HOMILY FOR THE 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
A recent viral video shows a Nigerian child of about seven years begging his mom not to punish him for a misconduct. The most spectacular point in the video is where the little boy begs his enraged mother to calm down. When the mom asked what he means by asking her to calm down, the boy quickly remarked that she is overtly worked up by his misdeed, but she needs to relax, rest, and give him the last chance. The little boy’s headline reads: “mommy calm down”!
The First Reading today (1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a) tells us about Elijah’s encounter with God at the mountain of God that is Horeb. The previous chapter showed how Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and Asherah in a contest when God answered him by the fire from heaven that consumed his portion of the sacrifice, which was the object of their competition.
As a result of losing in the competition, Elijah slaughtered the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah. Consequently, queen Jezebel, their sponsor, sought to kill Elijah, and he fled, and God directed him to come over to Horeb for a meeting.
While waiting for God to show up, Elijah experienced three phenomenal events that could have indicated the presence of God: the strong and violent wind, a high magnitude earthquake, and fire which was the element God used to answer him the last time he prayed, but God was not in any of these until there was a tiny whispering sound and God showed up.
In this narrative, we could see that God was, in some way, telling the agitated and worried prophet to calm down by showing up to him in the most gentle way, the tiny whispering sound which was almost like silence. Most times, God speaks to us in whispers so we need to be calm to hear God.
Confronting the Storm on the Other Side
The Gospel Reading (Matt. 14:22-33), gives us a very vivid narrative on the experience of a storm in the middle of the sea. After the feeding of the five thousand with the five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus asked his disciples to go over to the other side with a boat while he dismisses the crowds. After that, he goes to the mountain by himself to pray. Meanwhile, his disciples were battling with a wind storm on their way to the other side.
During the fourth watch of the night ( about 3 am according to biblical chronemics), Jesus came to the disciples walking on the seawater as they struggle with the wind storm. The thought of a ghost could have scared them more until our Lord identified himself.
Still, in doubt, Peter asked the Lord to command him to come to him, and Jesus did. Peter started making his way to the Lord as long as he kept his focus on Jesus. But shifting his gaze from the Lord to the storm, he began to sink and called out for help. Jesus helped him out of the water while still standing on the water and queried his doubt and little faith.
Calm Down: Have Faith Over Fear!
Notice that the narrative begins with the Lord asking his disciples to go over to the other side, which is unnamed. The last event on this side was the healing of the sick and the multiplication of bread and fish. From the last time we checked, this side ended well, with everyone satisfied and happy. Now, a deadly storm confronts the journey to the other, and the disciples were worried and wearied with uncertainty.
Life often presents us with frequent journeys to the other side during which we confront storms of various shapes and sizes. Many people making the trip to the other side are often tossed about by violent situations. The coronavirus pandemic and other dreadful experiences of the moment are significant storms on our journey to the other side.
One common thing with storms is that they often come with an intensity that presents finality, but they do expire with time, especially when God steps in. Notice that when Jesus showed up, the storm died down. Worth mentioning is the fear factor which possesses the mind and alters one’s actions. Notice that fear made the disciples not to recognize Jesus when he showed up; “it is a ghost they said and cried out in fear.” Anxiety could be very destructive and may leave one imagining what is not there. Fear brings distortions to our perception of things. St. Paul tells us that God did not give us the spirit of fear but of power, and of love, and of sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7).
Let us look at Peter’s version of fear. At first, he dared to ask Jesus to invite him over; “command me to come to you on the water.” That was a faith-inspired request, but when he received the command and started walking towards Jesus, fear took over his faith, and he started sinking.
From the narrative, we could see that fear stands as false evidence appearing real. The disciples were afraid of both the storm and the imaginary ghost, but nothing still happened to them. The Lord was mindful of them and came to them at their point of need. In the Prophecy of Isaiah (35:4) God said, tell those with fearful hearts, be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.
The disciples needed to calm down and place their faith over their fears. The same situation relates to all of us as we face trials when attempting to get through to the other side of life. In that sickness, calm down. When problems run after you in the family, calm down. In the current situation in your life, calm down. Worry would only weary you. Remember this statement, fear is the conversation you have with yourself over things you cannot change, but faith is a conversation you have with God about the things God alone can change. Calm down; have faith over fear. Remember that you cannot please God without faith (Heb. 11:6).
God Bless you.