Sunday, August 28, 2011

On our holy ground …

These last few days had been quite hard for me to ignore. I have seen some people’s struggles in life; struggles that had a tremendous impact on them and to those in their circles of love. They were struggles that I wish did not have to happen or that, even if they did, could have been relegated to the back burner of my consciousness.

And yet, their severity would not warrant such option. Instead they have induced me to think more deeply on what has caused such events to hover on the lives of those who had been touched by them.

The struggles I am referring to range from relational difficulties on one end to the cessation of life, on the other and a few more in between; with the latter “book ender” involving the demise of two individuals I have known and have loved in my role as pastor of our congregation.

To put this in proper perspective, early Friday, as I was mulling over what to say or better yet, how to say my would-be homily at a parishioner’s funeral, news came to me that another parishioner passed away early that same morning.

These were events that have touched me personally and which, I am sure, have also touched others. Their passing on has made me think of the uncertainty of life; our finiteness and how God has used it to call my attention to the reality of man being just a mere speck in the vast array of the greatness and glory of God.

God, I think, had been using and continues to use a variety of occasions to call our attention towards Him. They may include events like the ones I have just referred to, which, unfortunately, have a veneer of sadness applied to it. God also calls our attention through some amazing events, such as what our Old Testament Reading for today would remind us.

Our lesson from the Book of Exodus (Exodus 3:1-15) captures this extraordinary way of God calling Moses’ attention. Just as our own unforeseen predicaments in life would usually precede God’s calling of our attention, so was the case with Moses.

In the previous chapter, we are told that Moses took the life of an Egyptian and that he fled from the ire of the Pharaoh who sought to kill him. Since his escape from Egypt and his refuge in Midian, there had been some huge changes in his life. He was no longer living the life of a prince in the courts of Egypt. Instead Moses was looking after his father-in-law’s sheep. 

It was at one of those abject chores of shepherding which occasioned God’s calling the attention of Moses. Moses saw a burning bush and when he turned aside to find out more, God by then, had his attention. Immediately thereafter, God said: “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

There’s something in that command to “remove” sandals that’s worth our attention; although taking off shoes on sacred ground is hardly an unusual idea. Many faith traditions observe the ritual of removing feet covering as a sign of respect. What is worth our attention is that by removing our feet’s covering, either shoes or sandals, as the case may be, we actually put ourselves into a vulnerable position. Try walking barefoot on our parking lot and you’ll agree with me in no time. And thus was how Moses found himself in a vulnerable position. I could only surmise that should an opportunity for another escape would have presented itself to him, Moses would not have any second thought. He would have fled once more. Moses would have gone hiding again, mainly because he knew that God was about to call him to do what he feared the most! He could very well be sent back and face Pharaoh. 

His suspicion was not far fetched, indeed. When he heard what he was being asked to do, he hid his face in fear. He argued with God and said: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  That argument, as we know, had no effect on Yahweh. He prevailed upon Moses through some words of assurance and was told that Yahweh will be with him. Those words were indicative of Yahweh’s abiding presence and companionship.

The story of Moses and the burning bush and the ensuing calling of his attention to what God wants for him were not particular to Moses. In some sense, we too have our virtual “burning bush” events in life. To some extent, we turn aside from our daily routines in order to see our virtual “burning bush”. 

We, like Moses, also find ourselves standing on “holy ground”, under the sure protection of the Holy One.  It is on such holy ground where we feel safe enough to be whole and become a holy people, as well. And as we encounter ourselves, we also encounter God. It is when we are standing there, barefoot, vulnerable and open, that we most clearly hear God’s call. 

The question, however, is whether we have the courage to “put our sandals back on” and respond to what is being asked of us. In the case of Moses, he left that holy ground to set Israel free from the bondage of Egypt.

Such, however, seems not to be the initial response of those in our Gospel lesson for today. Matthew 16:21-28 gives us another story that deals with the question of how we ought to respond to God’s call. Here we find a similar stance of vulnerability. The disciples found themselves at their weaker stance when Jesus told them that he would soon endure suffering and eventually die. That was never good news to them as exemplified by Peter who was unable to accept the possibility that Jesus will be killed. 

