A story has it that a retired army General went on a boat sailing outing with his wife. At the middle of the river, a gale began to blow and the boat began to face furious turbulence. The wife of the General who hated anything water of that nature was greatly alarmed and she fretted and cried. However the General was calm, recollected and had his head bowed down, not moving or saying anything. The wife became angrier over his lax attitude in the face of such a tempestuous situation. The General was still calm. Later he brought out his hunting rifle, pointing it at the wife; he adjusted it to shoot at her. At this point, the woman started laughing and told the husband that he was joking. However the General was looking very serious and moved nearer meaning to shoot her at a closer range, but she was so sure that he was joking. Suddenly he lowered the rifle and laughing said: “You were so sure that I was not going to shoot you because you know how much I love and cherish you, but you fretted and worried about the storm not trusting and having faith that God loves and cares about us more and that He would calm the storm!” It was at this point in their dialogue that they discovered that the storm had long stopped and they continued their sail with the lesson that God is even nearer when the storm is higher.
Storms are not desirable commodities. Nobody would like to be caught up in one; though there are some people who claim that they are storm-chasers but they do so for fun or as a hobby. Much as we all detest storms, they are almost unavoidable at various points in our life’s journey. Some of them come directly from our mistakes, some come through our friends, relations and associates, while others are natural. By the way, the word storm in our reflection here refers not only to the natural atmospheric turbulence but also to the various potholes and crossroads in our lives; in fact, it refers to anything that is troublesome in our lives. It could be the presence of something that should be absent, the absence of what should be present or the presence of two or more things that should be present but are always in conflict.
In the First Reading (1 kings 19:9a.11-13a) the prophet Elijah was asked by God to stand on Mount Horeb for a divine encounter. We are told that the Lord passed by and there followed a great wind that tore the mountain and broke the rocks in pieces but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was earthquake but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Thereafter, there was fire but the Lord was not in the fire. It was after all these that a calm still voice came and there was the Lord. There are so many things involved in that encounter and we shall be looking at them in what follows.
Elijah was given an instruction to stand and wait for the Lord to come and he did exactly that. But his waiting was not a calm one; it was a trouble-infested waiting. During the waiting, he had the harrowing experience of great storms in form of great and strong wind, earthquake, and wild fire. But in all these, he was not discouraged; he continued to stand in there in the midst of all the troubles because the Lord had asked him to stand and wait. The word of God says that those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31). Often we take flight over a small storm that comes across us. The truth is that storms do not actually last they come and pass by as was shown at the beginning when God passed by. Here also we have the confirmation that God is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last (Rev. 22:13). He came First before the turbulences and Last after the disturbances.
Furthermore it is good for us to know that God comes at His own time and in His own way. Coming to Elijah, God was in the calm still voice. If we study the bible very well we will discover that God can choose to manifest Himself in any or all the forms we saw above. In the Book of Exodus (19:18) we notice that God took all the manifestations we saw: fire, wind and earthquake. God comes at His own time and in any way that He wants. Often we seem to command God to act. That is absolutely wrong. We only need to wait for God to act (Psalm 37:7).
In the gospel reading, we are presented with the horrific encounter the disciples had at night in the middle of the sea. This was after the feeding of the five thousand. Our Lord asked the disciples to cross over to the other side of the sea while he dismissed the crowd and went up to the mountain to pray by himself. The first thing we need to examine is “the crossing over to the other side”. This has a deeper meaning than what is said. Whenever there is a crossing over to the other side there is usually something very significant that must take place. In Mark (5:1-20) our Lord went over to the other side to release a man who was possessed by a legion of demons. In Mark (1:38) our Lord moved over to the other side with his disciples to preach and heal people including a leper. It was on the other side that the miracle of the multiplication of bread took place (Matt.14:13ff).
While the disciples were sailing to the other side, our Lord went up to the hills by himself to pray. Our Lord went to commune with His father in prayer. What could be the content of the prayer? We were not told but we could guess from what happened afterwards. Though he was not physically present with the disciples in the boat, he accompanied them with prayers. That means that God’s grace was abundantly with them. But from their reaction to the storm, they expressed fear instead of faith. Often we forget that everything concerning us is known to God and that He cares so much about us.
When the boat was far away from our Lord it was faced with angry sea waves brought about by a strong wind. It was a stormy situation that rocked their boats in a very deadly way. The situation may have become so unbearable and hopeless for them. But suddenly, our Lord appeared to them walking on the water. Seeing him, they were terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. It will be good to establish here that fear can change the shape, size, and colour of things. With fear they saw a ghost instead our Lord Jesus Christ. This is how fear made a man who saw a pile of sand used by children to play in front of his house to conclude that an enemy had planted charms for him. There are indeed so many other misapplications and misjudgements brought about by fear.
When our Lord saw how confused, disoriented and fear infested they were, he asked them to take heart and not to fear. Peter who is known to be very spontaneous asked our Lord to bid him come to him if he were the one and immediately our Lord asked him to come. Indeed, Peter started walking on the water as he was focusing on our Lord Jesus Christ. But there came a time when he removed his eyes on the Lord and started looking fearfully at the troubled water (the wind and the turbulence) and he started sinking, It was then that he cried out saying “Lord save me!” Instantly our Lord got hold of him and pulled him out of the water onto the water and they both walked to the boat! Our Lord concluded the episode by calling Peter a man of little faith on account of his doubt and the wind also saw the Lord and stopped.
We are often like Peter and the other disciples in that wind-tossed boat. Often we face various storms in our lives. There are many who are facing storms in their relationships, in their marriages, in their work places, in their businesses, in their studies, in their plans and aspirations. It is important to note that storms are existential facts of life. God did not promise us that we will not face stormy situations but he assured us that in them all, He will be with us (Psalm 20:1; 23:4). This simply tells us that the storm we experience today may expire tomorrow; so instead of getting overly worried and faithless, it will be better and more gainful to anchor our faith in God.
There is hardly anybody, any family, any community, any state or any nation that can boast of being storm-free. However no storm endures forever; there is always an expiry date attached to each storm. Elijah’s storm was soon overtaken by God’s still voice. In the Second Reading (Romans 9:1-5) St. Paul articulates his own storm in form of sorrow and anguish, but in and through Christ it was settled. Peter and the other disciples were not in the storm the whole night as our Lord came and brought calmness. Though you may be having one storm or the other in your life you must be conscious of the fact that God is greater than any storm that may stand against you. Remember that in the gospel passage today, Our Lord did not command the storm to stop rather, when the stormy wind saw the Lord it stopped. We are therefore expected to bring our storms to the Lord however they may be they must stop in his presence.
As we march into the new week, let us ask God for the unfailing faith to stand firm on a high faith quotient in the face of any storm. Faith is very important if we must face and overcome the stormy conditions at various points in our lives. Like Elijah there is need for us to obey the instruction of standing and waiting on the Lord as He comes to us after the turbulence. We should not repeat the mistake of Peter by taking our focus away from the Lord. If we do so, we will start sinking. And if we per adventure find ourselves sinking, we must be humble and ready to raise up our hands to ask for divine assistance and we shall be saved.
Do have a great Sunday and a blessed week ahead.