1Kings 19:9, 11-13; Psalm 84; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33
We have three sets of homily notes here. Please scroll down the page.
Fr. Thomas Oyode: “Do Not Be Afraid, It is I”
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai: Prayer and Power Fr. Paul Oredipe: When The Going Gets Tough, Only the Tough gets going
Fr. Thomas Oyode
“Do Not Be Afraid, It is I”
Today’s gospel reading follows from last Sunday’s in such a way that the context remains the same at least in the immediate sense., the sense in which Herod had just murdered John the Baptist and he has begun to pay unfavourable attention to Jesus. In the proximate sense, Matthew wrote his gospel in the context of persecution, around 85 Century AD, about twenty years after the death of Peter and Paul. It therefore means that it was a tensed situation for witnessing to the Christian faith. Precisely for this reason, Matthew wrote to encourage them in their faith, to reassure them of the Lord’s constant presence.
We read in the gospel, thus, that Jesus had instructed his disciples to go ahead while he dismissed the crowd but more importantly so that he could be alone to pray. While the disciples sailed, they were tossed by a strong wind and then came Jesus walking towards them on the water. They were afraid and considered him to be a ghost but he said to them, “take courage, it is I., do not be Afraid.” Why were they afraid? Perhaps, they were having a morbid fear, the phobia that leaves a person thinking that a situation could end badly. Perhaps they feared that Herod could have harmed their master and that was his ghost approaching them. It could be, however, a natural fear that comes from sailing in the middle of the sea (in the Johannine account, 6:19, this should be about 13 miles from shore) around 3-6 am in the night and the knowledge that demons and evil spirits usually find habituation around the sea.
*Do not be afraid*: Jesus’ words, like last Sunday’s, come as a reassurance, a consolation, a sweet warm hug that should calm every of our fears, confusions and anxieties. In many places, Matthew shows how these words are used as encouragement in times of persecution (Matt. 10:26), to show us how valuable a and precious we are before God (Matt. 10:31), to dispel fear, confusion and trepidation (Matt. 17:7), to give hope and reassurance (Matt. 28:10). These very words were used by the angel to greet Joseph while he was considering what decision to take with Mary his wife (Matt. 2:20). Precisely because as Christians we need to acknowledge the presence of fear, Pope John Paul II began his Pontificate with these same words: “do not be afraid”. These words, more than acknowledging the presence of fear, actually invite us to live beyond fear. The Christian vocation is a vocation of courage, an invitation to keep pressing forward towards an unknown future because we believe that God, the Emmanuel, is with us (Matt. 1:23).
*It is I:* In the Greek original language, the words are _ego eimi_ which mean _I am_. The same words that Yahweh uses to describe himself in Exodus 3:14. Thus, we see Jesus demonstrating his Divinity. He is I am because he is God. Precisely for this reason also he could walk on the sea, demonstrating his power of control over nature and the created world. The words, therefore, remind us of the power and dominion of God over every force, every evil and every torment. It is a reassurance that the Christian should believe in God who is always with us and it leaves no room for submission to any form of fear or torment, not even from demons.
Finally, we would notice that in this gospel account, as soon as Jesus steps into the boat, there was calm and peace just as in Matthew 8:23-37. This is precisely the message of today’s first reading (I kgs. 19:9, 11-13): the presence of God brings peace and calm, he lives us with peace of mind, fulfillment, certainty and contentment such that the world of power, struggles, lobbying, force and pressure cannot give. Notice again, that the storm was for no fault of their own. Some of the troubles and struggles of our lives may not be due to our own failings. What matters is that the Lord says, “do not be afraid, It is I, Emmanuel, I am with you” and we endeavour to listen and recognize this voice. Let us not be like Peter who doubted the words of Christ and asked for a proof. Unlike Peter, keep going forward. The Lord will take care of us, he dispels our fears, he has control over our every storms and anxieties of life.
