9 August 2020 Homily by Bishop Noel Treanor for 19th Sunday (Ord Time)
I “ Truly, you are the Son of God”(Mt 14.23)
Last Sunday we began reading from this chapter 14 of St Matthew’s gospel, the gospel text we are following for the most part throughout this year. Chapter 13, which we read in recent Sundays presented a series of parables. With various images they described the kingdom of God. In other words, they suggested and described the mysterious workings or dynamics of God’s grace. You remember the parables, or likenesses, of the sower, the darnel, the mustard seed, the yeast, the treasure and the pearl, the dragnet.
Now with this chapter the author, St Matthew, trains his focus on the impact Jesus has on his disciples and on the people and next Sunday week we shall arrive at the famous scene at Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16.13-20) where we hear Peter making his confession of faith (Mt16.16). Peter’s confession will develop, deepen and personalise the group statement of belief in the closing phrase of this gospel extract : “truly, you are the Son of God” (Mt 14.23).
In the same vein the three readings, heard during the liturgy of the Word today, treat of the dynamic of faith and the quest for God. They take us to the core of the question of faith. They bring us to that cliff edge question of God, the things of God, the final and determinative core of one’s life ! The God question, the subject of faith, is not a facile one ; it is a subject which may involve a life-long pondering, indeed a wrangle with the God question, with self and others.
II.”the sound of a gentle breeze” (1 Kg 19.12)
As literature of faith from the Old Testament, the Hebrew bible, and from the New Testament, these readings we have heard touch on the search for God and how God’s presence may be identified.
The first reading from the first book of Kings presents the prophet Elijah who has gone aside and spent a night in a cave, a feature mirrored in the gospel text with Jesus heading for the hills to be alone and pray.
Notice how Elijah finally senses God in the “gentle breeze” and not in the rock-shattering wind nor in powerful the earthquake. Like love, hope and courage, God is to be detected in the bit and pieces of life, as poets and others have affirmed.
Yet we crave for signs, as did Peter as he stepped into the water in the lines from St Matthew we have just read! It is rather, and simply, Jesus’ hand that “took hold” of him (Mt 14.31) and steadied him. The power of Jesus’s grip steadied his faltering faith!
The second reading from St Paul’s letter to the Romans also deals with the issue of faith, particularly with identifying God’s traces in history. In these lines St Paul alludes to the traces of God in the history of the Jewish people and yearns that they might recognise that God became incarnate, entered human history in their flesh and blood and had walked among them in the person of Jesus, the Christ (Rom. 9.5).
III. Jesus called out : ‘Courage, It’s me! Don’t be afraid” (Mt 14.27)
St Paul’s assertion brings us back to the scene in the gospel lines we have heard. Firstly, these lines are rich with echoes of the Old Testament which its first audiences of Jewish Christians would have identified straightaway.
The hint of Jesus going off to the hills to be alone and pray would have evoked episodes from the life of Moses on the hilltops with Aaron and Hur (Ex. 17.8-16) or on mount Sinai (Ex 32.30-34) in prayer and dialogue with God.
Pictured as walking on the waters, Jesus is cast in the image of the all-powerful creator of the Old Testament who overcomes the powers of chaos(Job 9.8) and also declares his identity with words “I am who am” (Ex 3.14) which evoke the divine voice in response to Moses’ question as to how he is to identify God for them and tell them and give them his name.
For Jewish ears and religious sensibility this episode portrays Jesus as acting and speaking as God had acted and spoken into their history!
IV. “Jesus called out to them” (Mt 14.27)
As we listen to these extracts from the Word of God this weekend, we are once again reminded that God has revealed himself to humanity in the person and life of Jesus of Nazareth, his Son.
Godliness and the ways of God are to be glimpsed the accounts of his life, his dealings with people, in his self-sacrificing life and death and finally in his Resurrection which offers us a new order of hope.
Jesus’ sayings and doings are full of encounters that surprise us, as they did his followers and contemporaries. His logic, actions and attitudes test and turn upside down very often our righteous judgements, as he did those of his God-fearing contemporaries. His living Word constantly calls out to us to review, re-think, and re-set our values. His entire life, death and resurrection invite us to respond to the mysterious dynamic of God’s economy of salvation which ever holds out hope for the seemingly hopeless.
And finally, like that grip of Jesus’ hand for the sinking doubting Peter (Mt 14.31) : it is the love of Christ that saves us, not our efforts or calculations. In him and in his healing and saving Word we place our trust for ourselves and for all without exception.