1 Kings 19: 9a, 11-13a Romans 9: 1-5 Matthew 14:22-33
The Gospel story that we just heard appears rather simple and straightforward. It is miraculous, yes, but it does not seem to be all that complex. It serves us well, however, to take the time to think this incident through. It can truly convey to us a great deal about the relationship of God with humanity as a whole, and God’s relationship with ourselves through the person of Jesus Christ. It is the whole purpose of Christ’s mission in our world to have us appreciate and deepen our relationship with our loving God and how this factors into and affects our lives and the way that we live.
Peter and the others were out doing what they had normally done as fishermen. They were living their lives in what would be considered the expected way, being in a boat, being on the sea. Experiencing a storm, even a sudden one, was really not all that unusual for them. It may have been frightening, but it was not something that was unknown.
Into the midst of this, Jesus appears. They were actually just coming to know him and were in the process of deciding whether they would truly invest their lives in him as followers. He appears to them, walking on the water. It was the water of the sea made turbulent and treacherous by the storm. But he was walking on it in what would be considered a normal fashion. He was reaching out to them, sailors frightened by the storm, yet he was not disturbed by what nature, what life, was presenting to them. He was a singular exception to everything around them, offering his presence to them as they experienced the reality of their lives as they knew them at that point.
Then we are presented with Peter, Peter the impetuous, Peter the bold one. He can do the same as Jesus. Can he really do the same? Could he overcome the forces of nature as Jesus was doing? Jesus was reaching out to him, bidding him to join with him. Peter, at first, appears to be able to contend with the treacherous sea. Then he begins to rely on himself alone. He lapses in his total faith and trust in Jesus. He begins to sink into the mire of nature, the stormy sea.
The presence of Jesus to Peter and to the others was able to sustain them no matter what nature, no matter what life, put before them. That is the clear and underlying message of this incident recorded by St. Matthew. As long as they maintained their faith, as long as they acknowledged him, he would be able to guide them through any storm. Surrounded by this storm, representative of any adversity we might face, he declared, “It is I, do not be afraid.” In their faith and trust, they declared, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
Too often we make the relationship with God to be too complex, too difficult, too demanding. Like Elijah, we expect God and the relationship with God to be found in a crushing wind, or an earthquake, or in fire. The presence of God, rather, is found in the whispering wind. The presence of our God, as revealed by Jesus Christ, is to be calming, as softly whispering in our lives. That presence comes when we recognize what is good in ourselves, what is truly good in life, what is good in the creation which surrounds us. That presence comes when we realize that this same calming presence will stand with us whatever tempest might rock the boat of our life to steady it, to guide it on its course.
When we recognize what is good around us, when we recognize that this is what reveals the loving reality of God to us, then the call is made to us, to be the very best reality of the qualities of life with which we have been endowed by our God. When we allow, with patient, loving trust, the revelation of that which is good, when we allow the experience of good to be found in and through us individually and as a community believing in Jesus Christ, then is made know and then is experienced the reality of our good and gracious God.
Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14 2 Peter 1: 16-19 Matthew 12: 1-9
When our attention is wanted, something breaks into our routine to gain it. It could be a siren of an ambulance, a fire truck or a police car. Or, it could a siren warning us of an impending storm. It also could be a strange and distracting noise on a radio or television, or crawl across the bottom or top of a television screen. With the various means of communication now available to us, such a warning may take some different form. Various ways are used to alert us, to make us pause and be attentive. Something important is happening, we need to be informed or even warned.
In a way, this is what is happening this weekend in the liturgical life of the Church. In the midst of hearing different parables from Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven, the revelation of God to mankind that he is teaching, we are told today of a particular, mystical experiences three of his followers had during the course of that ministry. It was away of encouraging them, especially after they had learned that part of following Jesus, being a part of his Kingdom, also meant sharing in “carrying the cross. It meant accepting burdens, difficulties, rejection and eve persecution. Being a follower of Jesus was not necessarily going to be easy.
The key to understanding all of this, I believe, can be found in the words attributed to St. Peter in the second reading we heard today. First he describes to us that what he and the others have taught in their preaching was not some sort of contrived story, it was not something that was simply “made up.” Then he shares with us what he and the others truly experienced during the course of following Jesus, an event that was deep and abiding. In doing this, Peter seeks to encourage the faith of the people to whom he is writing and speaking. He holds out to us the image of the Transfiguration that we have heard. Jesus as seen by three of the Apostles with great figures of the Old Testament. His ministry was a continuation of their faith tradition. Jesus is seen assuming a rightful place in glory and majesty, despite what other ways they might see him in the time to come. Jesus is the Beloved Son in whom we are to believe, the one who lives in union with and truly reveals God to all of creation.
