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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A - 10th August 2014

Today’s gospel passage places us squarely in the context of faith. We know that Peter is a follower of Jesus, he is the leader of the group, and yet, today, we see him being called by Jesus a “man of little faith”. This throws up the question: “When is believing not believing?

This question doesn’t really have anything to do with how much we believe or not. Calling it “little faith” is not really the point; it is not a question of having a bigger faith and then everything will be all right. This is really about what we believe, or, even better, who we believe.

When we think of faith we tend to think of it in terms of believing something. We hear the arguments, we listen to the explanations, we look at the evidence, and on the basis of all that we sort of make our decision to believe what we have heard or not. Belief, in this case, becomes a sort of choice.

This is not, however, the type of faith that Jesus asks us to have in him. We are not asked to believe in the message of Jesus; we are asked, firstly, to believe in Jesus. Jesus does not become believable because we believe his message. Following Jesus is not about our becoming convinced of his message and then following him. It’s the other way round – the message of Jesus becomes credible because we believe in him. To act out of love, we must first experience being loved.

We are not asked to accept that Jesus is a wise man; we are not invited to be swayed by his teaching; we are challenged to accept that Jesus is the Son of God, the anointed one, the one who was to come. We are not asked to believe that what Jesus says is true – we are asked to believe that he is the truth.

Today we have an example of this from Matthew’s gospel. The disciples, the followers of Jesus, are in a boat out on the water and there is a storm. This is a very frightening thing – we have to realise that for the biblical Jew water was a very scary thing. The psalms repeatedly refer to the sea as the home of sea monsters and all sorts of chaotic forces. We know that the apostles were fishermen but, really, they would have always fished close to the shore. To be out in the middle of the water was something that was almost like the Jewish version of the bogey man for the people at that time.  This is an important detail. It’s important because it is hardest to believe when you are afraid. When you are comfortable and all your needs are taken care of it is much easier to be convinced. To be faced with fear, irrational terror, makes it much more difficult. This, however, is what Peter is going through when he sets out to walk towards Jesus, over the stormy water. 

Jesus walks on the water – he is calmly walking over what is most fearful to the people of his time – Jesus is the lord and master of all things; nothing holds fear for him. Peter recognises Jesus for who he is – the Son of God. His faith in the Son of God allows him to conquer his fear and set out.

It is only when he loses his faith – when he is distracted from his focus on Jesus – that things begin to go wrong for him. When fear replaces faith Peter, literally, goes under. This, if you like, is the message for us. If you want to follow Jesus, then follow him. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by other things or by other people.

So how do we do this? How do we keep our gaze fixed on Jesus and avoid being pulled in other directions? Really the only way is going to be by nourishing our relationship with Jesus. Like all relationships, it will benefit from the amount of time we put in to it. This is where our commitment to one another is key; and it is where our approach to prayer will also be key.

Our relationship with Jesus will be nourished on the occasions when we meet him. We meet him in one another and he is revealed to us through our interactions with one another. Jesus also reveals himself to us through our prayer. These two ways, in particular, are how we can nourish our relationship with Jesus and these are the ways in which we can make it possible for us to keep our gaze fixed on him.


Article posted on 9th of August 2014

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