Mary, Star of the Sea, pray for us that we may journey along the way of God’s will and find eternal peace. Amen.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
Prayer and Power
The basic themes in today’s readings are the power of God and prayer. In the gospel, Jesus demonstrated power over natural forces by calming the wind and walking on water. After which, he went into the hills by himself to pray. In the first reading God revealed himself to Elijah, through “a still small voice”. In prayer, we always expect God to reveal himself in dramatic ways. But then, the best way to hear God is in silence. Therefore, every experience of power is backed up by a prayer life. Jesus went to pray after he had fed the five thousand; again, after his prayer he calmed the wind and walked on the sea. Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and eventually found God in silence. Power is a product of prayer, no one manifests power without having to relate with God in prayer. Jesus was a man of prayer; all the gospels showed how Jesus was praying. He was a man of prayer and therefore a man of power. If we too must manifest power we must spend time in prayer.
God’s power is Omnipotence, Omniscience and Omnipresence. In the gospel reading this threefold power of God was revealed. Omnipotence means all-powerful. This means that God can do what he wants. It means he is not subject to physical limitations like man is. Being omnipotent, God has power over wind, water, gravity, physics, etc. God’s power is infinite. He revealed his Omnipotent power when he walked on the sea, made Peter to walk on the sea and calmed the storm. Again, God’s power is Omniscience. Omniscience means all-knowing. God is all-knowing in the sense that he is aware of the past, present and future. Nothing takes him by surprise. His knowledge is total. He knows all that there is to know and all that can be known. He revealed this power when he saw the disciples in difficulty and he came to help them. The Lord knows about all our troubles and he will guide till the day is dawn. Lastly, God is Omnipresence. This means that God is all-present. This term means that God is capable of being everywhere at the same time. It means his divine presence encompasses the whole of the universe. He is everywhere. He revealed this power when he appeared to them at the fourth watch of the night. Beloved in Christ, there is no end to the possibility of God’s power. Therefore, let us fix our eyes on him in prayer.
Today’s readings further give us basic keys that are essential in prayer and Christian spirituality:
Silence: Our Lord wanted to be by himself to pray and he finally got the chance after dismissing the crowds. We can find the solitude Elijah and Christ sought if we truly want to pray. Our own mountain can be a place where we are alone to ourselves. Matt 6:6 says “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Beloved in Christ, the life of a Christian is not sustained only by gatherings and communal prayer only. We must make sincere effort to have private time with God; even if it means dismissing the “crowd” around us, or going somewhere outside your immediate environment or going to the adoration chapel. We must seek out time for prayer. The Church emphasizes the place of silence in her liturgical celebration; we too must not fail to do so in our private prayers.
Faith: After narrating Jesus walking on the sea, the gospel narrates Peter walking on the sea. Man can climb mountains and descend valleys, man can walk on thinnest ropes but not on water. Jesus said to Peter ‘come’. By faith Peter could walk on the sea. There are many possibilities in the realm of faith. But when faith fails power fails. Most times faith fails because of fear. As soon as fear sets in Peter started sinking. Faith and fear are incompatible. We must develop faith if we don’t want to sink in this world of sin. Faith is what keeps a man standing despite the pressure of sin around him. The place to acquire faith is in the place of prayer. Every prayer stirs up our faith. Your faith will determine your fate. Have faith!
Persistence: Another way of saying this is “Never give up”. Peter was courageous in the boat; but timid on the water, Peter was bold at the last supper, but timid on the night of trial. From this experiences Peter later on will be more cautious and so in John 21:17 he says “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you”. Beloved, never give up because of your mistakes just be more cautious. One thing I admire so much about Peter is that every time he failed, he did not fail to cling to Jesus. In the gospel reading he cried out ‘Lord save me’. Jesus saved him. If you fall; rise. Every time Peter fell; he rose. His failures brought him closer to Christ. His failures made him to love Jesus the more. Great men in the world today, had their failures. They are great because they did not give up in the face of failures. Therefore never give up because you made a mistake.
Courage: Jesus said to Peter, “Courage it is I, do not be afraid”. Fear is one of the most popular weapons the enemy uses against the children of God. Fear can overwhelm us to the point of controlling every move and decision we make. Today a lot is happening around us, the storm in our land is making many people to leave in fear. Jesus wants us to be bold. Many Christians live in fear, consciously and unconsciously. Fear makes us sink, rather than live in fear let us pray. Peter prayed: “save me Lord”. The response to the psalm of today cried out in similar words; “Let us see, O Lord, your mercy and grant us your salvation.” This is a season we have to cry out in those same words; save me Lord! Save my family Lord! Save us Lord! Jesus will always come to the aid of those who call on him in FAITH and TRUST; Ps. 50:15 says if you call on me in the days of trouble I will deliver you. Lord save us and deliver today!