At that very moment, they were standing on holy ground. At their vulnerable stance, Jesus placed them in a crucial situation of choosing the right option; either they put their “sandals on” by carrying the cross which is so integral with discipleship or “flee and escape” by making light of the cost of discipleship.

We know, by now, which path they chose. The disciples “put their sandals on”; took up their cross, followed Jesus and set out in faith; the same faith that they passed on to the budding faith community and to us who, by our baptism, are also being placed in a vulnerable stance in matters of faith.

Our collective attention has been severally called by God through various situations in life; at times, in our struggles, at others, in our little triumphs. Whatever they may be, once God has called our attention, they become our holy ground as we “remove” our protective covering, thereby exposing our vulnerability. Our crossroad then appears before us.

So what does it mean in our lives? If we were to follow the examples as put forth by Moses in the Story of the Burning Bush or that of the disciples in their “taking up of their cross and following” Jesus, it could mean for us, a similar adherence to the faithful practices as St. Paul tells us in our Epistle for today.

It means having genuine love; hating what is evil; holding fast to what is good; loving one another with mutual affection and outdoing one another in giving honor. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, has more suggestions we can follow and I would encourage you to “read, mark and inwardly digest” the biddings found in Romans 12:9-21.

In claiming Paul’s biddings as our own, we will then be able to take a new look at our struggles and triumphs in life. We will be more accepting of people who differ from us, whose predicaments in life happened to be the outcome of inferior decisions.          We will be able to reach out to our neighbors and extend our helping arms, especially when it is in our power to relieve them even if it were to inconvenience us. We will be able to identify with others irrespective of their race, color, sexual orientation and creed and finally, that we will have begun the process of “becoming” the best that we can be.

We may have to leave our zone of comfort and move on and carry the cross the comes with our discipleship. But first, have that attentive ear. God is calling your attention!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Becoming a better you …

Some members of my congregation, by virtue of the ministry or volunteer work they’re involved in, have become relatively “closer” to me than the rest of my parishioners. This does not mean that I engage in petty favoritism. As their Rector and Pastor, I hold them all equally dear to me. The only advantage those “closer” to me have over the rest is that, every so often, they see the “other side” of me.

And that could mean a lot of things.  For example, they know that I could get picky about typographical errors and my Secretary dreads it when I give her the ‘smile’ while holding on to the Sunday bulletin; she knew I spotted one again. Others know by now that I easily forget about appointments I myself have scheduled and it’s their turn to give the ‘smile’ I often pretend not seeing. One of them, my Senior Warden, knows that my mood changes to something beyond description when I get hungry; a side effect of my diabetes, actually. Quite a few also know that there are times when I get so tempted to give in to some childish antiques, if only to get what I want, for the benefit of our parish, that is.

So, if you want to ask around who I am, you could get quite a handful of answers.  From some, they’ll probably tell you mere opinions; others, including those “closer” to me, might be able to give you correct descriptions but it will definitely take more than their “closeness”, for them to know who I really am. The bottom line is that it is often difficult to “paint” someone’s exact personality and character with just one, all encompassing brush stroke. A fair answer to who that someone is should include all the parts of a person’s unique process of becoming what he is meant to be.

And that for me appears to be the common thread weaving through the readings for this 10th Sunday after Pentecost. They appear to be alluding to the theme of “becoming”, not only in becoming the better us but also how God enables us in “becoming” who we are meant to be.

If we take a closer look at the story of Baby Moses as told in our First Reading, (Exodus 1:8-2:10), we would notice that this age old story is a good example of the theme of “becoming”.

This story traces the early beginnings of Moses who would then later on “become” the Great Law-Giver Moses. It tells the story of how the baby was spared from death through the ingenious suggestion that he be placed in a papyrus basket and put amongst the reeds by the bank of the river Nile

It took place at a time of unrest in the history of the Hebrew people as they faced changes in the political and governmental institution in Egypt. The Hebrew people who took refuge there during a time of famine suddenly found themselves facing slavery, even genocide as Pharaoh issued orders that young boys be killed. It was the Hebrew women who took charge of the almost tragic situation. The midwives refused to comply with the order to kill the children and through some ingenuity saved the lives of countless babies, including Moses, who will eventually “become” instrumental in saving the Hebrew people. 

