August 9, 2020 – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 19:9-13 / Romans 9:1-5 / Matthew 14:22-33
I will be delivering the following homily at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Indianapolis today. You can listen to the audio version as delivered last night, or read the written text below:
I would like you to listen again to these five sentences from our gospel, broken into three segments.
One: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
Jesus said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
Two: But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and began to sink.
Three: He cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Within these five sentences, Peter undergoes three separate faith experiences: Strong faith, wavering faith, and a renewal of faith.
When we hear this gospel story, we tend to focus on Peter’s uncertainty, his lack of faith. Jesus even asked him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
This is not the only time Peter seemingly gives us an example of what NOT to do.
It was a misguided Peter to whom Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan.”
It was an overzealous Peter that drew a sword and cut off the ear of one of the soldiers coming to arrest Jesus.
It was a cowardly Peter that denied even knowing Jesus, not once but three times.
And here is Peter again today, a man whose lack of faith caused him to sink into the water, leading Jesus to ask him: “…why did you doubt?”
However, if you walk away from today’s gospel reading, or any of the gospel passages I just mentioned, with the message, “Don’t be like Peter”, then you are missing out. You are not taking in the full picture or benefitting from the powerful witness Peter offers. Yes, there was doubt that caused him to falter, but there were also two tremendous acts of faith within the story.
We begin with Peter’s initial response when he saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. His understanding of Jesus was so complete that he was not shocked to see Jesus walking on water. Furthermore, he believed that if Jesus commanded it, he himself – Peter – could walk on water as well. He believed anything was possible with Jesus.
When Jesus said, “Come,” Peter did so without hesitation. He confidently stepped out of the boat and, with his eyes on Jesus, began walking toward him.
No one else on that boat made such a gesture. On the contrary, the gospel tells us that the other disciples “were terrified” and “cried out in fear.” It was Peter who believed.
As Peter continued, fear crept in and with it, doubt. He relied on his limited human abilities, took his eyes off Jesus, and began to sink in the stormy waters.
I’m sure we’ve all been there at one time or another. We jump into something with confidence and then find ourselves asking, “What was I thinking?” It’s a common occurrence. We walk with faith right up until we experience fear and anxiety. Fear distracts us, we take our eyes off the prize, and all bets are off. We find ourselves in self-preservation mode, relying solely on ourselves. That’s when the trouble begins.
When fear is driving our actions, practical thought goes out the window and faith moves to the back seat.
And so it was with Peter.
When reflecting on this gospel story, we tend to focus on the question Jesus asked Peter, “…why did you doubt?” However, in doing so we may overlook the three courageous, faith-filled words spoken by Peter in the midst of his fear – “Lord, save me!” It was Peter’s defining moment.
When Peter found himself in over his head – literally – he called upon his faith, his belief in Jesus Christ. He turned to the one person he knew could help. The story does not say he struggled to regain control on his own or fought to swim back to the boat. Rather, he sought help: “Lord, save me!”
I stated that those are three courageous, faith-filled words. It took courage to admit he couldn’t handle things on his own; he accepted that he was not in control of the situation and needed help. Faith-filled because he knew – he believed – Jesus could and would help.
He didn’t say, “Lord, save me!” hoping Jesus would save him. He said it knowing that Jesus would save him. Faith was driving his actions once again and his fear and dependence on himself moved to the back seat.
His faith paid off. The gospel tells us that when Peter called out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately “…stretched out his hand and caught Peter.” Immediately. Once Peter asked for help, Jesus immediately responded.
Does any of this sound familiar? We may not be on a fishing boat being tossed about in a violent storm, but it sure feels like it some days.
What is your storm? Is it COVID-19? Is it financial instability and uncertainty? Is it racial unrest or national disunity? Is it an overriding feeling of fear, anxiety, or hopelessness?
Jesus is locking eyes with us and asking, “Why do you doubt?” When Jesus asked Peter that question, and when he asks it of us, it is not to criticize or chastise us. Rather, he is saying, “You have trusted me before…why are you now trying to do this on your own?”
This gospel tells a powerful story. Where does your level of faith place you in the story?
Is your fear causing you to take your eyes off Jesus? Are you flailing around in the water, trying to deal with the situation on your own as you sink deeper in the stormy waters? Or are you courageously calling out, “Lord, save me”?
If you rely solely on yourself, you may or may not make it back to the boat. If you call out, Jesus will immediately stretch out his hand to catch you.
This is your defining moment.