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Taking the first step

First slide

Gospel Commentary Aug. 9, Mt 14:22-33

 

Have you ever tried to walk on water? It’s slightly more difficult than our imagination lets on. Of course, there’s the obvious problem of not sinking. But let’s suppose you had that covered, by pontoon shoes or the grace of God. You’d still have to work out the problems of balance and standing up straight. The water, after all, is not a level surface: It comes in waves and is likely to be a bit squishy under your feet. At any moment your level ground may become a hill, a slope, a peak, and then rolls past, leaving you on the other side.

 

Thus, in our Gospel today from Matthew, when we see Jesus walking on the water, we’re really witnessing a double miracle. Not only does Jesus remain astride the seas, but he does so powerfully upright, not toppling over into the surf. Even more impressive, he walks in a storm amid high seas. He does the impossible stacked on the impossible, because he truly is the Son of God.

 

Then Jesus looks to terrified, bedraggled, “I-need-my fishing-boat-or-I’ll-drown” Peter and commands him to come out of the boat. Peter obeys, and for a moment by the grace of God, he’s actually successful.  Even when he falls, Christ is there to support his efforts.

 

How to interpret this? The Church Fathers, like St. Augustine, have long considered the wooden boat to be a symbol of the church, and we are the disciples within. The waters represent both life that nourishes and death that destroys. Thus, the church, buoyed up by the wood of the Cross, is kept afloat in this life amid the storms and chaos and death of the world. However, the church is still tossed about from age to age, buffeted by the winds. Life is not always easy as a Catholic. 
In contrast, Jesus stands balanced on the water in the power of the resurrection: The life of Christ conquers the chaos and fear and death of the world. It does the impossible. “Be not afraid, I have overcome the world.” And it’s from this point that Christ calls Peter, and us, to come to him. 

 

Translated to today, the evangelical life to which Christ calls us requires us to step out of the boat on our path toward Christ. Though it is good to be nourished within the church each Sunday, our faith cannot simply remain there in the pews. We must take steps into the world, into the sea. Inviting someone to Mass or explaining the faith to a non-Catholic friend, for example, often seems like trying to walk on water. It seems terrifying, awkward and impossible. It’s tough to keep balance. Often, we wobble or even sink. Our efforts are imperfect. Still, Jesus lifts us up and supports us, again and again. His strength is made perfect in weakness.
Yet, isn’t our faith always that way? Without Christ’s help we will fail, true. But Christ calls us to do the impossible, and makes it possible in us. If we obey the summons and walk in faith, we will succeed.

 

So, we strive again and again with Peter to walk on water, in imperfect fits and starts, to live our faith boldly and evangelically in the world. In doing so, we will often stumble and fall. It’s difficult to stand up straight in the wind. Christ remains with us to save us. If we take Peter’s lead, fix our eyes on Jesus in trust, God will win the day in the long run. Where and with whom might he be calling you to step out of the boat and share your faith this week? Will you take that first step?

 

Fr. Miserendino is parochial vicar of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020