Gospel Reflection for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
At Mass this morning, Father recalled a conversation he had with some friends about which 24-hour period of Jesus' ministry we would want to return to. I guessed he was going to lead into the Gospel today as a possible answer. Instead, he talked about how we can encounter Christ in Scripture 24/7 through Lectio Divina. The Word of God is an astonishing gift that allows us to hear His still, small voice any time.
Since I wrote about the Feeding of the 5,000 last Sunday, it has been on my mind this week. Do you remember how Jesus went away by himself to grieve the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, but was then followed by approximately 10,000 people? (Since 5,000 just accounted for men, we can speculate that there were also women and children present.) He satisfied the hunger of ALL present by multiplying 5 loaves and 2 fish!
After the miracle, Jesus told the disciples to get into the boat and start heading to their next destination while He stayed back to have some alone time that he intended to get earlier that morning. So, this is a jam-packed 24 hours! As fishermen, Peter and others likely saw the storm coming. However, they were still in awe of the miracle that had just taken place before their eyes. What they had planned for dinner for them alone became dinner for thousands... simply by offering Jesus what they had! It didn't take very long for them to feel inadequate again. Rather than loaves and fish, this time it was faith and courage.
The winds rocked the boat and their perception. It disoriented them to the point that they assumed their friend who they just saw hours ago was a ghost. Granted, they've never witnessed walking on water as a way of transportation. If they took the boat, how else was Jesus going to meet up with them? Not only did they forget about the miracle that they just witnessed that day, but also the reality that the Son of God is their friend and companion on the journey.
Peter was eager to get out of the boat and trusted that nothing is impossible if Jesus leads the way. He joined Jesus as the only two human beings to walk on water. What were those steps like for Peter, who made his living at sea, to gain a new perspective of the waves as he walked above them?
The closest I've come to walking on water is skiing at the lake. It typically takes many attempts for someone to get up out of the water. My parents have not only taught all five of their children to ski but many of our friends and significant others as well. As a skier, I float in the water in a seated position looking ahead at the people in the boat. I make sure my posture is right and my mind is confident. I make sure there no crazy waves around to interfere with my start. I hear one of my parents yell, "ready?" I respond with, "ok!", take a breath, and bow my head slightly as I prepare to resist the water that will soon push against my skis. After three seconds, I may feel a bit wobbly, but I'm reminded to stand up tall and keep my eyes on my parents in the boat.
Why is keeping my eyes on the boat so important? If I look down, I see the craziness of what is happening -- I am standing on two thin boards, water rushing over my feet, and being pulled by a boat going about 30 mph! Even as an experienced slalom skier, I can get distracted when I look down at the chaos beneath me. If I keep my eyes on the boat or the scenery around me, I can ski for miles. It takes faith to believe one can get up out of the water, and it takes faith to keep going. When you immediately get up, it feels like you are not stable. After all, water skiing does not make a whole lot of sense. But, if you hold the rope and endure those first 30 seconds of surprise, you get to enjoy the beautiful scenic workout. New skiers get overwhelmed by the transition from sitting in the water to standing upon the wake and may be depending on their own body weight instead of letting the boat's power help. Instead of hanging on for a few more seconds, they drop. When they get back to the boat, everyone typically asks, "Why'd you drop? You were doing it!!" The response oftentimes is, "I don't know. I guess I thought I was falling."
Peter is so excited to get closer to Jesus that he answers his command to do the impossible -- walk on water! Then he gets distracted by the strong winds and waves. His focused gaze is no longer on Jesus and he begins to sink. When he drops, Jesus immediately stretched out his hand and caught him. His question to him was not much different from my family's, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
Even more than the boaters cheering on a skier, Jesus is cheering us on as we do the impossible in our lives. And all we are asked to do is to get out of the boat. Even though it's hard to take off our outer garments, put on a life-vest, and jump into the sometimes chilly water, a ski run is always worth it. Similarly, what did Peter have to lose when He believed Jesus was the one inviting him to, "come?"
Why do I doubt?
Why do YOU doubt?
Why do WE doubt?
Like Peter being asked this question at 3 am after a long, mind-blowing day, we have a lot of answers to this question. It is not a hypothetical question either, for Jesus wants to know our hearts, our experiences, our worries, and our fears.
As I go skiing in my family's idea of paradise this week, I will be reflecting on these questions. I want to invite you to do the same, whether you are on land, on a boat, or on skis.
What got you into the boat?
What storms are you experiencing right now?
What would it mean for you to walk on water amidst that storm?
Why do you doubt?