Reflections on the Sunday Readings

1 Kings 19:9A, 11-13A

Matthew 14:22-33

When I first read today’s readings, what stood out for me was not so much the action of God, but rather the ways in which the people recognize and respond to the actions of God in their lives.  Both Peter and Elijah, falter–or at least hesitate–in their attempt but not in their desire to follow God.  Both the first reading and the Gospel this week, in fact, center on our encounter with and recognition of God, even amid storms and our–occasionally faltering or fearful–response to that encounter; a response that seems to resonate even more deeply in light of this past week’s current events.

We all know the story contained in this week’ Gospel.  It must have been quite a surprise to Peter and the other disciples when Jesus caught up to them, after they had been on the water for most of the night.  And an even bigger surprise to see him walking on the water.  Yes, they had just seen him feed the 5000 with five loaves and two fishes (a reading we missed this year because we celebrated the Transfiguration last week).  They were fishermen, they were used to waves and wind, but a God who walks on water?  So maybe it’s no surprise that the disciples don’t recognize him at first.

After some reassurance though, Peter’s recognition of Jesus enboldens him to tell Jesus that he too wants to walk on water–that he wants to be like Jesus.  I find this statement of Peter’s curious and somewhat out of character.  Wouldn’t the impulsive Peter simply have jumped out of the boat and ASSUME he could walk on water?  Instead, Peter asks Jesus to give him the command:  he makes it very clear what he wants to do, but waits for Jesus assent.

Despite Jesus’ yes to Peter’s request, though, once Peter is out of the boat, the situation does not seem to live up to his expectations.  Whether the waves were bigger or the wind was stronger than he expected, his fear leads him to falter–though even in that faltering his impulse is to reach out to Jesus for help.  THIS seems much more like the ordinary Peter–recognizing God, making an honest attempt to do or say what God wants of him, being assailed by doubts, starting to falter, and then out of fear turning back to God.

Because the first reading this morning is taken out of context, Elijah seems to be doing better in recognizing and responding to God than Peter does.  He recognizes God even in the tiny whispering sound which follows the storms and earthquakes and fires which so often seem to be part of our daily lives.  Put back in context, though, Elijah is pretty much in the same boat as Peter (pun intended).  He has fled to this cave on Mt. Horeb because he, in his own words, “has been zealous for the Lord” and is afraid that the Israelites want to kill him (and justifiably so, since Jezebel has threatened him).  He is either running away from what God has asked him to do, or he’s taking a long break (it took him 40 days to get there) to discern God’s will.  In either case, he recognizes God, and, when, despite his fear, he is sent right back to Israel, he goes.

So the men in both the first reading and the Gospel today encounter God.  Despite the unexpected nature and the storms that surround this encounter, they both are able to recognize God, and despite some–probably quite justifiable in both cases–faltering, they are able to respond to what God has asked them to do.

But what does this all mean for us today? Right now?  How are we to see and recognize god in the context of the storms that are saber-rattling between North Korea and the US, racism and violence in Charlottesville or the more mundane storms of our daily lives together?  How are we to respond to the presence of God?

For this question, I find Peter much more helpful than Elijah.  Elijah receives explicit instructions and then simply goes out and follows them–not something that happens often in my life.  Peter’s response is quite different–he sees Jesus walking on water and immediately he wants to do what Jesus does.  He doesn’t seem to stop and ask himself WHY Jesus is walking on water, or what good it will do anyone if he walks on water.  He simply wants to follow Jesus in all ways.

I still haven’t figured out what my response to all of today’s storms will be.  But, seeking to follow Jesus–a response which Sister Mary Pellegrino, CSJ described in her presidential address to Leadership Conference of Women Religious described as “embracing the paschal narrative of communion” seems like a good place to start.

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