Faith in God will get us through life

  • July 28, 2008

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Aug. 10 (1 Kings 19:9, 11-13; Psalm 85; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33)

Many people think that we live in a world devoid of God’s presence — that God has receded from human concerns or that the world has become “disenchanted.” Perhaps we are listening and looking for the wrong signs.

Elijah probably thought that he had a ringside seat for God’s spectacular pass in review. Most of the sound and light show that Elijah saw we have come to associate with God, but surprisingly none of them had anything to do with God. After all of this something strange occurred. The Hebrew words are obscure, evidenced by the various English translations: “light murmuring sound”; “still small voice”; “gentle whisper”; and our version’s “sheer silence.” You get the point: it was gentle, quiet and unearthly in its stillness. The fact that it was difficult to capture in words supports its authenticity as a divine encounter.

It was encountering this stillness that induced Elijah to cover his face in the divine presence. People today might also be graced with such experiences, but how would they ever know? The incredible din — both inner and outer — that we have created can prevent us from ever hearing the “still small voice” or the “sheer silence.” We need to still our love of defining, labelling and analysing. Quiet, silence, being alone (as opposed to loneliness) are not to be feared but cherished, for this is where we will find God.

Paul’s anguish is genuine, for he is grieved and puzzled that his people will not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Paul uses a lot of ink in this letter coming to terms with this refusal and attempting to make sense out of it. In an outburst of passion he declares that he would even give up everything that he cherishes — his relationship with Christ — and be accursed for the sake of his people. He recognizes that all of salvation history has been in their hands from the beginning of the covenant; it is through them that God worked and it is to them that God fulfilled His promises. They are indispensable.

We have a broader view of salvation today. There is no need for anyone to be cut off or accursed. And we would do well to remember what Paul reminds his readers: we are latecomers, a branch grafted on. Our response should be one of humility and gratitude rather than condescension or triumphalism. And John Paul II when referring to God’s covenant with the people of Israel always added, “which has never been revoked.”

“You of little faith, why do you doubt?” These are hard words and we don’t want to hear them any more than Peter did. Faith is absolute trust in God to the point where we are willing to take risks and put our lives in God’s hands. Jesus insists elsewhere in the Gospels that if we could put aside all our doubt and have perfect faith we would be able to uproot trees and cast mountains into the sea. Peter was a man of manifest weaknesses, and yet he was able to do the impossible when bidden by the Lord — he walked on water. And yet that bond of spiritual power was broken the second Peter gave in to fear and doubt. This is when limitation takes over as we can see when Peter is pulled dripping wet and humiliated from the water.

Jesus came to do much more than just save us and He is concerned for far more than what happens to us after we die. His intention is to change the quality of our life here on Earth. This does not mean having it easy, but of being empowered to do far more than our ordinary limitations might allow. The challenges we face are far greater than walking on water. We face a world spiralling out of control in the face of multiple crises: violence, environmental degradation, human exploitation and the widening gap between those who have sufficient means for a decent life and those who do not.

In order for our efforts to build a just and peaceful world to succeed, we must truly believe that our efforts mean something and are effective. Paradoxically, everything depends on us but everything depends on God. The connection between human efforts and God’s power is faith.