Homily for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 13th, 2023
Stay in the boat.
In today's Gospel, Jesus walked towards the disciples on the water, and Peter, somewhat incredulous, challenged Jesus: If you are the Son of God, command me to walk on the water. He does, and as soon as he starts to feel the power of the wind and the storm, he begins to sink. "Save me!" at which point Jesus reaches out to him: Ye of little faith, why did you doubt?"
The standard interpretation is both a commendation of Peter's faith for getting out of the boat and walking on the water and a rebuke of Peter for taking his eye off Jesus, doubting Him, and thereby sinking. Of course, Jesus is there to save him. So, one message that can be taken from this story, and it's a good message, is to be courageous, get out of the boat, but keep your focus on Jesus, and all will be well, even if you falter in your human frailty and lack of faith.
I would also like to offer a different interpretation. Peter had no business getting out of the boat. The real problem is that Peter doubted Jesus from the beginning. "If you are Jesus, command me to walk out of the water." This is where Peter went wrong, not when he was on the water, sinking. He should not have gotten out of the boat in the first place.
This comment, the words: "If you are Jesus," are not uncommon in scripture, and they are not well-liked. Consider just three examples of this:
Remember Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness? In Luke 4:3,6, we read, "The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.' " Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you,' and "On their hands, they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.' "....10 Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.' “
Consider the high priest (Matthew 26:63) "But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God."
Or consider the mockers of Jesus on the cross (Matthew 27:40) "Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross."
"If you are the Son of God, command me to come out onto the water." We say that all the time, don't we? "if you are Jesus, save me... heal my cancer... find me a good husband or wife ... get my kids back to church ... let me preach a decent homily..."
Why doesn’t that work? Because we are not Jesus, we are not God; we cannot walk on the water; we’re not made to do that. Peter was testing Jesus, as are we. Don’t do that.
Once Peter tried the experiment and it wasn’t working, what did he do? Then, and only then, did he utter the proper response to Jesus: "Lord save me.” That’s the approach to Jesus we need to have. He is our saviour, our faith is in him, no matter what.
I offer three implications of this interpretation:
Lord Save Me is the proper response—no ifs, and's or buts.
Stay in the boat. What is the boat? The boat is the church. It is family; it is friends. We need each other. We need friendship. Jesus comes to us in the boat and helps us navigate the stormy seas of life.
What we are talking about is hope. I like the expression; Hope floats. I used to think that meant it was light, airy, like a cloud or smoke, rising like incense into the air, an example of the glory of God. But "hope floats" doesn’t mean only that; it means that hope is a boat, a sturdy boat, and there are no leaks. It will help get us to our destination. And Jesus is with us in the boat.
I’m not sure what is going on in your life, but I know that Jesus loves you very deeply. Please, stay in the boat.
In conclude with a beautiful hymn that we sing from time to time:
My life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the real though far off hymn that hails a new creation.
What though the tempest round me roar, I hear the truth it liveth.
What though the darkness round me close, songs in the night it giveth.
The peace of christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing.
All things are mine since I am his, how can I keep from singing.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging. Since love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing.