Today’s Gospel narrative occurs immediately following the feeding of the 5000. Jesus has gone off alone to pray and the disciples are sent out on the sea to get to the other side. The sea was symbolic of the primal powers of chaos and the other side would have been the land of the Gentiles, and hence the mission field. So the disciples just having experienced Jesus’ miracle were being sent out on their first mission trip to participate in bringing the whole world into the Kingdom of God.
As they headed out the seas got rough, just as sometimes being sent out by Jesus means we encounter rough seas and situations beyond our comfort zone.
The parable today is a great example of our own lives and journey’s in faith. A faith that is sometimes only a half or partial faith, or one that is a mixture of faith and fear, or of faith and doubt. I believe that if we are honest this is probably often the reality in which we all inhabit many times, especially when our perceptions of stability and normalcy are shattered as they have during this pandemic.
I can see us being like the disciples in the boat. Having seen Jesus work his wonders and having an idea of what we need to do, leaving the relative familiarity and safety of the shoreline and hopping into the boat to head to the “other side.” Along the way when we’re in the boat we find that we’re rowing as hard as we can against the headwind and the waves are tossing us around quite a bit. Even with all that we have, it doesn’t seem like we are making much headway.
Sometimes it takes hopping in the boat and trying it out if it works and how it might work better on the fly. Try and see how we can fulfill the mission we’ve been sent on, despite our fear and doubt..
Jesus sends us out into the world to do ministry. Sometimes where we are called is rough and dangerous feeling. Often it’s out of our comfort zone. The calls to ministry are all around us, there are so many examples of how we as people of faith can challenge the current status quo and seek the changes called for by our Gospel.
Some times when we are called we are inhibited by fear and just want to stay in the boat. Frozen in the boat by “the way we’ve always done it,” “my great-grandfather gave the lightbulb, ” “let’s not rock the boat,” “”it’s beyond our budget,” “People are saying” and other code words for fear.
When we are frozen into inaction, into blindness or ignorance by our fears then we don’t challenge injustices like:
How our society, can send astronauts up into space and prepares for an international mission to mars, yet can allow the existence of the poorest neighbourhood in Canada in the midst of some of the richest communities in Canada? How can we worry so much about the impact of pipeline on the health of the sea life but somehow forget the scourge of addiction with overdoses in May, at 170 deaths, and June with 175.. B.C. Ambulance Service reported July was its busiest month for overdoses , with paramedics responding to 2,706 calls — about 87 overdoses a day because of lack of addiction prevention and treatment.
In the boat we are frightened as the seas rock around us and we look out across the water and see a shimmering figure of Jesus. Is he real, we may ask. Wondering if he can really use someone like us and hoping he can do something about the world as it is.
And other times we are like…Peter. I love Peter! He’s an example that anyone can bumble through life and always get it wrong but in the process show us how Jesus can work through us. One of the things I love about Peter is that he is impetuous. He is seems to be ready for anything and will without hesitation speak or act first and think second. He gives me constant hope in my own pilgrimage in faith.
I think we can all be a lot like Peter at times too. We see Jesus, we hear of Jesus, we want to emulate Jesus. We want to bring his peace, love into the world and we wonder and look and wait for an opportunity. And then just like that we break out of the fear of the group and we jump out of the boat into the water and at first it seems like we’re going to do it.
We take a few steps out onto the water and then something happens and we take our eye off the ball. A moment of fear or panic. We realize how deep the water is that we’ve gotten into, we doubt ourselves or God and in that panic we take our eye off Jesus and think its just us. We hear the whisper that says “you’re not worthy,” “you’re alone,” “don’t screw up,” you’re going fail.” You’re just a single person what can your effort possibly accomplish”, “we can’t succeed.” We become frightened and we start sinking.
But then just when we’re sinking Jesus is there to help and rescues us. Words of kind encouragement and even corrective rebuke to reset us. To help us remember that in our own context whatever we face in faith when we look at a problem that we have been given the gifts to succeed by God and that God is with us. When we think we can’t do it, when we hear the whisper of doubt, we need to remember his promise to be with us always and keep our ears open and our eyes peeled for his encouragement and his reminder that together we can do more than we can ask or imagine.
It’s not so bad being like Peter, as long as we remember that Jesus is with us and will help us overcome the obstacles. Beside he needs us. Why else would he send us out into the world as co-creators.
Fear is the recurring enemy in this story and our story. Fear of the elements. Fear of the unknown. Fear of loss. Fear of failure. Jesus’ words remind us, “take heart, do not be afraid. Why did you doubt?”
And I’m reminded of the words of a John Bell song that sum up the story of our pilgrimage in faith.
“Don’t Be Afraid, My Love is stronger, stronger than your fear. And I have promised, promised to always be here.”
Comforting words to remember when fear attempts to freeze us or sink us. Peter certainly heeded them as we know he continued to jump in with both feet even after this story and because of that we are all here today.
So let’s jump in, the water is great and Jesus is here and our mission awaits!