Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Jesus Said, "Take Courage, it is I; Do Not Be Afraid"

Here is the Gospel text from the liturgy for Tuesday, August 2. I love this Gospel passage. I am always learning from it. Read it and ponder it, and then I have a few reflections of my own to share, some words about how this Gospel is such a source of hope.

Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side of the sea,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”

(Matthew 14:22-33)

First of all, let's put ourselves on that boat.

We all know this fear, don't we?

We are terrified by the storm. And God seems so distant. Where is He? Is He alone, on the mountaintop of His own ineffable transcendence? We are just weak little things, and the universe is vast and cold and seemingly empty.

"Where is God?"

We have learned that "God is Love," but we wonder why Love is so silent when the thunder is all around us. We struggle to believe that He really cares what happens to us. A similar story in Mark's Gospel has Jesus asleep in the boat during the storm, and the disciples desperately waking Him and crying out, "Do you not care that we are perishing?" (Mark 4:38).

"God, do You really care?"

We have all asked this question from our hearts, even when our faith tells us that it's not a fair question to ask the God who made us and who gives us our existence in every moment. It's not fair to a God who has proven His care for us by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. We know that God is with us in the midst of the storm.

Still, we are terrified. We believe these doctrines of Christian faith (we really do!) but we don't see how they help us in our turmoil. They seem abstract to us, like ghosts. We need something more. We need to hear His voice.

"Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid" (Matthew 14:27).

God is mysteriously present (He is "walking" on the stormy water, after all) but also humanly present. He is that man we know, with whom we share our lives, our friend. He is the man who gives everything for us, who pours out His life for us.


He gives us the capacity to recognize Him. And through the faith He communicates to us, He awakens our humanity and draws us to Him. He inspires us to the realization that He is not with us simply so that we can survive the storm; He is with us so that we can share in His life and His love, so that we can step out of our own fear and walk with Him in the midst of the storm.

Now let's put ourselves in Peter's place. We also know what it is to take these impossible steps, to begin to take the risks of love in faith, only to be overwhelmed by sheer force of the storm that surrounds us and the total inadequacy of our own humanity to endure it.

We start sinking. We panic. We feel completely powerless. In the midst of all of this new confusion, we must try, somehow, to remember that Jesus is still with us. Remember, so that we can cry out, "Lord, save us!"

This is, in a sense, the most fundamental prayer. We can't see Him, and we don't know what to do, so we just cry out from the midst of our own failed, ruined efforts, "Lord, save us!" And the very name of "Jesus" means "God saves."

He is with us, in Jesus, to save us, even before we cry out to Him. Through the woundedness of that cry, the "little faith" that is all wrapped up with so much fear and practical doubt, we let a tiny place be opened up in our hearts so that He can enter in to rescue us. And we need to be rescued again and again and again. Just like Peter.

"O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

This is the question God asks us.

Not because He's angry with us or because He's tired of grabbing us and holding onto us in the midst of the storm. He wants us to ask this question to ourselves, so that we will begin to doubt less, so that He can make our hearts grow more.