I could start this reflection with the word “perhaps” but instead I’ll go out on a limb and be more bold. I know that you have had times in your life when you’ve been caught in some kind of storm — we all have! I don’t mean literally, but just those difficult times when you perhaps turned to God for help. Perhaps, some of these trials that you encountered were even on account of trying to do His will. How do we find Him in those trials? How can we point Him out? We’ll look to our Readings to find out.
In our First Reading, the prophet Elijah reached Mount Horeb (also called Mount Sinai), where Moses had spoken to God centuries earlier. The Lord then told Elijah to go and stand outside the cave he was in to see the Lord go by.
There came a mighty wind, so strong it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire. But the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there came the sound of a gentle breeze. And when Elijah heard this, he covered his face with his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Maybe he covered his face because he remembered that God said to Moses that no man could see Him and live (cf. Exodus 33:20). The Lord was in the gentle breeze and not in the other thunderous signs and Elijah was “in tune” enough with God to know it.
In our Gospel, we have another occasion of wind and storm and the challenge of discerning God within them, just like Elijah’s challenge. Only this time, it’s a little easier (but sometimes making things easier means making them prone to failure).
When evening came, He was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night He went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw Him walking on the lake they were terrified. “It is a ghost” they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, “Courage! It is I!”
When you don’t know Greek, a lot can escape you in those last words, “It is I!” They are the same words that God used to reveal His name to Moses in Exodus 3:14: “I AM!” This is the same name that the Jews were afraid of even pronouncing and, here, Jesus ascribes it to Himself! Not only that, but He’s walking on the water and only God walks on it (cf. Job 9:8) and only He rules the raging seas (cf. Psalm 89:9-10)!
However, the disciples don’t immediately make the connection; they weren’t as “in tune” as Elijah was. They questioned who it might be. They concluded that it was a ghost and were terrified. But then that bold proclamation of divinity of Jesus makes its way into their hearts (the root for the word “courage” is cor which is “heart” in Latin. That’s why sometimes the translation says “Take heart.”). Peter then responds with a sure test for the Lord!
“Lord,” he said “if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.” “Come” said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water…
There’s a more subtle play of divinity going on here too. When God wants something done, it is enough for Him to command it to be so with His words. See what Isaiah says about this:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I intend, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10–11)
That’s why when Jesus says, “Come,” Peter can do it. This is why when Jesus says, “This is my Body,” even if it wasn’t, now it is! This is why when Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven you,” you can rest assured that they are. And there are many other instances where God does this in the Scriptures.
But, a word of warning goes with this great power that is given to us when the Lord asks anything of us: Do not doubt!
… but as soon as he [Peter] felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. “Lord! Save me!” he cried. Jesus put out His hand at once and held him. “Man of little faith,” He said “why did you doubt?” And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before Him and said, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
They passed the test in the end.
How then do we discern Him in the trials? First, we know and understand that it is He who is God and only He calms the raging seas. We must firmly and unwaveringly believe that He is God and He has all things in His hands. Without this faith, He has no room to work in our lives. Second, we must learn to maintain peace and discern Him amidst the small breeze that passes through the mighty winds and storms of our lives.
“Be still, and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10).