Fr. Paul Oredipe
When The Going Gets Tough, Only the Tough gets going
When the going gets tough, only the tough gets going. What makes them get going?
They get going because they are tough in faith, hope and love of God. They get going because they kept in touch in God. They did not lose the contact with the source of all our strength, power and grace.
Our life is a journey. This journey is not a one-way direction. There are ups and downs, hills and valleys. To make the journey safe demands more than human strength.
Jesus’ need for private prayer, in the interlude between one demanding activity and the next, should teach us that we all need to take time out for recollection, to speak to God. And if there appears to be such continuous demands on our time that we feel unable to take the time out, then we need to reduce the demands and make the time. Without the refreshment that comes from this personal communication with God, we will become weaker in our faith, unable to respond to God’s love to us, and unable to show that love to others.
It is worth noticing that both Elijah and Jesus did the same thing: Elijah’s life was in danger and so he runs from the threat of Queen Jezebel and her false prophets. Elijah went alone to a deserted spot, up a mountain.
After hearing of the death of John the Baptist and also feeding the over five thousand people, Jesus went up into the hills by Himself to pray. We must do whatever is our equivalent in our own circumstances of these actions.
Jesus’ private prayer, in an interlude between one demanding activity and another, teaches us that every Christian needs to take time out for recollection, to speak to His Father, God.
Dear brothers and sisters, friends in the Lord, we do not have to go through life so fast that people have to throw a brick in order to get our attention. God whispers in our souls and speaks to our hearts. Sometimes when we do not have time to listen, He has to throw a brick at us. We can either listen to the whisper … or wait for the brick. As we listen, He says “Do not be afraid.”
In today’s Gospel reading we see two examples of fear. As a storm blows up on the sea, the boat is in danger of sinking. Jesus appears to the terrified disciples, walking across the sea. In a calm voice He says, “It is I, do not be afraid.” “It is I” (v.27) denotes divinity (Is 41:4 and 43:10). Walking on the water is also associated with God’s action: “Who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea.” (Job 9:8 ; see also Ex 14:13-31, Ps 77:20, Is 43:16, Hab 3:15).
People, after seeing Jesus’ actions and power, also proclaim his divinity (v.33). Later, Peter begins to walk on the water. He does fine until he feels the wind. Becoming frightened, he falters and begins to sink. We can do just fine in our daily lives, believing in the presence of God and doing all kinds of good things. When the going gets tough though, we can easily falter as well. We can forget everything we know, and just panic. We need to remember the help God has to offer us.
Fear is nothing but the absence of faith. When we are faced with unexpected events, when our dreams do not seem to be turning out, when others do not behave the way we’d like them to, when we fail, when illness and tragedy enter our lives, when loved ones die, we need to take the time to remember where our help comes from.
When the going gets tough, only the tough gets going.
Elijah, fearing for his life, he called upon the Lord to save him. The Israelites, while they too wanted to be saved, they rejected Jesus and the only Mediator between God and man. And Peter, fearing for his life during a moment of human weakness, he too called upon the Lord to save him. They all called upon the Lord to save them. Our forefathers called upon the Lord to save them. Our grandparents called upon the Lord to save them. Our parents called upon the Lord to save them. And most of us will call upon the Lord to save us if we have not done so as of yet.
The secret of course, is maintaining a close relationship with God. We need to pray often, with and for those we love. We need to know God is most important in our lives. When help does not seem to come, when God seems far away, it is most often because we are not looking. When we try to handle life situations on our own, things do not turn out as well as if we let God help, and try to do things God’s way.
We have to stop determining how God should be and be open to His presence in others and in ourselves. We have to let God be God: mysterious, loving, present in more ways than we could ever understand.
Saint Paul writes to the Romans, ‘I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.’ He too is aware of the needs of those for whom he has a responsibility in Christ. How does he cope with this constant sorrow and anguish? He says, ‘I say this in union with Christ, and my conscience in union with the Holy Spirit assures me of the same thing.’ How does he achieve this union with Christ and with the Holy Spirit? Through prayer.
