Friends, unlike our forebears in the faith, who thought that God would come in power and fury—in the wind, in fire; we see today that Elijah finds God not in the power of nature, but in a gentle whisper. Sometimes we have to be present and be quiet enough to hear God’s whisper, to see God’s face—in the delicacy of a violet, in the cool summer breeze, in the innocence of a baby’s face covered with food in the attempt to eat, and even in the fiery eyes of justice. God doesn’t come in the ways that we might think, but in the randomness of every day.
We know that Elijah discovered God in a whisper, but we see from the reading that Elijah is looking for God on a mountain, in a majestic place. We need to understand that Ancient peoples had the belief that it would be in majestic places that they would find God and because of this belief we hear of covenants in the Old or First Testament made between God and the people on mountains—Sinai and Horeb.
Exegetes tell us that because neighboring Canaanites believed in Baal and that their god would appear in fury, storms, fire and earthquakes, the Israelites wrote about their God in the same way, almost as if to say—“Our God is great too!” But commentators today agree that God will be found in the small and insignificant events of life. It is so easy to be impressed by the impressive and overlook the everyday—right in front of us.
In the gospel of Matthew for today; there are several events happening and all are related to each other. Jesus sends the disciples on ahead of him—he goes to the mountains to pray after feeding the 5,000—he then walks on the water—Peter attempts walking on the water too and then the disciples in the boat declare who Jesus truly is by what they have witnessed.
The disciples in the boat came to know and believe because they saw. Perhaps, seeing is believing, but they had to struggle too, as we see Peter struggling in this gospel, to believe—as do we. At other times I think we come to believe because others before us have believed and have shared the “Good News” with us, and in loving and respecting them, we can more easily believe.
In support of Jesus’ first followers, especially Peter, who seems to vacillate in his faith, it is good to remember that even today, the Sea of Galilee on which the disciples were crossing, is known for its storms which seem to come up out of nowhere. The light was also not with this fear-filled group, with this event occurring in pre-dawn.
Making the natural assumption that what they were seeing could not be so—Jesus walking on the water; they thought the “vision” was a ghost and cried out in terror. All quite natural, we might think, but Jesus says, “No.”
They came to realize little by little that Jesus was not a natural phenomenon—he spoke words of comfort to them that have accompanied divine revelation in the past, “Do not be afraid!” To this Jesus adds another connection to their past religious history—an indication of his divinity—“It is I—I am who am,” as Moses heard God say on Mount Sinai.
Another important element of this gospel that is important to keep in our minds as we reflect on the message for us today is to remember that water had a great significance for these ancient Near Eastern people. They revered water because it sustained life, but they also feared its power to destroy—the chaos that it represented. We have seen the truth of this in the floods in this country these last months.
Several creation myths tell of warrior gods battling the chaos of nature—they never quite conquer it, but keep trying. Here, Jesus is seen as a conqueror of chaos as he walks on the water. What he does calls forth great faith in Peter as he impulsively jumps out of the boat to follow Jesus. But because Peter isn’t God, he becomes fearful and Jesus does what Jesus always does—he moves with compassion—he stretches out his arm to save. The psalm readings of today and in the next weeks continue this theme of showing the goodness of our God—a God of justice, kindness, compassion and truth.
This entire event of “walking on the water” is a manifestation of the power that resides in Jesus to save. Not only is this gospel for those first disciples, but for us. We are awed by Jesus’ power as were those first followers and are invited along with Peter to get “out of our boats” of comfort—to hear the voice of our God wherever it can be heard, even if it comes in the form of a whisper. We might reflect today on why we so often are reluctant to “get out of our boats”—do or say that which needs doing, say that which needs saying!
The Church lost a wonderful prophet this past week in the person of Capuchin, Fr. Michael Crosby. He was definitely one for whom it could be said, “He got out of his boat of comfort!” He died on August 5th and throughout his more than 50 years as a priest and friar; he challenged the Church and State, “through boardrooms and basilicas,” as Brian Roewe, staff writer for the National Catholic Reporter stated recently. He challenged these entities as he challenged all of us followers of our brother, Jesus. He encouraged his Capuchin order to buy stock in tobacco companies so that he could address them as a shareholder at the corporate level and get them to add warnings to their packaging. This took a long time, but Michael Crosby was willing to be about the long-term work of a prophet.
He wrote extensively through 19 books and countless articles stating to the Church he so loved, that clericalism was directly responsible for the abuse crisis within it. This is just the “tip of the iceberg,” so to speak, in Fr. Crosby’s advocacy.
We learned today that people went to the mountains looking for God in majestic places. Scripture scholar, Diane Bergant says: “Life itself is a mountain experience of God!” So it would seem that we don’t need to go to a mountain to find God, but if we have “eyes to see and ears to hear,” we will find God, in our midst each and every day!
My friends, let us open our eyes and ears and not miss the manifestations of our God in our very midst—in the young, the old, the sick, the well, those unlike us, those we find hard to like and ultimately, to love, those we consider different and perhaps unacceptable, the funny, the sullen, the serious, the playful, the beautiful, the ugly, the small, the big, the loud, the quiet, the disconnected, the beleaguered, the poor, the rich—all, absolutely each one, a manifestation of God in our midst!