In God, all is possible

  • July 27, 2011

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Aug. 7 (1 Kings 19:9, 11-13; Psalm 85; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33)

What would we expect to see if it were announced that the Lord was going to pass by? Nurtured on many of the stories from the Old Testament and years of Hollywood biblical epics, we would be waiting from a spectacular display of power and energy. That was most likely Elijah’s expectation, and sometimes that is how we expect to find the presence of God in our lives — with lots of flair and excitement. When that is not forthcoming it is easy to slip into pessimism and negativity, thinking that God has abandoned us or that God plays favourites.

Elijah witnessed a parade of flashy and powerful earthquakes, wind and fire. But guess what — God was not in any of these. God is not to be identified with natural phenomena — God is much more than that. God is quiet, unobtrusive and subtle; God is non-violent. The Hebrew word is translated in different ways — a murmuring sound, a still small voice, a gentle whispering breeze, and here in this translation “sheer silence.” The “correct” translation can be left to the scholars. They all say fairly much the same thing: quiet, gentleness, stillness, something just beyond our conscious awareness like a dream struggling to be remembered. When Elijah experienced this he covered his face for he knew that he was in the presence of the Holy One.

Why do we not experience this powerful silence or whispering sound more often? The answer is simple — we do not listen for it. Our culture is ultra-stress and noise with a lot of frenetic activity thrown in. We allow ourselves to be submerged and drowned in all of this. We also look for God “up there” or “out there” instead of “in here.” We need to cultivate the art of stillness and quiet and learn to unplug from the constant activity and stress even if for a short time. Prayer and meditation are not just words directed at God but quiet listening.

Paul was a man of deep and passionate feelings. He was not lying when he said that he was in great sorrow and anguish of heart. He was struggling with the painful fact that many of his fellow Jews had not accepted his proclamation and come to faith in Christ. Perhaps Paul forgot just how resistant he had been — to the point of being a persecutor. But he does not gloat or feel smug; in fact, he would be willing to give up everything that he has gained by his faith in Christ for his people. Paul got it right — we should never feel that we have arrived spiritually nor should we look down on those who do not share our faith or those who do but whose lives have fallen into ruin. Feeling compassionate pain for others to the point of being willing to sacrifice what one has is a sign that true faith has sent its roots deep into the believer’s heart. Faith is never a possession or a prize but a gift — and a gift to be shared.

Faith and doubt are two very powerful forces that are often in conflict with one another. This is a consistent theme in the New Testament: it is faith that enables miraculous healings and defies nature. It is faith that gives people the courage to do the impossible and to persist in the face of overwhelming odds. But doubt is a corrosive and destructive force that stymies even the hand of God — Jesus was not able to do much at all in His home town because of the town’s lack of faith. In a vivid demonstration of the power of faith Jesus invited Peter to walk towards Him across the surface of the water — definitely not an everyday occurrence but with God all things are possible. Peter was doing just fine with his attention totally focused on the Lord. But once fear penetrated his mind and he began to tell himself that he had no business walking on water his aquatic stroll came to an inglorious end.

Too many wonderful and miraculous things are stillborn because of human doubt and lack of faith. But we also give life to so many wonderful things each day by our unshakable faith in a gracious and compassionate God.