I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just wish things could go back to when things were easier. Maybe that is back when we were children and Mom and Dad just took care of everything and we didn’t have to worry about it. Maybe that ‘easier time’ was when we didn’t have so many aches and pains, or when we didn’t have to go back to School and meet new friends and learn a new school. For many of us, that easier time was just this spring before everything was shut down, jobs were lost, people died, and now instead of getting together with friends we only those around us as potentially lethal dangers hiding behind a mask. There is a lot around us that can easily cause us to be afraid, or at least wish times were what they used to be.
I think the disciples could empathize pretty well with us, and with those feelings. If you will remember, in last week’s gospel Jesus multiplied the bread and the fish for the hungry crowd so that there were twelve baskets left over. I bet the apostles were thinking, ‘Well, I guess we aren’t going to worry about food anymore. We’ve got 12 baskets of bread and Jesus can just make more whenever we want!’ Then what happens? Jesus makes them get into a boat and leave while he stays behind to pray.
The context of our first reading is also very similar. Elijah has just defeated the priests of Baal and God showed that he was the only true God by sending down fire from heaven on his sacrifice on Mt Carmel. And what thanks does he get? Now he is running for his life and hiding in caves because the evil Queen Jezebel and King Ahab are trying to kill him. Again, what a letdown, let’s go back to when times were better.
Now, I am not trying to just repeat what we heard in the readings in different words. The reason I went through this is because we have to see that the people in the scriptures are real people. It is only when they are real to us that we can really learn from them. So, what are we supposed to learn from today’s reading?
Sometimes what happens in our life is out of our control. Not only is it not perfect, but it can be downright scary and cause us to be afraid. The disciples had to leave the comfort of having a big free meal to spending a whole night trying to not drown in a storm at sea. Elijah is hiding in a cave and is seeing hurricane force winds an earthquake and fire all around his mountain. There are times when God chooses to show us that we are not in control. But, we are not given the examples of Elijah and the disciples so we know who to invite to our pity party. No! We are given their examples so we know how to respond when things are not going well, and the times when we could see God was right there with us seem very far away.
We learn three things from our readings that are important to keep in mind when we are faced with fear, uncertainty or come face to face with the fact that we cannot control the world around us. first, God is in control; second, sometimes it is easy to miss God in our lives, so we must be attentive; and third, we must trust him.
We see in our gospel that while the disciples are worried about drowning in the wind and the waves, Jesus is walking on the water. Once He joins them in the boat and the wind stops, they worship Him. Jesus shows that he has power over the wind and the sea. The terrifying power that even with all of our advancements in technology we still cannot control, are silences at a word from Jesus. While the disciples are huddling in fear at the power of the wind and the sea, Jesus is calmly walking on the water! We are not in control, but Jesus is.
In the story of Elijah we see that sometimes it is only in the small things that we are able to see God. God does not usually choose to work in big and impressive ways, but in the subtle events of ordinary life. That is why God was not in the wind or the fire or the earthquake but in a still, small voice. God does not prefer to bring us into a deeper relationship with him by force, by beating us over the head with how great and powerful he is. He prefers to draw us toward himself by showing us his love. And love is best shown in the steady commitment of daily life. Sometimes it calls us to heroic action, but more often than not it is in simple daily things: being patient, forgiving other’s shortcomings and being present and faithful, a certainty of support in a world of change.
Finally, we are called to trust God. We see that Peter is able to overcome his fear and recognize Christ as he walks on the water. In an act of trust, he asks that Jesus let him walk on water too. But, when he takes his eyes off Jesus and starts to look at the strength of the wind and power of the waves, he immediately begins to sink. The same is true for us. In our struggles and difficulties, if we only look at how big they are and how we cannot deal with them, like Peter we start to sink. But, when we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and His ability to work all things for good, like Peter we can do what is impossible under our own power.
To better learn this lesson we are given the example of the saints, and the martyrs in particular. Today the church remembers Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, the religious name of the Philosopher Edith Stein. After her conversion to Catholicism this brilliant woman becomes a Carmelite nun. Because she was Jewish by birth. when the bishops of the Netherlands denounced the Nazis, the Gestapo arrested Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and sent her to Auschwitz to be killed. Even though she was offered a way to escape, she chose instead to give her life and death to God, trusting that by joining him in a death like His, he would bring redemptive value from her sufferings as well, particularly for the salvation of the Jewish people.
In her story we see her trust that God is in control of the events of history. In looking to God she trusted that in his providence, all things would work together for Good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. May we too be inspired by the faith and courage of the saints and through their intercession entrust our lives into the hands of God especially when we feel so out of control.