19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Elizabeth Chesley-Jewell
A central image in this week’s readings is the storm. At first glance it may appear that the message is simply to keep faith amid a singular storm. However, a closer inspection of God’s message calls us to reflect on the faith journeys of Elijah and Peter and ponder how it mirrors our own personal journeys of faith.
We meet Elijah in today’s reading after he has fled from Queen Jezebel who seeks to kill him. He has journeyed for forty days and forty nights and is alone and depressed on Mount Horeb hoping for the Lord to pass by him. Elijah challenged Queens Jezebel’s prophets who were worshipping the Canaanite god Baal while at the same time professing to follow the God of Israel. When their false god failed to show himself and demonstrate his powers, Elijah called to God and his sacrifice was consumed by flame, showing all present that, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.” When Elijah killed the false prophets, instead of being praised for his faithful service to the God of Israel, he was forced to run from the Queen’s wrath. We are introduced to Elijah after this flight and see him in his loneliness and confusion. Elijah stands at the mouth of the cave while wind, an earthquake, and fire pass by, but he discerns that the Lord is not present in these elements of destruction.
When speaking about this reading Pope Francis refers to Elijah’s gift of perception that allows him to determine where the Lord is present. It was not in the depression he felt in the wilderness. It was not in the noise of wind or the destruction of an earthquake or the heat of fire. Ultimately, Elijah perceives God to be present in the calm of silence. The calm allows Elijah to hear the voice of God clearly as God entrusts Elijah with a new task. God tasks Elijah to journey to Damascus to anoint a new king of Syria, a king over Israel, and a new prophet. This mission is going to present its own challenges for Elijah, but the Lord God has ensured he is prepared. Elijah’s encounter with the Lord ensures that he is sent out with the tools of perception,
obedience, and devotion to complete the task that God set before him.
In our Gospel today, we are also shown a defining moment in Peter’s faith journey. His encounter with Jesus during a stormy evening helps prepare him and the other disciples for the mission to come. The disciples are caught in a boat while attempting to follow Jesus’s orders, battling against great wind and waves. Upon seeing their Teacher approach from across the water Peter calls out asking that Jesus help him cross the water so he may join him. Jesus issues a command to Peter, “Come,” and Peter, being full of faith, does not hesitate. He focuses on Jesus’ voice and presence and is completely unaffected by the tumultuous weather around him. It is only when he is distracted by the wind that he begins to sink. Doubt of what the Lord can do causes Peter to lose faith and to focus’ on the chaos that is surrounding him. He lacks the ability to see where God is leading him, the obedience to follow and the devotion to trust that the Lord will not lead him astray. Although Peter loves Jesus he fails to completely place his trust in the Lord when faced by the might of the sea around him.
Despite this, Jesus saves Peter from drowning and once they rejoin the disciples in the boat the wind stops. In that moment the disciples, including Peter, declare with absolute certainty that Jesus is the Son of God. We can understand that, similar to Elijah in the cave, it is in the silence and not in the pandemonium that the disciples perceive God. However, Peter and the disciples could have validated their faith in Jesus earlier if they had simply focused on Jesus’ presence on the water instead of the fear and chaos of the storm. Jesus is trying to teach the disciples to have faith like Elijah; to perceive where God is and follow the commands they are given with obedience. In doing so they will show God, and those around them, their devotion to the Lord. Jesus is preparing them for their own mission, to go out and be fishers of men, experience the brutal death and joyous resurrection of their dear friend and ultimately, share the gospel with the world. They will only be successful if they display unwavering faith in the face
of violence, destruction, and doubt.
In this way, the boat and the disciples have come to be interpreted as the Church and its members. Pope Francis says the Church is, “a boat which must brave the storms and sometimes seems on the point of capsizing. What saves her is not the skill and courage of her crew members, but faith which allows her to walk, even in the dark, amid hardships. Faith gives us the certainty of Jesus’ presence always beside us, of his hand which grasps us to pull us back from danger.”
We have seen this resilience of the Church and of our collective faith despite great upheaval over the past few months. Once it became clear that the Body of Christ would not be able to physically gather, we had to develop new ways of uniting in a virtual space. This has required both skill and deep trust from our parish teams but, what ultimately has drawn us all together, is our faith in Christ. We know that Christ will be present with us as we find new ways of gathering. We have seen these past six months, it is faith that has made it possible for Saint Basil’s, in the face of a deadly virus, to maintain a space of faith and community, away from the swirling storm of devasting news. Like Elijah, we have had to perceive where God is in the chaos. God is present in us as children of Christ, in the spoken Word, and in the calm of prayer. We are obedient to the Word, strive to spread the Good News and gather in Christ’s name. We are devoted to the one who guides us through the storm and calls us to assist others in times of crisis. It is with this focus on Jesus and his mission for us that we can continue to come together as a faith community and to navigate our own personal missions among the rocky currents and chaotic disruptions.