Graphic by David Chen

Faith: The power of ‘sheer silence’

  • July 31, 2017

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

When we seek the presence of God, what do we expect to encounter? Hollywood biblical epics left no doubt — thunder, power, fireworks and perhaps even a voice booming from Heaven.

Elijah had a different experience. He was on the run, for he was in mortal danger. He had run afoul of the rulers in Jerusalem because of his uncompromising denunciation of idolatry and injustice. After a harrowing journey in which he came close to death, he finally reached the mountain of God.

He received a word from the Lord to expect an imminent encounter. He was to stand by the cave entrance and wait for the action to begin. There was a mighty wind, then an earthquake, followed by fire — all likely candidates for an appearance of God. But God was not in any one of these manifestations of power. God was manifested in what the New Revised Standard Version Bible translates as “sheer silence.”

Silence, stillness and an intuitive awareness just at the threshold of perception are the ways in which God is most often perceived. That is part of the problem. Silence and stillness are very rare these days, and our noisy and frenetic culture does all it can to drown out the divine voice. It is no wonder people wonder where God has gone.

God can be found in the ordinary. In fact, God might approach us every day, but unless we know how to listen and perceive, we will miss the encounter. God is quiet, God is unobtrusive and often undramatic.

Paul felt much anguish and pain because many of his fellow Jews did not accept Jesus. They were his people and Paul considered himself always, even to the end of his life, a believing Jew. He marvelled at the tremendous role they played in salvation history, and how all of God’s gifts and promises, including the Messiah, belonged to them.

Further on in Romans, he will insist that all Israel would be saved and that Israel was by no means rejected by God. If only Christians had focused on this, centuries of persecution and vilification of the Jewish people could have been avoided.

Jesus treated His extraordinary miracles in an almost nonchalant manner. The miraculous feeding — all in an afternoon’s work. After a stop for prayer, He set out to catch up with the disciples, who by now were out on the sea of Galilee.

As He walked towards them on the surface of the water, they were absolutely terrified. Jesus did what all divine beings do in the Bible when encountering people — He reassured them and urged them not to be afraid. Fear is a killer. It can prevent us from seeing and marvelling in the miraculous occurring all around us.

Peter the skeptic demanded that Jesus prove it was He by allowing him to walk to Jesus across the water. Jesus agreed and at first all went well. Then the fear, followed by near disaster. After fishing a wet and sputtering Peter out of the water, Jesus upbraided him for his doubt and lack of faith.

Words and attitudes of doubt and fear are very effective in blocking or hindering the power of God.

Jesus encourages us to look upon the powerful deeds of God as normal, everyday occurrences, rather than being captivated and shocked by them. He wants us truly to believe that with God all things are possible.