19th Sunday of the Year

Crossing the Water

I’ll be crossing the sea soon, as with my wife, we will take the channel ferry crossing to Spain. I must say we’re hoping for a calm passage as neither of us is too sure of our sea legs!

Today’s gospel presents us with the exact opposite of a calm passage. Instead we have a heavy sea with the disciples battling against a head- wind. It seems they were struggling and in spite of their skill as boats- men, used to the vagaries of the sea, they were in danger of losing con- trol. We are told that Jesus was not with them as he had left them to go on ahead, whilst he went up into the hills to pray. The imagery we are given speaks to us quite clearly. The barque of Peter (i.e. the Church) is struggling with the challenges that Jesus has given it and the fact that Jesus is no longer physically present, only makes things all the worse. How are things going to turn out and will the whole endeavour collapse without Jesus? It is a foreboding prospect, one which seemingly isn’t alleviated by the vision of Jesus coming to them across the water. “it’s a ghost” they cry out in terror. Then he speaks to them in tones which have a familiar refrain: “Courage, It is I, do not be afraid”. It is Peter who responds. Peter, the leader of the twelve, the one who is given the role of shepherd by Jesus to feed the lambs and sheep. Nervously, tentatively he speaks: “if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water”. Jesus answers “Come”.

That one word – come – Peter had already hear before. In his first en- counter with Jesus on the shore of the lake. There he had heard Jesus calling him to come and follow him and he would make him a fisher of men. We’re told Peter left everything to follow him. Peter in other words was willing to risk all he was, and all he owned, for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of the gospel. But now, in his role as shepherd and leader, when the physical presence of Jesus is gone, and the waters get choppy, how does he feel?

We all have our fears and our doubts. We all question our motives about whether what we are about really is making a difference to peoples lives. As disciples, we are called by the Lord to come to him in faith, and this is so hard, especially in a society which no longer cherishes its Christian heritage. How are we to reconnect people to the values and the positive worth of our faith?

Jesus offers the answer. We should not fear. We should not be overcome by the prospect of rough waters ahead. Why? Because such situations in the past have been ones in which faith has flourished and found new and exciting ways of making its voice heard. It is only by being courageous, and by expressing faith as a living witness of what we believe, that the message becomes meaningful. The values which the gospel expounds still speak just as loudly as they ever did, so long as we are prepared to present them. In our families, in our schools and in our parishes we must give people the vision of the kingdom at work and by doing this, others will make the connection between what we do and why we do it.

Peter, in spite of his fear, knew that the Lord had not abandoned him. He overcame that fear through his faith in Jesus to save him. We must be prepared to be like Peter.

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