Readings: I Kings 19:9, 11-13; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33
The Scripture Readings for today’s Mass give us one of those wonderful opportunities to choose from a wealth of riches. The Gospel of Jesus walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee occurs in three of the Gospel accounts–of Matthew, Mark and John–right after the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes. And in each Gospel we find new elements. In Mark’s Gospel we read the basic account of how Jesus demonstrates to the disciples that he has power over all creation, that he is, in fact, the Lord of creation for all things were made through him. But the disciples, even though they had just experienced the multiplication of bread, still didn’t grasp what it all meant. They were terrified; they thought they were seeing some kind of ghost. How greatly frustrating for Jesus! Their minds were too dulled, Mark tells us. Saint Matthew’s Gospel tries to make it look good at the end. The disciples exclaim, “You are the Son of God.” But Saint Mark will have none of that. Mark won’t excuse them. He insists that their minds were totally closed, while Saint Matthew is going in another direction with all this.
Matthew includes in his Gospel the unforgettable description of Jesus and Peter standing on the water together. Not for long, admittedly, but long enough to give Peter a lesson he’d never forget. Peter is impulsive–he doesn’t stop to think. Jesus clearly loves Peter. But any number of times Jesus makes an example of Peter to teach the other disciples a lesson, such as today. Peter stands firmly on the water in front of everyone, then suddenly he goes under. It was so predictable. Matthew ends it on a nice note: “Truly, you are the Son of God!”, they exclaim–all except poor Peter who is still recovering.
This lesson for the disciples is our lesson too. Who could ever forget it? Jesus asks Peter, “Why did you doubt?” I face that same question of Jesus every day–many times a day. Why do I doubt? What more assurance do I really need in my life to trust the Lord? After all this time, I still find myself sinking in the water. But, please God, not as often anymore and no longer so surprised at myself. I’m learning to be patient with my struggle to trust all the time. The Lord’s patience with me is teaching me patience with myself. We all have Peter worrying away inside ourselves. But we know that the Lord loves us, just as he loves Peter.
Isn’t that the important thing? Not focusing on how many times I fall into doubt, but becoming convinced the Lord loves me just as much anyway. That’s the more obvious lesson in today’s Gospel and that ought to be enough in itself. But there is another lesson here too.
Do you remember our first reading taken from the Old Testament? The story of how the Prophet Elijah experienced God coming to him in prayer. This story brings us the message how God comes to all of us, whether we are conscious of him or not. Elijah learns that he will find Almighty God, not in tumultuous noise and violence but within stillness and in the gentlest whisper.
Why would that reading be chosen for the first reading of today’s Mass? What’s the connection with today’s Gospel? The connection is being made with the first part of today’s Gospel, after the disciples took off in the boat: He went up the mountain by himself to pray.
We ask ourselves, what does that mean? How can Jesus pray to God? He is the Son of God. Surprising things come to us if we wrestle with that seeming contradiction. Jesus Christ is fully human and at the same time he is fully divine. And the Gospel writers show us us that Jesus prays many times during his public ministry, both alone and in public. Jesus is not pretending. Jesus needs to be in communion with his heavenly Father. He has to have time alone for prayer., just as we all do. Who can live without prayer? Way too many people try to ignore their need for prayer but sadly find that they are only half alive.
Today’s Mass tells us about the way Jesus prayed. It was probably very different from how many of us pray. If we think that praying to God is when we do all the talking, today’s reading from the First Book of Kings gives us something to think about. The Prophet Elijah learned that prayer is learning to listen to God more than it is about telling God what he already knows. Perhaps we just like to hear ourselves talk.
There’s another way to pray than for me to do all the talking. I need to listen to God if I want to learn to pray better. What does the Bible mean, that Elijah heard a tiny whispering sound? It’s an attempt to put into words something that cannot be described. What can’t be described is that experience of prayer of God’s presence which Elijah felt. As if it were a tiny whispering sound. No words can describe that.
Prayer sometimes is me talking to God, of course; but that’s not half of what prayer is. The greater, more lasting part of prayer is listening to God, in stillness and with openness of mind and heart. Today’s Mass readings give us a lot to think about. I hope we all can have the chance sometime today to do that. Why would I ever doubt that God will teach me how to pray? Peter, why do you doubt?