Reflection on the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
For the past several Sundays, St. Matthew the Evangelist has been weaving the story of Jesus’ ministry as teacher. He has been traveling from town to town publicly giving his sermons and teaching the town’s people through parables. Jesus, at the same time, has been busy mentoring and teaching his disciples. The poor man has had his hands full. Most here can relate because at some point in our teaching careers we were both teachers and mentors to student-teachers. We also can remember the challenges of teaching certain students whom we thought were never going to “get it”, or those whom we feared, despite our best efforts, were probably not going to go far in life.
I think we might all agree that that one student (disciple) for Jesus was Peter. The setting for today’s Gospel takes place after the feeding of the crowd. Jesus, I’m sure is tired. He dismisses the crowd and sends his disciples in the boat ahead of him and assures them he will meet them on the other side. Alone at last for a little peace and quiet prayer time.
In the meantime, when the storm arose, the disciples feared they were about to die on the turbulent waters. We can only imagine how scary that situation might have been. While they fought for their lives, Jesus walked toward them on the water. They were sure they were seeing a ghost – a sure sign they were going to die. Jesus, once again said to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter, wanting to seem courageous in front of the others, says, “If it is You, command me to come to you on the water.” Now, let me pause right here. If we found ourselves in some life or death situation, even if we claim to be people of great faith and saw a beautiful angel, which our eyes could not believe, reach out a helping hand, would we have the courage to act? We know from other Scripture stories that Peter’s faith waivers. When he begins to sink in the water, Jesus admonishes him, “O you of little faith.” (“O you of little courage,” as well.)
But what is “courage?” Courage is the mental or moral strength to withstand or endure despite danger, pain, difficulty or fear. The root word of courage is “cor” which is the Latin word for heart. In its original form the word meant to “speak from one’s mind while telling all one’s heart.” In other words, one could say that courage is an inside job, because it requires us to look deep within our soul, to be uncomfortable, and to make a “heart” decision. If that is our working definition, then how would we answer this question? What’s the most courageous thing we’ve ever done? In thinking about it, let us not sell ourselves short. We couldn’t have come to this ripe age without having made some decisions along the way that took real courage. For instance, some of us have recently made the decision to leave home again and move to Loretto. Others made the choice to move to The Living Center, accepting the limitations that come with age. All of these choices involved courage. There was fear and pain associated with these courageous decisions.
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. We might say things like, ”I’m sorry for rushing to judgment”, or “I told the truth and it had serious consequences for me,” or “I got involved in an issue I felt passionate about,” or “I got out of bed today when all I really wanted to do was crawl back under the covers.”
Fear of failure didn’t stop Peter who loved Jesus with a wild heart, mind and soul and a drenched body. Maybe we need to hear “you of little faith” as our invitations to find calm and trust that storms can lead to peace. Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”