Sunday, August 07, 2005

Called to walk on water (Sunday homily)

Last Sunday, Our Lord fed thousands on the hillside.
After the miracle of filling so many with so little,
he sends the disciples—the Apostles—ahead, alone.

They’re “Apostles” because he will send them;
They’re “disciples” because they’re still learning.

In large measure, that’s what this passage is about.

They go on alone; he comes later, during a storm.
Not an accident; it was part of the lesson.

Did you notice, it doesn’t say the
storm frightened them;
These are fishermen, they understood the sea.

It was when they saw
him that they were “terrified”:
“It is a ghost!”

See, they are still learning who Jesus really is:
God himself, come among us, as a true, human being.
And they are still learning to know Jesus will be there.
But they’re not there, yet.

Notice the boat.
In a previous storm on the sea,
Everyone—including the Lord—was in the boat.

This time, Jesus is out of the boat;
And he wants them out of the boat, as well!
He starts with Peter.

And we see what’s special about Peter:
Because notice, it wasn't
Jesus who brought up
the idea of getting out of the boat; it was Peter!
He has the insight, and Jesus approves:
“Come on out! The water’s fine!”

And Peter steps out, onto the water!
But, he needs training wheels!
He is frightened, and he sinks—like a Rock!

He sees how strong the wind is,

and forgets how strong Jesus is.
He is not there yet.

As we move through

the Gospel of Matthew each Sunday,
We’re progressing with the Apostles
in the growth of their faith.

In two weeks, we’ll hear Jesus say,
“You are Peter—you are Rock—
and upon this Rock I will build my Church.”

But we understand that better,
when you see how Jesus is forming the Apostles,
as the foundation of his Church,
as people who stay standing in the midst of a storm.
Who, despite the storm, will cry out, “It is the Lord!”

Who could imagine walking on water?
But Jesus led them there.

Today, many people can’t imagine
having faith that God is working through the Church.

We can all think of reasons not to believe it.
Maybe we separate God from his Church:

“God’s there, somewhere—but in the Church?
No, that’s a ghost!”

Totally understandable, given sin and scandal.
However, the Gospels are firm on this point:
God came!

In and through human weakness, human failure…
God came!
In the midst of sin, suffering and injustice:
He came, and said:
“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid!”

And the Gospels are just as firm in insisting,
God came…and he didn’t leave!
God is in his Church!

Christ chose these Apostles: weak, sinful men;
Christ worked through them,
and he works through their successors,
Including our Archbishop and all bishops.

Perhaps we say, “that’s hard to believe.”

I understand.

But it takes no great act of faith to believe
God acts in a Church of St. Pauls and St. Francises,
of Mother Theresas and Pope John Pauls!
That’s like stepping out of the boat…
onto land!

But you and I are called to walk on water:
We see bishops and priests shock and dismay us;
We see scandal and failure; we’re hurt, we’re angry:
Why believe? It’s a phantom—don’t trust it!

We believe it’s not a ghost,
It’s Jesus standing there, on the water:
God vowed to be in the midst of our storm and darkness.

Will we believe it is Jesus, and not a phantom?
Will we hear him,

calling us his Church, to walk on water?

The answer to the storms and frights of our time,
Whether scandal, or lack of faith,
Or the assaults on human dignity from all sides…

Is not to huddle in the boat and ride out the storm.
It’s not to give up on Christ in his Church, saying,
“It’s just a ghost!”

No. You and I are called
to step out into the storm, on the water!

When we dress modestly, while “everyone else”
is dressed like, well, everyone else…

When you and I refuse
to treat God’s holy name as a joke…

When we refuse to treat sex

as anything less than
the awesome, sacred reality it is: full of God himself;

When you and I speak for mercy,

when all around us demand vengeance;

When you and I say Jesus is our true King,
while others tell us to keep God out of politics;

And, when we claim we really see Jesus our Lord—
We really see him!—
where others see only a symbol of bread and wine…

Then, you and I will face a storm!

And there will be every reason not to believe he’s there:
Every reason not to step out of the boat!

Every reason but one:
“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid!”


Kelly Thatcher said...

Did you notice, it doesn’t say the storm frightened them;
These are fishermen, they understood the sea.

It was when they saw him that they were “terrified”:
“It is a ghost!”

Wow! After hearing this Gospel a zillion times, I never noticed that distinction, Father.

My only confusion in your homily is the reference to Peter "sinking like a Rock." I get it -- the "rock" part, I mean and its connection to Peter.

But why did you make that connection in this particular context? It's interesting, certainly, since as you say, we'll soon hear Jesus call Simon Peter the "Rock" upon which His Church is built. But doesn't that imply "strong" as opposed to "sinkable?"

On the other hand, the Church has, throughout Her history, been very close to sinking. Only Jesus never let Her sink. He promised He'd be with us, and besides, one can probably assume that many successors of Peter probably yelled out: "Lord save me! I'm sinking!"

Gee...did I just answer my own question or did I muddle everything up?

Fr Martin Fox said...


I meant the sinking "like a Rock" as irony.

I remember my Scripture instructor making this point in class, how ironic and humorous it was; whether Matthew -- who is the only Gospel writer to report the Lord's "upon this Rock" statement -- intended that, we can only speculate.

It also reminds us of the principle (the Latin rendering of which I cannot remember), "the best, corrupted, becomes the worst."

But I thought it would be an enjoyable play on Peter's name, and perhaps food for thought, as well.

Fr Martin Fox said...


If I may add to what I said...

My approach to this homily was to let the exegesis guide me; and so I guess my point would be that Peter is strong only because of the Lord. He can fail; but the Lord won't let him. Why? Because the promises made to Peter (and hence to all the popes) are not for his sake--but for ours!

Kelly Thatcher said...

I didn't know that about Matthew and "The Rock" -- that's great. And pretty funny, too! I hope he did intend it.

Thank you, Father for the explanation. I'm pretty sure if I'd actually heard the sermon, I would've gotten the irony immediately.

Thanks again!

(Corruptio optimi pessima)