“Take Courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.”
19th Sunday of the Year
One of my favorite art objects here at Mission San Diego de Alcala is an oil painting above the fireplace in the living room of the Mission Rectory. The painting beautifully depicts the scene of today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 14:22-33) when Jesus walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee to calm the disciples who were in a boat a few miles offshore terrified, tosssed about by the waves, with a strong wind against them.
At first, the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost and they cried out in fear, but when Jesus told them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid,” Simon Peter said in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Then Jesus said, “Come,” and Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
When Jesus told Peter, “Come,” he was inviting him to do something quite impossible. Not even on a day when the sea was perfectly calm and the wind was still would it make sense for someone to try to walk on water. Yet on that early morning, Jesus invited Peter to do something that seemed impossible. And at first, Peter was able to do it, until he became frightened and began to sink. As Jesus stretched out his hand to catch Peter, he explained why Peter began to sink: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
When we pray, asking for God’s help to know what we should do in a difficult situation, God’s answer might seem to be an invitation for us to attempt the impossible. I doubt that Jesus will ever invite us to jump out of a fishing boat to walk on water. But Peter’s example teaches us that when God inspires us to do something that might seem difficult, if not impossible, we should be willing to give it a try. Because if we truly believe that the Lord has inspired us to do something, the Lord will help us to do it, if only we have enough faith. But if, like Peter, we falter and begin to fail, we know that Jesus will always be there to stretch out his hand to save us.
Fr. Richard Duncanson