DIVINE ENCOUNTER BEYOND THE STORMS OF LIFE Reflection for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

One of the craziest hobbies I heard someone mention some time ago was “chasing a storm.” This means that the individual enjoys running into any storm for fun, no matter how dangerous. While I respect this hobby, I find it very weird because the normal disposition is to run from a storm.

A child was asked, “Imagine standing before a lion in a lonely forest; what would you do?” The child said in response, “I will stop imagining.” Beyond imagination, storms are real to this facility called life though they come in various forms and sizes. Did you know that what you do in the middle of any storm shows who you are and what sustains your faith?

The First Reading (I Kings 19:9a, 11-13a) tells us how the Prophet Elijah was caught in a series of storms while awaiting an encounter with God at Mount Horeb. Elijah was confident that God was in the storms, but unfortunately, God was not in any of the three successive storms until a tiny whispering sound ushered in God’s presence.

Like Elijah, we often think that God is behind every storm that comes our way, so we usually ask Him some hopeless questions in the eye of storms. Some of the storms in our lives are the consequences of our past choices and have nothing to do with God though He is still beyond them.

In contrast, the Gospel Reading (Matt. 14:22-33) tells us how the disciples were caught in a windstorm trying to crossover to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had dismissed them earlier after the miracle of feeding the five thousand while he went up the mountain to pray.

Encountering the Lord Amid the Storm

They were crossing over to the other side for a healing ministry when the windstorm rose against them. In life, most storms arise when we are set to cross over for something very significant.  Notice then that the goal of the storm was to stop them, but Jesus showed up walking on the waters; in other words, he was walking on the storm.

What happened next would form the central focus of our reflection. When Jesus showed up, the disciples started freaking out because they thought they saw a ghost. So, they were facing a windstorm and a ghost, another kind of storm!

But Jesus asked them to be courageous and that he was the one and not a ghost. The ever-spontaneous Peter replied, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Note here that Peter remarkably said, “Command me.” It is always good to do what God commands, not what we want to do.

When Jesus commanded Peter to come to him, he confidently stepped on the troubled waters, in other words, the storm, and was walking to Jesus, but midway, he shifted his attention from the Lord to the storm, and instantly he started sinking.

The good news was that our Lord Jesus Christ rescued Peter from drowning, and his presence instantly calmed the windstorm that buffeted the Sea of Galilee.

We now look at activating a dependable divine encounter beyond the storms in our lives.

Arise: The Prophecy of Isaiah (60:1) says, “Arise and shine for your light has come.” Notice where the rising comes before shining. Divine intervention is normally a reaction to a command to act. The miracle of the raising of Lazarus started when the dead man responded to the command to arise (John 11:43).

In that encounter, we see Peter responding to the command to arise, come to the Lord, and walk on the waters. Sometimes we want God to act but are not ready to arise. Remember that if the prodigal son did not arise to go back to his father, he would have died in the distant country (Luke 15:18).

Step out with Faith: It is one thing to arise and another to step out with faith. That was the challenge of Peter in the Gospel passage. Recall that Jesus told him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Indicating the level of his faith.

To do any business with God, we must have a faith infrastructure. In the Letter to the Hebrews (11:6),

we read: And without faith, it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Faith excels in the foreground of obedience; faith is an action of obedience. Notice that the absence of faith in Peter’s response to the command of the Lord made him sink. Faith functions in giving us focus, and this is our next point.

  Focus on the Lord: Focus has to do with the phenomenon of attention. Attention has to do with the ability to concentrate on a given reality, especially to the exclusion of others.

We live in a world infested by many images and sounds that contend and distort the requisite attention we should give to our spiritual life and sanity. Recall that what made Peter sink was simply the sight and sound of the windstorm, in other words, distraction.

Our focus on the Lord in the face of the storms in our lives helps us to overcome them, but when we focus on the storms, they take us down. The best way to keep our focus on the Lord is to hold firm to what he says.  

If Peter held on to the command “come to me,” he would not have sunk. Recall what Mary, the mother of Jesus, said to the servants at the wedding at Cana in Galilee, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). That instruction is still valid for us today.

Moving Forward: Every Storm Has an Expiry Date

I remember watching the violent surge of the ocean wave in the southeastern Caribbean area some time ago. The stormy force that swept through the ocean waters was so intense that it could shake an observer to the bone marrow. But give it time; calmness will surely return.

You may be going through a storm at this time in your life. It may be financial, it may be health, it may be employment, it may be academic, it may be family-based, it may be community-based, and it can also be spiritual. You must be sure of this; every storm must come to pass. The storm may be above your head, but every storm is under the feet of God. With your faith in God’s unfailing words, those storms will pass away, and like God assured his people in Exodus (14:13), “…you will not see them again”.

We are encouraged by the word of God today to go over to the other side. You have always been on this side of fear, hopelessness, and doubts. Now there is an invitation for you to sail over to the other side of the divine encounter, but you need to arise, step out with faith, and focus on the Lord and his commands.

God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie,    

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