Peter saw this image, and the memory of this event transformed him forever. He recognized its importance, especially after the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. This is what gave him vision and hope. It may have been the Transfiguration of Jesus but, more importantly, it was the transformation of Peter.
It is precisely this hope that Daniel sought to give to the people of the Old Covenant in his vision. A prophet is a visionary, not someone who foretells the future. Through a particular poetic and spiritual way of seeing and saying things, the prophet attempts to put life and reality into perspective. He looks at the reality of life through the eyes of one filled with a genuine sense of God’s presence in his personal life. He is speaking to the Jews in exile, in defeat, and holds out to them the image of triumph and victory. Daniel wanted them to keep this vision in their minds. It was to give them hope even in the midst of persecution. It was to be their encouragement.
As for ourselves, we may not have the recollection of a vision such as did the Apostles. There is nothing so spectacular available to us. The visionary view of one like Daniel is limited to a very few. But, hopefully, in the history of our own faith experience there have been episodes which gave us insight into a certain closeness to God. It may have been a sacramental occasion like a baptism, a First Communion, a Confirmation, or a Wedding. It may have been the experience of the love of someone who is very special in our lives. It may have been some event, like the birth of a child or a magnificent experience of nature, in which we truly felt touched by God.
In the times when our faith seems dry or routine, when we might not feel particularly close to God, think back to that other time, that time of transfiguration, of transformation. The Lord appeared to us in a type of majesty – not in a figurative description as he appeared to the Apostles or Daniel, but as we experienced a touch of God’s presence in our lives.
Today our attention is sought and we take a break in the story of the ministry of Jesus we have been hearing over the past weeks. We are reminded to be like Peter and revel in a memory of a Godly experience that gives hope and encouragement. In the midst of our own lives which might be troubled or difficult, in the midst of world events that can be painful or confusing, it is faith that moves us, faith that gives hope, faith that sustains us. It is faith that is founded on a trust and confidence, a deep and abiding conviction – indeed, a vision – of our good and gracious God.
1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12 Romans 1: 28-30 Matthew 13: 44-46
Some of you, perhaps many of you, are familiar with the Public Broadcast System’s program, “Antiques Roadshow.” It is a program that I enjoy watching from time to time. What is particularly fascinating is when an individual brings an object to be appraised informally, perhaps something bought inexpensively at a yard sale or at an estate sale. It may also have been something that was stashed away in a closet or an attic. The individual knows that it is old, but does not know its value. Then the shock can be seen, the surprise is evident, when it is learned that this otherwise obscure object is worth hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars. Such a contemporary experience as the “Antiques Roadshow” can give meaning and insight to these two brief parables which were told by Jesus.
In one instance we have an example of a person working in a field that belongs to someone else. Unexpectedly, he finds a container of some sort with an unknown treasure. He must own the field to claim the treasure so he uses all that he has at that point in order to buy that field. That treasure is so important to him that he is willing to sacrifice everything else he has in order to be able to possess it.
In the other instance, a businessman or merchant is walking through a bazaar, it seems, when he spots what he knows is a very valuable jewel. Perhaps this fact is not realized by the current owner of that jewel. As a result, he takes all that he has in order to buy that precious pearl. The investment he has to make is worth it to him.
With these two simple examples quoted by St. Matthew, Jesus wants his listeners, he wants us, to realize what it is that we possess in placing faith in him, by placing our faith in God whom he is revealing to us. While what Jesus is describing to his listeners is being offered to them, in our case, we who have been baptized in the faith are more like those individuals on the “Antiques Roadshow.” We may have come by this faith by it being handed down to us, by being brought this faith without much fanfare. It may well be taken for granted by us. It can often be like one of those objects hidden in a closer or an attic to easily taken for granted.
This, I believe, is the challenge we ought to hear in these brief examples today. How do we genuinely value this gift of faith, this gift of life, this gift of love, that has been passed on to us? How do we recognize the worth of what has been shared with us by a loving God along with all who are around us today?
