Sunday, August 13, 2023

Fishing in The Waters of Chaos

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: By Rio Lecatompessy on Unsplash

Give someone a fish, and we feed him for a day… My dear friends, what’s the line that comes after this? Many of us know it, right? Give someone a fish, and we feed him for a day; teach someone to fish, and we feed her for a lifetime. This familiar saying compares two complementary responses to hunger. The first meets the urgent need, by providing food. The second addresses the longer term lack, by offering formation. Giving a fish, and teaching to fish. Food and formation. This saying is often used in the context of caring for empty bellies growling for bread. But doesn’t it also apply to hungry hearts searching for God? Which is what we find in our scriptures today.

In the gospel, Jesus makes the disciples go on ahead without him. As a result, they are left to battle a heavy sea on their own. And Jesus himself is also facing a heavy sea of his own. For he has only recently been rejected by the people of his hometown (13:53-58), and then received disturbing news that John the Baptist has been beheaded (14:1-12). It’s really not a good time for prophets. Which is also the case in the first reading, where Elijah is fleeing for his life, because the queen wants to kill him. And isn’t Paul also in a difficult situation in the second reading? He experiences deep anguish, at the thought that his fellow Israelites might be cut off from Christ.

In each of our readings today, we find people threatened by the waters of chaos. People searching for meaning. People hungrily asking, where is our God? And, as in that saying, the readings show us two ways of responding. On the one hand, when the disciples are fearful because they mistake Jesus for a ghost, the Lord immediately reassures them. Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid. And when Peter begins to sink, and cries for help, Jesus rescues him at once.

In contrast, for Elijah and Jesus, the ability to find God in a time of trouble, to walk on the waters of chaos, comes only after a period of fishing. A process consisting of three parts. The first is prayerful solitude. One is led to withdraw, up the mountain of God, and into the cave of the heart. Then, one patiently sifts through the various voices resounding in one’s consciousness. Voices that may feel as insistent as a mighty wind, or a terrifying earthquake, or devastating fire. But after these have been allowed to pass, it becomes possible to hear yet another sound. A voice that speaks of peace. Bringing with it the clarity and courage one needs, to take a persevering step with renewed faith and trust in God.

Prayerful solitude, patient sifting, and perseverance in stepping out. This is how Elijah and Jesus seek and find God in times of trouble. This is how they each walk on the waters of chaos. Offering us the formation we need to do the same. Formation we can receive here in this Eucharist, as well as beyond. Both as individuals, and also as Church.

Sisters and brothers, much as we may prefer to be given a fish to fill our hungry hearts, how might we also help each other to receive the formation that God is offering us today?

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