This noble story of “becoming” has God in its midst, who willed it to happen. The women were instrumental in this process of becoming with their willingness to take risk without fearing the consequences.

Then there is the account of Paul in his Letter to the Church in Rome, (Romans 12:1-8) which is our Epistle for today. Again, if we take a closer look at it, we would learn how Paul reminded his readers that everyone is different. 

Here we learn that it is, after all, beneficial that everyone is different, that we all have different gifts and talents. Paul wanted them to acknowledge the particular role for which they are best suited. He asked them to realize that they are called to give themselves into a living body with other committed Christians. They are to “become”, in the discharge of their different gifts and talents, everything that God wants them to be.  It’s an excellent passage pointing to the theme of “becoming”.

And in our gospel lesson from Matthew (Matthew 16:13-20), we have the story of Peter’s “becoming” the prime co-worker of Christ Jesus who promised to build His church. In recognizing who Jesus is, Simon who will be known as Peter, “becomes” everything that God intends him to be. 

This drama of “becoming” opens up when Jesus was at the crossroad of his ministry. We learn from Matthew that Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the district around Caesarea Philippi. It was in this busy pseudo-cosmopolitan city where Jesus asked the disciples a key question about their faith. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And the disciples offered some of the more popular “opinions” floating around; that Jesus, the Son of Man, could be Elijah or John the Baptist or Jeremiah, who came back to life, or he could be one of the prophets. Jesus then asked them: “Who do you say that I am?”  It was not meant to be an abstract question nor was it meant to solicit information about what he has achieved. On the contrary, it was a real question that demanded a real answer, one coming from the heart. 

The disciples probably ignored the question until Simon said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” It was a response that came, not from some great theological background. Peter had none; all Peter had learned were mostly along the line of the art of fishing. On the contrary, it came with all conviction, stemming from the deep recesses of his heart. Peter knew who Jesus was. He was among those who claimed some “closeness” to Jesus; closer than the rest of the disciples. He has seen him get upset, tired and frustrated. But he has also seen him work great miracles. He has seen him cure lepers; restored health from serious ailments. He has seen him feed thousands of hungry people with so insignificant amount, five loaves and two fishes. He has also seen him still tempestuous water. 

He knew that Jesus was different. He knew Jesus was the Christ. When Peter called Jesus the Messiah, he was recognizing all of that. He was making him the master of his life. Whereupon Jesus told him, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Peter knew not only the real identity of Jesus but also his very own as well. Simon “became” Peter, whose conviction about Jesus “became” the foundation on which the Christian Church is built. Indeed, it is another great biblical account that points to our theme of “becoming”!

Having said that, the question I like to ask is: “Where do we see ourselves in this journey of ‘becoming’?” Well, I think both our individual and corporate faith stories are about ‘becoming’. Jesus says to each of us, “Who do you say that I am?” It is a very contemporary question, one that we need to ask ourselves in the context of our own lives. 

Recall my introductory statement when I said that “it is often difficult to ‘paint’ someone’s exact personality and character with just one, all encompassing brush stroke.”

 Consequently, we have so many views of Jesus. “Who do you say Jesus is?”  If I ask you to name some, you will give me all sorts of answers. And the truth is that there is no one, single answer. Some of your answers reflect human history and human experience. There is some truth to each one. But we also claim him to be “The Son of God”; the “Savior/Messiah” who came for us and died for our salvation.

And the amazing thing is that knowing Jesus helps us to understand more fully who we are. Our faith helps us to be more fully who we are meant to be. If I were to use my own faith story as an example, I can only say that it was indeed a journey of “becoming”.

As I progress in my own chosen station in life, I am continually confronted by the realization that God is calling me to be more authentically myself. God has called me to be the best that I can be. Similarly, God has called you to be the best that you can be. My prayer then is for you to begin becoming the better you.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Reversing Our Expectations

Here’s a story that might start us off in a bright mood. It’s been a while since I’ve added some good humor to my homily and so I thought, why not.

