Homilies,  Year A

19th Sunday in Year A – 13 August 2023

Many years ago, in a little Californian fishing village, I picked up a small poster which reads, “Dear God, help me; the sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.”   None of us would doubt that life is sometimes turbulent and often chaotic.  In fact, the ocean is good metaphor for how we experience life.  At times, it seems calm and full of invitation; on other occasions, it is full of threat and a fearful place.  For the people of the Scriptures, particularly, the ocean was a symbol more of chaos than anything.  It was the place of darkness and uncertainty – the place of hidden monsters.  The Hebrew people were not sea-faring people; they were people of the desert and although they involved themselves in fishing, they retained a deep ambivalence about the uncertain power of water.

The gospel story we have heard needs to be understood within this context.  It is not simply a fantastic story of people walking on water.  Rather, given the sense of the ocean for the people first hearing it the story leads us to reflect about our reaction in the midst of turmoil and chaos.  The writer has Jesus come to the disciples across the water.  It is a dramatic portrayal of how Jesus is Lord over the waters, i.e., of how Jesus has power over and in the midst of chaos and turbulence.  Jesus is Lord even over our own confusion.

All around us ‑ as the First Reading today prefigures ‑ there might be earthquakes, howling winds, raging fires – all metaphors for what we contend with in life.  But, deep within us there can be a sense of peace, a sense of calm, a sense of resolve, a sense of gentleness.  This is the God place within us – the place that the Spirit of God works to bring us to if we are open. 

This affirmation that Jesus is Lord even over our chaos and turbulence has a certain consequence as the story also illustrates.  As Lord over all that threatens to swamp us, Jesus brings us to a point of stillness.  The writers are trying to illustrate to us that faith in Jesus opens for us a still point deep within us ‑ a place of deep calm and peace within us.  For the disciple, it is in the turbulence of life that peace comes to us, not in the absence of storms. And so as one writer would make comment:

“Much modern spiritual writing it seems to me holds out a false ideal of wholeness and happiness, as if we could on this earth anticipate the blessedness of heaven and that something is seriously wrong if we don’t.  But though some Christians may be called to be neat and clean and well-advised, others may have to glorify God as slobs, freaks, duffers and muddlers of every kind and variety.  As the psychotherapists love to say, “The physician heals by his own wound.”  And perhaps for many of us our inadequacy is the only road to wisdom and charity, the most healthy outlook one that accepts our own unhealthiness, the best way of making the most of life a tough-minded recognition that much of it is thought. 

Peace in the Christian scheme of things is not a comfortable absence of conflict and stress.  We have to pluck tranquility out of pain and suffering, tension and confusion, learn to hear in the heart of the storm the voice that says, “Peace, it is I.”[1]

Christian peace comes not from the absence of conflict in life, but in the recognition that precisely in the conflict and storms of our life, someone is holding us, and in holding us providing us with the assurance that we have a sense of identity larger than the conflict in which we are encircled.  When we feel overwhelmed, not sure where to place our steps, it is the gospel that invites us to receive a gaze which comes to me from beyond my own confusion – a gaze which steadies me, assures me, invites me. And so, in the words of Michael Leunig

When the heart

Is cut or cracked or broken

Do not clutch it

Let the wound lie open

Let the wind

From the good old sea blow in

To bathe the wound with salt

And let it sting

Let a stray dog lick it

Let a bird lean in the hole and sing

A simple song like a tiny bell

And let it ring

When the Spirit of God lead us to anchor in the still quiet place deep within us and we hear the song of a tiny bell of re-assurance and of invitation deep within us, we learn that “We should not live as if waiting for the storm to pass but learn how to dance in the rain.”

[1] J.F.X. Harriot in The Tablet (17 March 1990), 334.

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