19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Three areas for thought and prayer in the Holy Word of God today. First the teaching about Jesus. He goes off on his own to pray. He is always doing this in the Gospels. The few times when it might appear that he is praying with others, like the Transfiguration or the Garden of Gethsemene the apostles are either frightened or they fall asleep. Jesus prays alone, because he is God. Yes according to his human nature he has a duty to pray, to thank God for all he has received, to lift up his human heart and human soul to God, but Jesus who does this is God. His prayer is part of the mystery of the inner life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Only in heaven will we enter that mystery fully.
The early teachers in the Church saw in this Gospel an image of our situation now. The risen Jesus has ascended, returned to the Father, and the Church, that little boat, guided by Peter and the Apostles, by the Pope and the Bishops, is often battling huge storms, apparently in danger of sinking in a hostile world. It seems alone, even doomed, but it is not. The Church is the body of Christ, he never leaves it. What saves the Church is not good boatmanship by the apostles, or a stronger or bigger boat, or a good plan, it is meeting with Jesus and recognising he is God. Jesus says ‘it is I’. Always this or similar phrases are associated with Jesus revealing his divinity. I am the bread of life. I am the resurrection and the life. I who am speaking to you I am he. Before ever Abraham was I am. The faith of the Church, our individual faith is built on those moments of recognition when we see that Jesus is God who holds out his hand to us.
That brings us to the second point. These moments of meeting and recognition are often surprising. For Elijah it isn't the earthquake or the wind which Moses experienced on the mountain when he received the Ten Commandments, it isn't the fire from which God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, it is the gentle breeze. But even then Elijah does not underestimate the wonder of this meeting and covers his face in respect before he goes to meet God.
And finally I think we can take great encouragement from Peter’s apparent lack of courage. Don't forget Peter has just seen the Lord transfigured on the mountain, he has then come down the mountain and seen him feed the five thousand by a miracle, but still he has doubts. He knows what this man can do, he has seen him revealed as God on the mountain talking to Moses and Elijah but still he is uncertain, frightened of the wind. Meeting Jesus and recognising him as God is disturbing. We are aware of our sinfulness, we are aware of the distance between us and God, and as that meeting and recognition deepens into love we become aware of the cross, of the demands that love makes on us. First the simple demand to stop sin, live a good life but in the end to call to go with our lover to the cross for the sake of others, something St Paul hints at in the second reading.
So practically in our Christian lives, we should always ask in every event two questions where is Jesus and what does Jesus do? Has some one been rude to you - where is Jesus -what does Jesus do, the television programme I'm watching has just turned a bit nasty - where is Jesus and what does Jesus do, there's a poor man begging outside the shops where is Jesus and what does Jesus do. When there is a war somewhere or a terrorist outrage where is Jesus and what does Jesus do. And at good moments too. When something wonderful has happened. Where is Jesus, what does Jesus do. We may find the answers surprising and very difficult. Our only response may be to cry out with St Peter ‘Lord save me’. But no matter how many times we do that the hand of Jesus who is God is always there to hold us.