1 Kings 19:9, 11-13; Psalm 85; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33
The feeling of fright (fear) is a universal feeling that all human beings can relate with. Irrespective of age, status, gender, religious or political affiliation or any other differentiations we may have, we all experience the feeling of fear at one time or the other and in varying degrees. While for some, it is something that comes and goes, depending on a situation that triggers the feeling, for others, it is a perpetual state in which they live their lives. These second group of people are controlled by fear in their thoughts, words and actions.
The first and gospel readings of today’s Mass present us with this reality of fear. The first reading is a narration of how God assured the prophet Elijah of his presence while he was running away from Jezebel out of fear because she threatened to kill him for killing the prophets of Baal, while the gospel reading recounts to us the deathly fear that came upon the disciples of Jesus when he came to them walking on the water and they thought they were seeing a ghost. Of a truth, both situations are capable of making even the stout-hearted to be afraid. To know that someone who has power and authority and an entire army at his/her disposal is out to kill you will make you afraid, no matter how brave you are. Also, it was unheard of that a human being can walk on water, let alone in the dead of the night (between 3am and 6am) and in the middle of the sea, towards a boat struggling with waves. This was the experience of the disciples of Jesus and any sane human being will be shaken by such a sight! Though we all react differently to fear, fear makes some people do very nasty things and say some crazy stuffs without thinking. From the readings therefore, we shall take two lessons for our reflection.
- God is never far
While the prophet Elijah was running away from Jezebel, he got tired of his whole ministry at a point and asked God to take his life. At one point, he even thought he was the only remaining true prophet (1 Kgs 19:10). He felt God had abandoned him, which was why he was going through so much trouble. But the word of God holds true that “his salvation is near for those who fear him” (Psa 85:9). So what Elijah did not realize was that God was with him every step of the way. This was why God had to show him his presence as we heard in the first reading. The disciples of Jesus also thought they were left to their fate as they battled against the raging storm that was threatening to sink their boat. What they also did not know was that Jesus was in the territory of the storm, and his presence made it impossible for them to be overwhelmed. He however had to come to them physically, to completely still the storm. These two encounters narrated to us today assures us that when we face a storm in our lives, when heavy trials come upon us, we should not look too far, for God is always near. And God has given us the free pass to call upon him in the day of distress and he will save us (cf. Psa 50:15). At all times therefore, and in all situations, let us keep in mind that God is never far away.
- Have faith, not fear
It is true that God is always near, and that he desires to help us, but God demands a faith commitment from us. In certain instances in scriptures, such as the healing of the paralytic (Mk 2:5) and the woman with hemorrhage (Lk 8:48), we see that God’s help comes as a reward for our faith in him. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God says “I will bless the person who puts his trust in me” (Jer 17:7). It is necessary therefore, that when the storms of life rise up against us, that we keep faith in God and not be afraid. In fact, it is in times as these that we need to ask God to increase our faith. Notice that when Peter asked Jesus if he could come meet him on the water and Jesus answered in the affirmative, Peter was able to walk on the water until he allowed fear to set in. Of greater importance is Jesus’ question to Peter: “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?” See that Jesus did not question Peter’s fear; instead, he questioned Peter’s faith. Why so? It is because faith is the antidote to fear! As long as we keep our faith in God alive, we will not fear; and as long as we do not fear, we will not sink. So, child of God, when next fear threatens you, knowing that God is near you, send your faith to fight it. Fear not, for God is near!