We also heard about Solomon today. This is an example that is held out to us to emulate. In all the material things Solomon possessed – the authority, the position, the wealth – what was most important to him early in his life? He wanted the ability to use wisely the opportunity that had been given to him. He wanted to have the wisdom found in an understanding heart by which he could rule, guide and judge his people and to distinguish right from wrong. In all that we possess, in all the opportunities we have in this time and place in our lives, is it wisdom that we genuinely seek? Is it to act wisely in regard to ourselves and others that truly guides us?
We also heard Paul addressing the Roman Christian community. He reminded them of the opportunity that they possessed because the had been called through their faith. They had been given a destiny in relation to themselves and to others. He is reminding us, as well, of our own opportunities and the destiny we possess because of our faith.
This is our situation. This is the treasure, this is the magnificent pearl that we have is the faith we possess. But is its value evident in how we live and in the choices we make? Do we give evidence that we truly appreciate the perspective, the way of looking at all and everyone who are a part of our lives formed and affected by true faith in God and in Jesus Christ? Or is this faith evident only in the few moments we set aside now and again? Does living out this faith go forth from here out to there?
How fortunate we might consider those individuals on “Antiques Roadshow” who learn what could be the true value of what they might happen to have. How fortunate ought we to consider ourselves to be to live and to reveal, day after day, the worth, the value, the true treasure of our faith in our good and gracious God.
Isaiah 5: 10-11 Romans 8: 18-23 Matthew 13: 1-9
Perhaps it would have been wiser to wait until this weekend to use the example of the new section of lawn that was planted in front of the rectory. The matter of the receptivity of the soil to the seed that was planted would certainly fit in with the subject matter of the parable from the Gospel Saint Matthew that we have heard today. Be that as it may, this particular example used by Jesus, this parable, marks the beginning of a series of parables that Matthew includes in his presentation of the Gospel. We will recall most of these in the coming weeks.
Parables are simple stories, simple illustrations, Jesus used in his teaching as a means of opening up our minds to an understanding of his message to us. They present to us the possibilities available to us in a relationship with God, the very source of all life, the source of our lives. Jesus makes use of parables to assist us in appreciating what is fundamental to what we can know about ourselves and about our lives and how we can achieve what is best for ourselves through a relationship with God. So often there is confusion expressed about the meaning or purpose of life or loving. Jesus makes use of insights offered by simple examples to enable us to recognize that in a relationship with God, and in reflecting that relationship in the choices we make in living, we gain the best grasp of what we are and can be. Such is the case in this instance.
The starting point of the story is a sower, a farmer, sowing seeds in the ground with great hope for the success of that seed. In the insight that is suggested by Isaiah the prophet we can understand that seed as the word of God, the communication of God that is sent forth, that is addressed, to us, to all around us, to all of creation. The effectiveness of this word, this communication of the love of God, relies on the response it, the response by us. God’s message of love is not imposed upon us, it is offered to us. Seed can be cast upon soil but its reception varies, as the story makes clear. So it is that we experience the response that is made to God’s communication to mankind.
Jesus illustrated for us in the image of his parable how the message of love so often not taken seriously. At times this is because like the hard ground of the path, it is not received, or it is denied. It can be carried off by those who simply do not want the love of God to be known or realized. Being loved by God is viewed as an obstacle to their own selfishness. At other times it is because ones who are told of God’s message are so shallow, so self-absorbed, so self-indulges that this message cannot penetrate or take root. Or it can be because the ones who receive it are easily distracted by other interests, other attractions that are temporary or superficial or even silly and thus do not want to be bothered.
If the message of God’s love is heard and understood for it genuine nature, if it is recognized by those to whom it is addressed, and they are willing to accept it, and if it is allowed to mature while nourished with the sun, water and nutrients of a life open to the revelation of God’s love, then there is a result. That result is an effectiveness and meaning to a life that is lived in the context of relationships that value life, family, community and all of creation.
In this simple example of a parable lies the full dimension of the message of Jesus Christ to us. It is a message that allows any one of us who are open to it to recognize the rich and diverse possibilities of life available to us. These are possibilities that exist if we are not hardened and closed off, if we are not shallow and superficial with respect to what is important, if we are not distracted by passing distractions.
Both we, ourselves, and all the world around us continue to groan, as Saint Paul writes, for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, God’s purpose, announced by Jesus. But this fulfillment will only come about if we are open and receptive to God’s love, the word that comes forth from God to us wanting, hoping willing to be effective in our revealing the truth of our good and gracious God.