On this nineteenth Sunday the Church reminds us that Jesus our Savior is always close to us. In times of great anguish, such as Paul experienced, Christ is always with us calming the storms of our life and brings peace. The presence of the storm and all that it represents definitely make us confused, and afraid in life. Jesus comes to us in those confused and trial moments. He comes calmly and quietly and if we practice silence long enough, we may, like Elijah, sense God in the most surprising moments of our lives.
There is something interesting about today’s readings. This is simply the fact that, all the three great figures and personalities (Elijah, Paul, and Peter) we encountered in today’s readings were in one way or the other embattled. As such, their peace was threatened. First, Elijah was afraid, and running away from Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel, who wanted him dead at all cost. Second, Paul was ravaged by sorrow and anguish due to the unbelief of his “fellow brothers of Israel.” This was a great burden that threatened his peace of mind. Third, Peter and the other disciples were sinking right in front of Jesus, due to fear, lack of faith and courage. This is the dilemma of our lives. In one way or the other, our peace is threatened.
The first reading presents to us how the embattled Elijah encountered God, and his peace was restored. What was God trying to accomplish in Elijah’s life by means of these awesome and frightening object? Of course, He was reminding His servant that everything in nature was obedient to Him (Ps 148)-the wind, the earthquake, the fire — and He didn’t lack for a variety of tools to get His work done. The lesson for us is that, when we are internally calm and away from the distractions of life, we hear God speak to us. To say that God spoke to Elijah after the gentle breeze, is simply to say that Elijah experienced peace of mind.
God came at the appropriate time, not in the mighty wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but after a gentle breeze. So, contrary to what some of us think, God speaks to us when we are internally recollected and calm. Often times, we seek God with distracted minds. In such a state, we may not encounter Him. It is when we are recollected, that we hear him speak to us.
In the gospel, the disciples of Jesus experienced the storm of their life, and Jesus was available to calm it, and equally, restore their peace. “Storms” are part and parcel of our human existence. They are inevitable in this world, just as the waves are inevitable in the sea, and death is inevitable to us. Sometimes, they hit us so hard that we are crushed, devastated, and almost annihilated. Like the disciples of Jesus, each one of us experiences the storm in diverse ways in our lives. That is, the storm that robs us of our peace.
This experience of the disciples in the storm can be an encouragement to us when we go through the storms of life. When we find ourselves in the storm, we can rest on the assurance that “He brought me here.” The storm came because they were in the will of God and not (like Jonah) out of the will of God. Did Jesus know that the storm was coming? Certainly! Did He deliberately direct them into the storm? Yes! They were safer in the storm in God’s will than on land with the crowds out of God’s will. We must never judge our security on the basis of circumstances alone.
In the scriptures, we discover that there are two kinds of storms: storms of correction, when God disciplines us; and storms of Perfection, when God helps us to grow. Jonah was in a storm because he disobeyed God and had to be corrected (Jonah 1:1-4). The disciples were in a storm because they obeyed Christ and had to be perfected. Jesus had tested them in a storm before, when He was in the boat with them (Matt 8:23-27). But now He tested them by being out of the boat.
Many Christians have the mistaken idea that obedience to God’s will produces “smooth sailing.” But this is not true. “In the world you shall have tribulation,” Jesus promised (Jn 16:33). When we find ourselves in the storm because we have obeyed the Lord, we must remember that He brought us here and He can care for us. The whole purpose of the storm was to help the disciples grow in their faith. After all, Jesus would one day leave them, and they would face many storms in their ministries. They had to learn to trust Him even though He was not present with them, and even though it looked as though He did not care.
Now our center of interest shifts to Peter. Before we criticize Peter for sinking, let’s honor him for his magnificent demonstration of faith. He dared to be different. Anybody can sit in the boat and watch. But it takes a person of real faith to leave the boat and walk on the water. What caused Peter to sink? His faith began to waver because he took his eyes off the Lord and began to look at the circumstances around him. “Why did you doubt?” Jesus asked him (Matt 14:31). Peter started out with great faith but ended up with little faith because he saw two ways instead of one.
Peter acknowledges that he was sinking and crying out to the Lord for help. He cried out when he was “beginning to sink” and not when he was drowning. Perhaps this incident came to Peter’s mind years later when he wrote in his first epistle: “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers” (1Pet 3:12). This experience was difficult for Peter, but it helped him to grow in the knowledge of himself and of the Lord. The storms of life are not easy, but they are necessary. They teach us to trust Jesus Christ alone and to obey His Word no matter what the circumstances may be. It has well been said, “Faith is not believing in spite of evidence, but obeying in spite of consequence.”
Paul, in the second reading, expresses his grief for his people (fellow Jews). This was because, they rejected the good news. His sadness and grief was so great that he lamented: “I will willingly be condemned, if it could help my brothers.” In order words, he was not at peace because of their situation. Paul teaches us that we must not always think about ourselves alone. Rather, we should equally be concerned about the welfare, salvation and peace of others. It is through this, that we derive our own inner peace. When others are not saved, our peace is not guaranteed.
Dear brothers and sisters, as Christ said to Peter, so he also says to us today: “Courage! Do not be afraid, it is I.” So, all we need to do is to trust Him, and keep walking without the fear of sinking. Like Peter, we must step out with faith and courage against the storms of our life. Therefore, let us hold on firmly to Jesus, who calms our storms and restores our peace.
Peace be with you all!
Fr Dumlesi N. Tor
St Mary’s Okwuzi