Saint Paul’s teaching on prayer is, in one way, quite simple: ‘Pray without ceasing.’ And when we are tempted to say, ‘That is all very well for him to say; I have far too much to do,’ let us remember his phenomenal work for Christ, his travels, his preaching, his writing and his persecution.
Writing about this to the Christians at Philippi, Saint Paul says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’. By putting his own teaching into practice, by praying without ceasing, he gained the strength from God which enabled him to carry out the divine will.
Perhaps we have made a resolution to be more prayerful, to make more of an effort about making the time for quiet moments with God, but then our resolutions falter and we lack the perseverance we need. Without continual prayer, our faith will falter like the faith of the disciples on the boat. Like Peter on the water we feel we are sinking and cry out, “Lord, save me.” As we make more time for God, more time will appear in our lives for everything else. And as we make time to deepen our faith, we shall lose our fear of sinking.
This episode has applications to Christian life. The Church, like the Apostles’ boat, also gets into difficulties, and Jesus who watches over His Church comes to its rescue also, after allowing it to wrestle with obstacles and be strengthened in the process. He gives us encouragement: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear” (14:27); and we show our faith and fidelity by striving to keep an even keel, and by calling on His aid when we feel ourselves weakening: “Lord, save me” (14:30), words of St. Peter which every soul uses when he has recourse to Jesus, his Savior. Then our Lord does save us, and we urgently confess our faith: “Truly you are the Son of God” (14:33).
When Peter began to be afraid and to doubt, he started to sink, until again, full of faith, he called out, “Lord, save me.”
If at any time we, like Peter, should begin to weaken, we too should try to bring our faith into play and call on Jesus to save us. And there is no better, no more opportune time for this than NOW.
It is perhaps easy to say to ourselves, “I go to Mass every Sunday – is that not enough?” The honest answer, although it may seem rather brutal, is “No – it is not enough.” There are many graces we receive when we attend Mass, most especially when we receive our Lord himself in the Eucharist, but unless our presence at Mass is strengthened with private prayer, it can easily become mechanical, without thought. The wind will die down only when allow Jesus to climb into the boat with us.
As Christ catches Peter as he falls and promises to be with Peter and his church always, may we, as families and communities, be ready to reach out to “catch” one another and be there for one another in the midst of life’s most treacherous and terrifying storms.
The message is still true and active, especially today. Jesus stretched out His hand and caught Peter. He will hold us too if we let Him, if we surrender and commit all into His hands too.
When the going gets tough, only the tough gets going. Why do they get going? Because, being tough in faith, they remain in God’s hand. They hold tight to God’s hand.
“they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
If we want this world to be a place for justice and peace, then we have to begin from today to recognize God in whatever we do, and put Him on top of our priority list. Our world would be a perfect place if we put all our faith in God. It is through faith that we can withstand all the tribulations of life. With faith we shall conquer all things. If we all have faith the size of a mustard seed, we shall be able to remove all the evil we have in our world. The call is out there: put your faith in God and wait for the Lord. He is ever near to our assistance if we dare call out to Him for help in our lives. For us to succeed in all things, we need to put our total faith in God.
Our personal and communal commitment, like Christ’s and in union with his, will not be in vain but certainly fruitful.
For us, as we reflect on these Scriptures, the important focus for us always is: Keep our eyes on Jesus, and Jesus will lead us, guide us. It will be His quiet voice speaking in the depths of our heart, sometimes telling us to reverse where we have been going and go in a new direction. If we keep our eyes focused on Jesus and really listen deeply, whatever we hear from Jesus is where God is leading us. When we have the courage and the confidence to keep that focus on Jesus and to go wherever Jesus leads us, we will find that peace, the quiet that Jesus brings.
As He gets into the boat with Peter, the storm stops. Everything is quiet and peaceful. What a blessing that will be in our lives, when we keep our focus on Jesus and go wherever Jesus leads us. We will find peace, tranquility, and we will be following God’s way and bringing about results that God wants and chooses.
We pray today that our focus will be on Jesus and we will go wherever Jesus leads us. Do not forget to listen to that word and let the strength of God uphold you, especially in those stormy times when all looks lost.
Finally, we pray for one another, for those who have asked our prayers and for those who need our prayers the most. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.