It’s about these three grownup children, two of whom were quite financially well-endowed. The oldest one was an architect, the second was kind of out of the ordinary — she was the CEO of a Car Dealership and the youngest was a Priest (which explains why he’s not financially as well-to-do as his other siblings).

Soon after their mother’s last birthday, the three discussed what gifts they were going to give at her next one. They also wanted it to be kept a secret. When their Mom’s 95th birthday came, Jimmy, the eldest, invited his Mom and his siblings for his surprise of the day. They even drove their mom blindfolded. As it turned out, he built a huge house for his mother.

And while they were still inside it, the second child, Barbara, invited everyone outside, for them to see her gift. As it turned out, her gift for Mom was a Mercedes, with a driver.

The youngest, Father Bob, was just so happy with the simple gift he got for his mother. You see, Helen, his mother, had always enjoyed reading the Bible but at 95, she couldn’t see that well anymore. Fortunately, Father Bob was able to get her a talking parrot that could recite the entire Bible. It took 12 years for the parrot to do the trick. All Mama Helen has to do is name the book, chapter and verse, and the parrot would be able to recite the passage, and in King James Version. He was completely sure that his Mom would again enjoy her daily scripture reading with the aid of this remarkable reciting parrot.

So after dinner, the three left their Mom in her new house, absolutely confident that she’d enjoy what they’ve given her. The following week, the children started receiving thank you letters from their mom, thanking them for their gifts but with some comments.

 “Jimmy,” she wrote to the eldest child, “The house you built is so huge. I live in only one room, and now I have to clean the whole darn house. I wish you had built me a smaller one. Jimmy mumbled something and said: ‘Oh, well. Maybe next time.’

She wrote to the second child.  “Barb, You know that I am too old to travel. I stay at home most of the time, so I rarely use the Mercedes. But the driver looks handsome! I’ll keep them both.”
Barb also murmured something and said: ‘Oh, well. Maybe a motorized wheelchair next time.’

And to her youngest, she wrote: “Dearest Bob, my good looking Reverend”, “of the three of you, you, indeed, have the good sense to know what your mother likes. So thank you for the chicken; quite odd looking but after I’ve cooked it, it turned out to be just as tasty.” Father Bob was so stunned and could only say: ‘O my Gosh!’

It’s funny how some things which we are very sure of, could turn out precisely the opposite – completely different, as illustrated by what happened to Fr. Bob’s gift. Rather than becoming an aid to Mom’s daily scripture reading, the skilled parrot ended up in the casserole.

Seriously though, there are quite a lot of things that end up contrary to what they were originally meant to be. They include ideas or beliefs and attitudes that we have always believed to be so right and proper and therefore should not only be carried on to the next generation but also be defended when questioned by others.

At times, however, such convictions get reversed. Rather than being carried on in perpetuity, the reverse becomes the outcome. Today, we have a good example of such reversal and I hope that this reflection might shed more light to it. And so, we begin by revisiting the lesson appointed for this 9th Sunday after Pentecost. (Matthew 15:21-28)

The verse that points to the “reversal” issue I’m referring to is the one that says: “And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ (NRSV Matthew 15: 23b)

‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us!’ Hearing these words today would immediately make some of you wonder why that was said. ‘How dare they say such a thing?’ you might even add. After all, they were Jesus’ disciples and it would have been so unlikely for them not to let Jesus, the Compassionate One, do his thing. The expected words from the disciples should have been: ‘Bring her to Jesus; he will listen to her plea!’

If you are inclined to say similarly, you’re actually mouthing off a different viewpoint; which is not by any means saying they are necessarily wrong. In fact, had you been among their company, you would have re-echoed those sentiments. You would’ve said straight to her face, ‘Take a hike.’

