—after this Mass, at 8:00, in the confessional in the back.

St. Peter’s faith was not perfect that day—for, although he was able to walk on water while he kept his eyes on Jesus, when he looked at the strong wind instead, he began to sink. But even then he could cry out, “Lord, save me!” And he did.

Many years and many storms later, St. Peter would write in his first letter (1 Pet 5:7): “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.”

“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.”

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