Jeremiah 28:1-17; Matthew 14:13-21
Each evangelist has a particular view of the Apostles in his gospel. In Mark, the Apostles never seem to get it right; they constantly misunderstand or respond inappropriately. In Luke the Apostles also misunderstand and make mistakes but there is always an excuse; they were tired or stressed. Matthew is perhaps more realistic. He shows the Apostles struggling; there is tension between faith and doubt. This comes through in his telling of the storm at sea and I think it reflects things true not only of them but all of us.
Let me point out two things about how Matthew sets the scene. First, Jesus sends the Apostles across the sea without him while he prays to his Father on the mountain. As he remains serenely at prayer a storm rages on the sea, tossing the Apostles’ boat in every direction. Second, Jesus does not come across the sea until the 4th watch of the night – some time between 3 and 6 am. In other words, he lets the Apostles get tossed around in the storm for several hours before going to them.
We can all identify with this in our own way. Think of a time when you were under great stress, when life seemed to toss you about, when every minute seemed like an hour and the stress was more than you thought you could bear. You prayed and prayed for relief, and… nothing. How did you feel? As for myself, I would say that I felt alone; doubtful that God was ever going to help; vulnerable; tense; above all, afraid.
Fear is perhaps what we have most in common with the Apostles. It can be paralyzing; we don’t know what to do, who to listen to, how to respond. We want to run away but we’re trapped; we can’t.
At such times we are most susceptible to the kind of false prophet we hear about in the first reading, in our case someone who either tells us what we most want to hear or what confirms our worst suspicions and deepens our darkest fears: We’re alone; being punished; God has abandoned us, will not help us, or worst of all, is not there. It isn’t surprising that in fear the Apostles chose the worldly explanation on seeing Jesus: It is a ghost (Matthew 13:26).
But God is truth and as Matthew has made clear from beginning to end in his gospel, Jesus is Emmanuel, God-With-Us (1:23), and will be with us always until the end of the age (28:20). So he comes, but notice how: From within the storm itself. In this we learn that God is with us not above and beyond the storms of life but deep in the midst of them. However we suffer, however we feel, we are not alone; Christ is compassion and speaks to us in that suffering. It may be the grace of long-suffering, patience, or fortitude; he does not tell us but as the Divine Physician he comes, gives us grace, and strengthens us for whatever journey he has in mind.
Moreover, Christ does not simply appear in the storm – he calls from it:“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27). He does this not to criticize or overpower but to give courage and to encourage; not necessarily to calm the storm raging around us but to bring calm and inner peace to the storm that rages within.
Those who love Jesus as Peter did will do what true love does – cast aside fear and risk everything to be with the Beloved. This is one of Peter’s most endearing qualities – the recklessness of his love for Christ – and we do well to imitate it. Our Lord rewards such love; he bids Peter,“Come” (Matthew 14:29).
Yet as St. Augustine said in his Confessions, “My weight is my love, and this it is that bears me in whatever direction I am borne” (Confessions XIII 9, 10). Although Peter did love our Lord, fear got the better of him: when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened (Matthew 14:30) and began to sink. The question is, in what direction are we borne? Let us bring that to prayer today, asking for the grace that does not allow fear to bring us down amid the storms of our life but to keep our eyes fixed on Christ, our feet on firmly with his, facing those storms from the top of the water.