Matthew 14: 22-33
Today’s readings use rich imagery of the power and grandeur of the natural world to illustrate the even greater glory of God revealed to us in Christ.
Nature imagery is widely used in the bible as in other literature contemporary with the scriptures to convey an idea of the omnipotence and benevolence of God. In order to appreciate how effective such descriptions can be, one need only read the creation accounts in the first two chapters of Genesis, or the story of Noah and the flood, or peruse poetic texts such as Psalm 29, where the Lord is manifested through the appearance of a terrible storm, or the final chapters of the book of Job, where God reviews the mysteries of creation which are beyond human understanding.
Turning to the first reading, Elijah the prophet was one of the most courageous figures of the entire Old Testament, and so it is surprising that we find him cowering in a cave on Mount Horeb as he awaits the appearance of the Lord. A mighty wind rushes by, yet the Lord is not in the wind; then an earthquake shakes the very ground on which Elijah stands, but God is not to be found in the earthquake. Next a wildfire rages, yet the Lord is not to be seen in the consuming flames either.
Elijah eventually does perceive the presence of the Lord in a “tiny whispering sound” which relates to him that he is to complete his prophetic mission and appoint a successor to carry this mission forward after his departure. Elijah was wise enough to recognize that God is not bound by human ideas of what is important or impressive, and that the Lord can make use of the simplest and humblest means to reveal the most transformative and noble truths.
In the gospel we see that the elements of nature are subject to Jesus, who thus demonstrates his divinity: to the astonishment of the disciples he walks on the water of the Sea of Galilee and calms the stormy winds. We are as remiss as Peter was however if we go no further than simple awe over what we have heard recounted.
Jesus’ actions are not meant to amaze his audience, as though he were performing a magic trick. Rather, here as elsewhere his miraculous gestures always point to something beyond themselves: in this case they reveal his divine sonship through his appropriation of the Father’s words—“It is I; do not be afraid!” often spoken by the Lord in Isaiah’s prophecies—and through his mastery over nature.
Jesus’ gestures in this passage also point to his wish to share his divine glory with his disciples, if only they would accept it. We see the intense desire of the Lord to bring us into the fullness of his salvation when he says to Peter: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” He would gladly give Peter everything, yet what Jesus means to give can only be received when a person comes to know him and then has faith in him.
As we see, Peter’s faith falls short, and he ends up plunging into the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Eventually of course he would place all his faith and trust in Christ, and thereby experience the surpassing wonder of God’s salvation, which transforms human life in a manner that is far more wonderful than the miracles which anticipate it.
Animated by the wisdom of Elijah and the faith that Peter would finally summon, let us come to know Jesus as the Son and revealer of the Father, and thus be able to say joyfully together with the disciples “Truly, you are the Son of God”.
Fr. Edward Mazich, O.S.B.