Sunday, August 09, 2020

Beyond the Shell

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: 1 Kings 19:9,11-13; Psalm 84(85):9-14; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

Picture: cc Runaway Juno

My dear friends, have you ever wondered why something as soft and smooth and sweet as durian should come wrapped in such a hard and thorny and scary-looking shell? I don’t know the exact answer to this question. But, thankfully, even without knowing why durian has such a hard shell, I can still enjoy eating it all the same.

And what is true of durian may well be true of God as well. At least this is what we find in our Mass readings today. In each of them, the presence of God comes wrapped in a tough shell of trial and tribulation.

In the first reading, Elijah experiences God’s coming as a gentle breeze, but only after the prophet has endured first a typhoon, and then an earthquake, and then a fire. And it’s worth noting that these natural disasters, which engulf Elijah externally, also mirror the interior symptoms of burnout that the prophet has been feeling for quite some time.

Similarly, in the second reading, Paul writes about his own interior trial, his own sorrow and mental anguish, at the thought that his fellow Israelites might be cut off from the grace of God. And yet, at the beginning of the reading, Paul seems eager to assure his readers that the turmoil he endures is also an experience of God. What I want to say now… I say… in union with Christ… in union with the Holy Spirit…

We find this same close connection, between the sweetness of God and the bitterness of tribulation, also in the gospel. Quite strikingly, the reading tells us that it was Jesus himself who made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead… And it was also Jesus, who then scared them out of their wits, by coming toward them, amid a raging wind and the turbulent tide, walking on the waters like a ghost.

Why did the Lord do this to his friends? Why does God sometimes insist on coming to us wrapped in struggle and strife? Why does God allow Covid-19 to afflict our world? Curiously, the readings seem less interested in answering this question why than in addressing the question how. How to find God in times of turmoil and terror? How? …

When suffering engulfs you, and God seems absent, try to be like Elijah… Enter the cave of your heart, and wait there in patience and hope for the signs of God’s coming. For his appearing is as sure as the dawn (Hosea 6:3). When the waves of doubt and despair, and of death and destruction, threaten to drown you, try to be like Peter… Cry out to the One who has the power to save you. Let him hold onto you firmly. Let him strengthen your faith, and deepen your trust. Then sail with him across the turbulent waters of life, in the boat that is his Body, reaching out to help others as well.

Sisters and brothers, even before we discover why life is often so tough and thorny, we can still learn how to penetrate its hard shell, and savour the sweetness inside. In our own lives, as individuals and families, as a Church and as a nation, is there perhaps a durian that needs opening today?

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