“And in the fourth watch of the night, He came to them, walking on the sea.” (Matthew 14:25)
In our Gospel passage last Sunday, Matthew tells us that when Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, He withdrew to a quiet place all by Himself but the people got wind of it and came out in large numbers to wait for Him. Jesus forgets His own pain, He shows compassion to the crowd and cures their sick. Jesus even takes the initiative to feed the crowd with just five loaves and two fish. Our Gospel passage today which takes up from here tells us what happened afterwards and presents some very important lessons for our spiritual nourishment which include:
1. Who Am I to Jesus? Disciple or Crowd?
Matthew explains today that just after the crowds had eaten and were satisfied, Jesus “made the disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.” Everywhere Jesus went, there were great crowds most of whom had no personal relationship with Jesus. Some followed because they wanted miracles or because they saw others following. Some even followed just to find fault with Jesus (to pull Him down) and so on. Knowing this, Jesus spoke to them in parables but would explain everything privately to His disciples.
As much as Jesus loved everyone equally, Jesus knew that not everyone could be carried along at the same time. Of course, there are some whose hearts were like seeds planted along the roadside. In the end, the very crowds that followed Jesus were the same persons who shouted: “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” Despite the pandemic, our churches are still filled to capacity but evil continues to reign in our society. Like the crowds who flocked around Jesus, we do not allow God’s Words to impact our lives. By our actions and inactions, we crucify Jesus making Him an object of mockery among unbelievers.
Dear friends, enough is enough for just being a number in the crowd, Jesus is inviting you today to become a disciple. Jesus is inviting you to go beyond being a Baby-Christian to one whose faith remains unshaken despite trials and difficulties like Elijah and St. Paul who we encounter in our first and second reading today. Jesus is inviting you today to enter the boat and go before him to the other side; to distance yourself from the crowds (so-called Christians who do not live like Christ); to grow deeper in your knowledge of God’s words and to apply them in your life.
2. Prayer is the Master Key.
After the crowds had been dismissed, Jesus had time to do what He had wanted to do before the feeding of the multitudes. He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When we examine the life of Jesus, you would notice this pattern; after every episode of great miracles, He would spend ample time in prayer (even whole nights). Prayer was Jesus’ favourite recreational activity; He was never too tired to pray. How is your prayer life?
Another important detail Matthew provides us today is that Jesus prayed alone. “When evening came, He was there alone but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land…” Jesus practically demonstrates what He taught us about prayer in the Sermon on the Mount: “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them…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.” (Matthew 6:1&6).
It is sad to say that some of us do not know how to pray when alone; we only pray when asked to pray or in public, to give others the impression that we are holy. We can afford to spend hours alone with our mobile phones fully engaged but we consider it boring to be alone with God, to visit the Blessed Sacrament and just sit still before God.
In today’s first reading, Elijah experiences the presence of God in a still small voice on Mount Horeb. There were loud noises, heavy winds, earthquakes and fire but God was not in any of these. We live in a very noisy world, many do not know how to be silent. Even within our liturgical worship, we hardly give room for silence to allow God speak directly to our hearts. Whenever it is Friday, my heart begins to beat because the churches around my area take it upon themselves to compete with loudspeakers in the name of “All night prayers.” No one is allowed to sleep because some Christians (who feel that God is far away) want Him to come down by fire or by force. There is nothing wrong with raising one’s voice at prayer but the truth is that even in silence, God can still be found.
3. Fear Not; God is Never Far from You.
In his prayer, Jesus could see the trouble with the disciples even though they were many furlongs distant from the land. Jesus saw that they were beaten by the waves for the wind was against them. Dear friends, regardless of what we may be going through, let this image stick with us; let us always be assured that God sees everything that is happening to us; that He knows, He understands and He cares deeply for our wellbeing. In fact, we can never leave the presence of God as the Psalmist sings:
“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalm 139:7-12).
Most often, I hear Christians saying: “Father, I don’t understand what is happening oh” then they go on to mention everything that is just not alright with them. They see their problems clearly but they just cannot see where and how God comes into the picture. While the children of Israel could only see Goliath, David saw God and he had this inner peace and assurance within his heart that he could face Goliath. So long as Peter gazed on Jesus, he was able to walk on water but when he turned his gaze to the winds, he began to sink.
Stop looking at the enormity of your problems and start learning how to fix your gaze permanently on God; learn to practice being in the presence of God. Very often, when we catch ourselves asking “God, where are you?” it is because we had forgotten that He is always there with us. Your situation may be very bad, so bad that you now expect only the worst to happen; everything may have gotten out of hand, your whole world may appear collapsing before your eyes, know this: God is right here with you. Even when you cannot picture Jesus walking on top of your crisis, know that it is impossible to be away from His presence.
Conclusion: Jesus is Lord of Heaven and Earth.
It might shock you to realize that many of us have come to believe in the lie that the whole world is under the power of the devil. Some of our preachers unconsciously proclaim this lie from the pulpit; they attest that the forces of darkness are totally in control of everything in our lives. As such, many Christians today are living in great and utter fear which has now become aggravated by the pandemic.
The question every one of us needs to ask himself or herself today is: “Who do I think is really in charge of this world?” If from the bottom of your heart, you do not believe that God is the one in charge, then I can only pity for you. But if you truly believe that God is in charge, then I ask you the question that Jesus asked Peter: “O you of little faith, why are you doubting?” Why are you having sleepless nights after praying? Why are you expecting bad things to happen? Do you think God does not know what He is doing?
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief. Amen.
Bible Study: 1st Kings 19:9-13, Psalm 85, Romans 9:1-5 and Matthew 14:22-33).