Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First reading: 1 Kgs 19:9, 11-13
Responsorial Psalm: 85:9, 10-14
Second reading: Rom 9:1-5
Gospel: Mt 14:22-33
By Jem Sullivan
It would not be an overstatement to say that in the past six months a violent storm caused by a virus was unleashed on our daily way of life. In its trail, the COVID-19 pandemic has left what may be likened to a wrecking storm affecting the physical and spiritual health, livelihood and education of millions of people.
Attempts to envision and plan for what life will be like in a “new normal” are anything but normal. And fear of the disease continues to grip minds and hearts as infection rates rise and fall, only to rise again!
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus calms the windy waves and assures his frightened disciples of his calming presence in their midst. Jesus’ words and actions in this Gospel passage are especially relevant as the nation and the world continues to struggle through the effects of a pandemic.
We find wisdom and comfort in the Gospel call to deeper faith in Jesus. And in the midst of the anxieties and uncertainties of these days, the Scriptures invite us to listen for the “tiny whispering sound” of God’s saving presence in our midst, as Elijah experienced as he took shelter in a cave.
Jesus had just fed a crowd of 5,000 by multiplying a few loaves of bread and some fish to feed the hungry multitudes. This miracle astonished the people and left the disciples in awe of Jesus’ miraculous deeds. Jesus then dismissed the crowds and asked the disciples to get into a boat and precede him to the other side.
Then, Jesus did something that accompanied significant moments in his earthly ministry. He went up on a mountain by himself to pray. His mighty deeds of multiplying bread, feeding the hungry and calming the storm were only possible because Jesus was divine.
In prayer, Jesus entered into the mystery of his unique relationship as divine son of his heavenly Father to draw strength for his mighty deeds and words during his public ministry.
The disciples’ faith in Jesus was growing slowly but surely until they found themselves in a boat tossed about by a windy storm without their master and lord. Their faith in Jesus was now tested.
When Jesus appears to them walking on the sea, we are told the disciples were terrified. Who wouldn’t be? Jesus speaks words of comfort to his disciples then and to us today tossed about the storms of this pandemic.
“Take courage it is I, do not be afraid!” says Jesus. We may not feel God’s presence in the midst of the storms of life, but Jesus desires to assure us and call us to deeper trust in the knowledge that he is closer to us than we imagine or believe. We might be, like Peter, reaching out in a first step of faith only to falter in doubt and be overcome by fear and anxiety.
“God is the friend of silence,” said St. Teresa of Kolkata. It is in the silence of prayer that we hear God’s voice, deepen faith and learn to walk with trust amid the challenges and difficulties of daily life. Only in silent contemplation of God’s word do we hear God’s response to the cry of our hearts as we pray, “speak to me, Lord.”
How are you called to replace doubt with faith in Jesus today?
Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.