The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – 9 August, 2020
Lectionary Readings: 1 Kgs 19:9, 11-13; Ps 85:9 -14; Rom 9:1-5; Matt 14:22-33
Theme: “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.”
The gospel of last Sunday is the account of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. The crowd following Jesus is without food. Jesus had compassion on them and asked the disciples where they could get food, knowing himself what he would do. As Christians we often see this miracle as an introduction to the Last Supper, to the Eucharist: “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven, whoever eats this bread will live forever”. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, the Mass, we remember Jesus giving his life for us on the cross on Calvary.
After Jesus had fed the people, he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side of the lake, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went off by himself to pray. We can try to imagine why Jesus took time for prayer. Perhaps Jesus was praying in thanksgiving for the multiplication of the bread and fish. Some scholars suggest that perhaps there were people in the crowd who had given some food and Jesus was praying in thanksgiving for their generosity. Perhaps, Jesus was praying for the disciples out there on the lake experiencing the storm. “Reality makes prayer spring from the heart, not pious speech.” (Spadaro, 4) “Prayer will prompt us for action towards you Lord and towards others … a thanksgiving of Jesus to the Father, praying for the crowd and the disciples. Only Jesus’ intimate relationship with his Father explains the authority and serene courage that were so evident in his life.” (Thornhill, 90) In Matt 11:29, Jesus invites us to follow him, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Certainly later, at sea during the confusion of the storm, the disciples will rest in the peace of Jesus.
I have come to understand and appreciate the formation that Jesus is giving his apostles: how at different times, Jesus prayed for his apostles and asked the Father to bless and consecrate them. Many a time I don’t fully comprehend the motive of Jesus. The text says that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat. Jesus did not give the disciples a choice either to take the boat or to stay behind. Humanly thinking, my thinking, is to let the disciples stay, and so help Jesus to send the crowds away. Perhaps by staying behind they could have joined Jesus in his prayer-time, thus praying together. But no, he climbs the mountain alone for his encounter with the Father.
“But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, distressed by the waves, for the wind was contrary” (v. 24). It must be a frightening experience to be in a small boat, far from the shore, during a storm. Did Jesus know that there would be a storm and want the disciples to be on their own? Earlier in Matt 8:23-27, we heard that Jesus led the disciples into the boat and stayed with them, though he fell asleep. When the storm arose and the waves covered the boat, the disciples cried out, “Save us, Lord: we are perishing” (8:25). Jesus questions, “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?” Then, he rebukes the wind and calms the storm to the amazement of the disciples: “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?” (8:27).
We hear from time to time that we Christians, indeed all of humankind, are in a boat on our journey through life. A few hours before, the disciples witnessed the glory of the Lord at the feeding of the five thousand people, and now they are in a boat facing the hostile forces of the sea and the deepest darkness of the night, total chaos. Our world at present is experiencing the deepest darkness of the Covid-19 pandemic. Pope Francis expressed it thus: “We are in the same boat, all of us, fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other” (Spadaro, 4). Hopefully, we will take on the character of Peter, hoping and trusting in the Lord. “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid”.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Concerning my appreciation of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, has there been any development? 2. My prayer life: how do I pray at this time of the Covid-19 pandemic? 3. Where is the Lord in the deepest darkness hours of my life?
Bibliography: Spadaro, A. La Civilita Cattolica, 14 July 2020; Grogan, P. Christian Community Bible (Quezon City: 2005); Thornhill, J. Reflections on the Sunday Readings, http://www.theemmausseries.com/tablesundays.html
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Aliki A Langi, Hunter Hills, Sydney. Bat Kol alumnus 2005, 2018