Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
The scene put before us in today’s Holy Gospel is one of the most indelible images from the life of our Lord and his disciples and it is an icon for us of the spiritual life and our relationship with God.
Our Lord had sent the disciples ahead of Him in a boat while He took time to be alone with God, His Father. While the disciples were in the midst of the sea, a storm began to rage and they were tossed about and began to fear for their lives. In the midst of this, imagine the fear and awe that grips the disciples as they see our Lord walking toward them upon the waters – and the relief and joy they experience as He tells them the reassuring words: ‘Be of good cheer! It is I, do not be afraid’. And then we have the incredible image of Apostle Peter stepping out of the boat onto the waters to walk toward our Lord – initially stepping forth in enthusiasm and great faith, and then beginning to fear and waver as the waters toss all around him. He begins to sink and calls out to the Lord to save him and immediately our Lord is there to stretch forth His hand and lead him back into the boat. Today’s Gospel reading concludes with the disciples all safely in the boat with our Lord - the seas have been calmed and they prostrate themselves before Him proclaiming ‘Truly, Thou art the Son of God!’
When our Lord summoned Apostle Peter to come to Him, Apostle Peter demonstrates in this moment a self-forgetting, Christ-focused faith in God. As long as he kept his eyes on Christ he walked upon the water as if it were dry land. But what happened?... We read that, “when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out ‘Lord save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?’” The moment Apostle Peter took his eyes off of Christ and began to concern himself with himself, with his fears and doubts, this is when he began to sink. Thanks be to God, our Lord was close at hand and when Peter cried out, ‘Lord save me!’ Jesus stretched out His hand and brought him safely back into the boat.
Brothers and sisters in Christ… this Gospel image of the Apostle Peter and Christ upon the waters must be a consistent reminder and lesson for each one of us. It is a vivid portrait of the uplifting and sustaining power of God-focused faith and the perilous dangers of our self-centered, anxious preoccupations that eclipse our focus on God.
We hear a similar and supporting message from today’s Epistle reading, wherein Apostle Paul speaks of the divisions and contentions which can creep into human relationships and in the Church. Apostle Paul is writing to the Christian Church in Corinth and exhorting them to put aside all divisions, focusing instead on the foundation of their faith, which is Jesus Christ our Lord. Apostle Paul specifies that wherever we see envy, strife, and divisions among ourselves, we are not acting as Christians, but as carnal people.
Why do we go astray? Why do we sometimes experience envy, strife, and divisions?
The reason is very simple… we lose sight of Christ. It is just as the Gospel image of Peter walking upon the waters illustrates. The envy, strife, and divisions we experience are the manifestations of those stormy waters which the Apostles endured upon the sea. They are the winds and waves which distracted the attention of Peter as he stepped out upon the waters.
When we see such divisions among people and as we see the waves of schism crashing against the helm of the Church, we must not lose focus… we must not take our eyes away from Christ.
Within any human relationships – a nation, a local community, a Church, a family – there may be conflict. Conflict does not need to be a problem… conflict is simply the meeting point of two different points of view. You can use a point of conflict as a golden opportunity to not insist upon your own will – submitting to the will of another. This is excellent spiritual discipline to squash your pride. In other cases, dialog toward a mutual solution may be desirable. If conflict is handled with wisdom, grace, dispassion, and a genuine interest in discovering a solution (as opposed to winning an argument), then conflict can give birth to solutions that are the sum of input from multiple points of view. That can be a very good and productive thing.
Conflict within relationships creates waves. When those waves of conflict occur in your life, think of this Gospel image we see before us today… think of the Apostle Peter walking in grace above those waves with his eyes focused upon Christ.
Christ is the Author of peace, joy, and love. You can be sure that when you are suffering from agitation, anger, and storms within your mind and heart, you are experiencing the fruits of the evil one – you have lost your focus on Christ.
Life will still throw us in the midst of stormy waters… that is inevitable. Those stormy waters may be conflicts or other kinds of trials and tribulations. How we are being in the midst of those trials is the issue. If we keep our eyes focused on Christ our Lord, we can endure any sufferings with hope and love – and this makes all the difference. Suffering for suffering’s sake will not redeem us… it is only when suffering is endured in a spirit of love that it can redeem us and forge us as steel in a furnace.
We all may find ourselves sinking from time to time… but what is our response? Do we madly flail about trying to stay afloat by our own insufficient powers? Do we give up and start to go under? Or do we, like the Apostle Peter, cry out ‘Lord save me!’?
God grant us the wisdom to lay aside all pride, fear, and anxiety which lead us down into the depths of the waters of despair and instead grant us the courage of faith, hope, and love which lead us up into the arms of Christ our Lord.