Tuesday in the 18th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
The Buoyancy in Humility
Readings: Numbers 12:1-13; Psalms 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 6cd-7, 12-13; Matthew 14:22-36
It’s probably true that none of us in our right minds would have tried to do what Peter attempts in the gospel today. Yet isn’t it also true that we can quite easily identify with his desire? Although we may not be drawn literally to walk on water, don’t we wish we could, at least occasionally, rise above the heavy sea of our daily struggles? Don’t we sometimes find ourselves sinking in the midst of life’s difficulties, even as we wish someone like Jesus could swiftly come to our rescue, skimming gracefully across the waters’ surface and pulling us to safety? And don’t these dangerous waters make their appearance in many different forms?
Consider for example the story in the first reading. Although it’s set on land – in the Tent of Meeting to be exact – and not on water, isn’t it clear that Miriam and Aaron are both sinking in some way? Don’t they speak out against Moses not so much because he has done something inappropriate, but because they are jealous of him, envious of the high regard that the people have for him? Has the Lord spoken to Moses only? Has he not spoken to us too? Even though they may not literally be soaked, aren’t Miriam and Aaron both sinking into the depths of their own jealousy and envy? In contrast, isn’t Moses the one who skims the waters’ surface? Doesn’t he demonstrate his ability to rise above the justifiable anger and sense of betrayal he might feel so as to plead with God to show mercy on the very ones who stabbed him in the back?
What is it, then, that might keep us skimming instead of sinking? How do we avoid being engulfed by the heavy seas of life? In seeking an answer to this question, it’s helpful to remember that, by nature, the human body tends to float rather than sink. Why else do mobsters like the Sopranos on TV have to attach weights to their murdered victims before dumping them into the river? We only begin to sink when we try too hard, when we struggle to stay afloat on our own strength, when we forget to relax. Isn’t this what happens to Peter? He begins to sink only when he takes fright, when he forgets to relax and to trust in the One who beckons him.
In contrast, first Moses and then, to a far greater degree, Jesus, are able not just to float, but even to skim the water’s surface, because they have learnt to place their lives in the hands of Someone else. The intimacy with God that they so carefully nourish by regularly spending time in prayer is manifested in how they allow God to be the centre of their lives and actions. Isn’t this what makes them so buoyant? Isn’t this what allows them to rise to the occasion time and time again? Their ability to float, and even to walk on the waters of life, springs from the virtue that is mentioned at the beginning of today’s first reading. In a word, they are humble. They know and live the truth. They know and live from their Source and towards their Goal.
How might we experience the buoyancy in humility today?