FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 19th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 9, 2020:
In the 1950s, Roger Bannister and John Landy were the first runners to break the four-minute mile – and they did it within days of each other. Not long after, a race was held between the two to see who was, in fact, the fastest. As the race began Landy led Bannister all the way into the final leg. Then he did something he shouldn’t have. He looked over his shoulder to see how far behind Bannister was. That was all he needed to shoot past Landy and win the race. Landy had taken his eyes off the prize.
In today’s Gospel, we are given a remarkable sight. Jesus is walking on the water, and He invites Peter to join him and do the same. It’s amazing, of course, because what Jesus is doing is asking Peter to do something impossible, perhaps even dangerous. People don’t ordinarily walk on water. But, because Peter believed in Jesus, he does the courageous thing and stepped out of the boat onto the water, and he quickly found himself doing the impossible. If Jesus believed Peter could walk on water, then Peter believed it too. But, just like John Landy, Peter took his eyes off the prize for a moment. He took his eyes off of Jesus and looked down at the turbulent water below and began to sink.
Someone in our Bible Study this week asked why Peter, it seems, frequently making these kind of mistakes. He is with Jesus. He sees what Jesus has done; heard what He had to say. Why would His faith be weak? My answer was that I’m really glad that Peter doesn’t always get it right because that gives us all a little bit of hope for the times when our faith is weak too. After all, we’re all a bit like Peter. Jesus has called each one of us to be His followers. But trying to follow Jesus today can sometimes feel as difficult as trying to walk on water. It can feel nearly impossible. But Jesus believes in us just as much as he believed in Peter.
Hopefully, most of us have had times in our lives when we have powerfully experienced the presence of Jesus. We treasure these encounters. We live for these moments. But, like Peter, at other times we have taken our eyes off of Jesus and turned away to other things. We’ve become occupied with the normal daily activities of our lives, our families, our children, our jobs. We become preoccupied by all of the crazy things happening in our world right now. We take our eyes off of Jesus because of the pains and challenges in life; the struggles and the difficulties that we face. And just like Peter, we sometimes lose our balance and begin to sink.
My friends, if we have found ourselves being swallowed by the stormy seas of life, today is a good time to ask if our focus is on Jesus, or if we have looked away. Today’s Gospel calls us to return our gaze into the loving eyes of our Savior; to focus on Jesus who knows that we can accomplish even what might seem impossible right now. We only have to do what Peter did and cry, “Lord, save us." If we reach out to Jesus in our need, He will reach out His hand and lift us from our troubles.
The message of this spectacular Gospel story today is simple. If we are to follow Jesus across the stormy sea of our lives and our world, we have to keep our eyes fixed firmly on Him. But, there’s also another powerful message for us in this encounter. This Gospel isn’t only about what Peter did wrong. He also did something very right, and because of it, he walked on water! Remember, that the boat was full of disciples. Peter wasn’t there alone. But, only Peter had the courage to join Jesus in this spectacular moment. Peter alone, was willing to take the risk. Peter alone was willing to get out of the boat and embrace the impossible; embrace a miracle. The rest of the disciples didn’t experience this wonder. They huddled in fear. They sought asked Jesus to calm the storm. But Peter got out of the boat. And that decision made all of the difference.
My friends, Jesus is extending His hand to each one of us today. He wants us to get out of the boat with Him. He wants us to leave the comfortable, to face our fears, and to have the courage to join Him wherever He wants to take us. He wants us to have the courage to face the impossible – the distance we may feel from God, the broken relationships that we have, the words we wish we could take back – if we face these impossible situations with our eyes fixed on Jesus, miracles can happen. If we have the courage of Peter, we will never be the same. Jesus will take us to new places, with new experiences, encounters with new people – all of which will allow us to experience God in powerful ways, and can become opportunities for healing, reconciliation, and newness in our lives with others and our life with God. We might even experience the miraculous.
So, if you want to walk on water, first, you have to get out of the boat. And if you keep your eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, you can’t imagine what God will have in store. Let’s get out of the boat and walk with Jesus.
May the Lord give you peace.
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