READINGS: 1 Kings 19:9, 11-13 / Romans 9:1-5/ Matthew 14:22-33
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
On the 24th of June, 2020, there was a minor earthquake which was felt in some towns and villages along the coast of Ghana and in other parts of Africa. Soon after the quake, I shared Psalm 46 with friends on WhatsApp. Portions of the Psalm reads:
1 God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
3 Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling.…
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.…
10 Be still, and know that I am God…. (Psalm 46; NKJV).
Some of my friends found this message of Psalm 46 reassuring. Beloved, our God is in control in every troubling situation we encounter. No earthquake, be it physical or spiritual; no storm, be it physical or spiritual; no fire, be it physical or spiritual, is beyond God’s control. He is Almighty and All-powerful. He is simply Supreme, and no situation affects or changes Him! Therefore, should our land quake, should a storm buffet us, should we encounter a raging fire, God assures us: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
The prophet Elijah knew how to remain still in the face of an earthquake, a storm or a raging fire, because he believed that God is Almighty and Supreme. Jesus, in turn, taught His disciples to remain calm in the face of the stormy sea, because He, as the Son of God, is also Almighty and Supreme. Today’s first reading recounts the experience of the prophet Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 19:9, 11-13), whereas the gospel reading narrates the experience of the disciples (cf. Matt. 14:22-33).
According to the first reading, the prophet Elijah experienced a great stormy wind and a powerful earthquake, and he saw a raging fire at the mountain of the Lord God. God was, however, not in the storm, earthquake or fire. Rather the calming voice of God was heard by the prophet Elijah at the end of the troubling activities of these elements. This means that however terrifying the storm, earthquake and fire were, God was in control of them. This was the faith of the prophet, and so he remained calm and experienced God’s all-powerful protection!
The great stormy wind, powerful earthquake and the raging fire in the first reading are symbolic of the various troubles and trials we experience in our daily lives. In the first place, the stormy wind is invisible and yet powerful and destructive. It could therefore represent an (invisible) evil spirit that troubles us. But God is not only more powerful than any evil spirit, He is indeed All-powerful! So, like Elijah, let us trust in God’s powerful protection and deliverance should any evil trouble us. In other words, let us be still and know that He is God!
Secondly, an earthquake shakes and breaks the ground and other things along its path. Therefore, anything (e.g. disappointment, divorce, loss of a dear one, etc.) that shakes or breaks our life to its very foundation could be seen as a spiritual earthquake. This notwithstanding, as the prophet realized, God was not in the earthquake; He was above it. He is in control of it! Let us, therefore, trust in the redeeming hand of God whenever we experience a spiritual earthquake.
Thirdly, fire has a burning effect. Thus, the “burning” of our life-time savings (e.g. business) or achievements, or any experience (e.g. sickness) that causes us pains could be seen as a troubling spiritual fire. But God-the-Living-Water can quench every troubling fire! All we need to do is to be still and know that He is God!
Furthermore, however, powerful the storm, earthquake and fire were, Elijah did not consider them as divine; for in each case, he said God was not in it. Unfortunately, in the history of humankind, some people have attributed supernatural powers to certain elements of creation, e.g. rivers, lakes, forests, etc. Beloved, Elijah’s story reminds us that God is the Creator of all these things; they are only works of His hands and not gods!
In the gospel reading, St. Peter and the other disciples were likewise threatened by a stormy weather of the sea. However, in the midst of their trouble they, unlike Elijah, could not calmly trust in the Lord. They were rather afraid. Fear had so blurred their vision that, instead of seeing the Lord (they had known) walking on the sea as the Master of the stormy sea, they saw Him as a ghost (Matt. 14:26). This is what happens when our troubles create fear in us. Thus, Jesus had to reassure them: “it is I; have no fear” (Matt. 14:27).
Beloved, let us therefore not focus on or brood over our troubles; rather, let us focus on Jesus who has power and control over them. Consider this: as long as St. Peter focused on the Lord, he was able to walk on the water, but immediately he looked again at the frightening storm he began to sink, until he turned to the Lord again, saying: “Lord, save me” (Matt. 14:30)! Once again, beloved, in the midst of our troubles let us not brood over them (for then they will appear bigger and bigger like a growing storm); let us rather focus on the Lord with trustful prayers and be still; and we shall be saved! Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis