“Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.”
The Liturgy of today presents us with the wonderful stories of Elijah’s encounter with God (1Kings 19: 9, 11-13) and the disciples of Jesus’ experience of turbulence on the sea (Matthew 14: 22-33). These stories bring forth the beautiful presence of God in the midst of all life’s challenging situations. The idea of God’s ever-presence in all things and all times is very consoling. Life itself has made us know that she may not always be fair to us; life may not always be savoury; life may not always be smooth and soothing; certainly life has its own rough edges. Some people say: “Life is not a bed of roses” but I say “Life is a bed of roses.” Yes, life has the beauty of the roses, the sweet smell of the roses; the beautiful multi-colours of the roses are part of life as well. But life also has the thorns of roses too: there are times we could be hurt; when our hearts could be pierced by those thorns; there are times when the turbulence of life would make us begin to wither like the roses under the summer heat. Life has these dual sides. But the Word of God today demonstrates to us that in all these moments God is ever present. He had promised to be with us to the end of time (Matthew 28: 20).
The story of Elijah presented to us in the First Reading is part of a whole story, which we need to capture in order to understand as it relates to the Gospel. After the defeat and destruction of the 400 prophets of Baal by Elijah, Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, swore to kill Elijah: “May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them” (1 Kings 19: 2). Terrified, Elijah fled for his life. It was while on that journey that God commanded Elijah: “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord” so He would reveal Himself to him. Like Elijah, the disciples of Jesus found themselves in a life-threatening situation battling with a heavy sea, they were helpless and out of wits. It was then that Jesus appeared, “walking on the sea” to bring calm to the situation and dissipate their fears. “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.” Desperate situations demand desperate measures! The disciples regained confidence with these reassuring words of Jesus. Jesus’ presence brought calm and peace to the hitherto desperate disciples. Elijah must have felt the same when God spoke to him in the “gentle breeze.”
Today, the Church wants us to remember that God would never leave us to go through life’s challenges alone. Notice that when life became a struggle for the disciples, Jesus was there to help. No sooner had the need arisen, than Jesus was there to help and save.
One of the things that take us away from God and His Son Jesus Christ is the distractions in life, this is beautifully captured in the narration of Peter’s response to Jesus” invitation. Peter went on to walk on the water at the invitation of Jesus and everything was okay until he began to feel the force of the wind. That means he took his focus and attention away from Jesus. Immediately that happened, fear set in! And he began to sink. What really happened here is revealed by Jesus’ intervention: “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?” With the distraction came fear, with fear, came doubt and a collapse of confidence and loss of faith. Fear, with its accompanying features, I believe, is the greatest enemy of faith. So let us go back to the first words of Jesus in the Gospel: “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.” Let these words resound in our minds as we continue on our faith journey.
Did you notice that God was not in any of the ‘great’ and ‘powerful’ forces? He was not in “the mighty wind.” He was not in the “earthquake.” He was not in the “fire.” But God was the “gentle breeze.” Sometimes we need to look for God in the unexpected places – in the less powerful, in “the least of our brothers,” in the midst of poverty and deprivations. These are places we can find God. Sometimes we don’t have to look for God in the loud and the noisy – He can be found in the silence of the weak, in the unspoken words of voiceless. We can find Him in the silence of our rooms and in groaning of our hearts and in tears of our eyes. Let us go out there and look for Him in the unexpected places.
May God grant us His Grace that we may be able to persevere in times of troubles knowing that He is always with us and will be there in our moments of need.