Yes? No? You don’t think so? I think you would have, because, you see, the disturbing mindset implied in the words ‘Send her away’ was so prevalent in the ancient world. All communities and groups by then would have reacted in a similar fashion. At that time and irrespective of which group it would be, a lot of decisions were based on who was “in” and who was “out”; who was “us”, who was “them”; who was in the "inside" and who, obviously, was on the "outside"
In this case, the person asking something of Jesus was not a Jew; she was a Canaanite; she was not from the “inside”; but an “outsider”, a “Gentile”. In the minds of the disciples, this ‘outsider’ had no business requesting something of Jesus nor was Jesus expected to show her any serious measure of kindness or respect. They were sure that Jesus would have agreed to their suggestion that she be sent away.

For a while there, they saw Jesus not saying a word to her. Jesus was actually silent. And to get this Canaanite moving out of their way was the result they were gladly hoping for.

Well. were their expectations met? I don’t think so. Remember our story about Father Bob? He truly hoped for the expected result. It got reversed, wasn’t it? The skilled parrot never got the chance to recite Psalm 23! It was delicious, though.

So here’s how the disciples’ expectations got into the reverse gear. The disciples were most likely listening closely and he must have glanced at them when he says: ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’  The disciples would have shouted a loud Hip Hip Hooray based on what they heard from Jesus. They could easily just have said: ‘Way to go, Yeshua!’ That was Round 1 and Team Disciples scored big.

But wait, what is this they see? This Canaanite had the guts to come close and knelt before Jesus, saying, ‘Lord, help me’. They must have said: “That can’t be real! This Gentile, this ‘Outsider’ can’t be that close to our Rabbi.  That’ll make Jesus and us become unclean.” “What’s with you Yeshua? This is not what we hoped to see in you! To their relief, Jesus told the Canaanite: “It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.” There goes Round 2. Again, Big Score for Team Disciples.

By now, they thought Jesus had been acting like what was expected of a Jew. Jesus was telling this ‘Outsider’ that Jews are the only ones who should matter, not her or her kind. It would have been highly unlikely for Jesus to have said otherwise. It’s as if Jesus dropped the “N” word, except that in this case, it was the “D” word. “It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the DOGS.”

That remark would have shut the woman up. That would have sounded like one of the modern racist remarks that we, in our time and place, would have been familiar with. The disciples could have really hit the ceiling with this remark and would have really started to feel the bite of smugness and were beginning to feel too complacent! But to their big surprise, this Canaanite would just not quit! Not a bit! She made this huge retort by saying: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.”

This Canaanite is saying that, even if Jesus were right, that the goodness of God is intended solely for the Jews, surely the “crumbs of that goodness” would fall to pitiful people like her and her daughter! She has faith that God’s goodness is bigger than the household of Israel, and that all God’s creatures – even Canaanite dogs – can receive it!     

And that was the turning point. Those words elicited from Jesus something huge! I would submit that it was Jesus’ light bulb moment. It was his “Aha! Moment”. Those words radically altered something that was expected to get carried on in perpetuity but had an entirely different and opposite result. Jesus, without any equivocation or mental reservation, told the Canaanite: “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

The disciples must have had the biggest shock of their life. Whatever spiritual arrogance that was beginning to foment inside them suddenly turned cold, splashed with the cold water of reality. Their world suddenly turned upside down with the words: “Woman, great is your faith!” It became quite puzzling for them. How could that be?  What was Jesus talking about? Was he not one of theirs?  And how could Jesus possibly say that this woman had faith? In their minds, she, like all non-Jews, didn’t have any faith.

My good friends, I’d love to know what was the disciples’ take on that “reversal”. How did their conversation turn out later that day? Were they able to change their hearts and minds?  Did they start to see others differently?  Did they recognize that they might have been wrong about some things all along? Did Matthew include this story in light of what was going on with their faith community which was beginning to look different than they expected? 

I’ve often wondered how fast it took for the disciples to get transformed to where they found themselves, especially when Jesus was no longer with them. Without a doubt, they must have had difficulty in allowing all they had seen and heard from Jesus to truly shape their hearts and minds. In a similar fashion, sometimes our thoughts and convictions can get engraved in stone, unassailable even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

And that is the challenge I’d like to leave you with today. The biggest concern we ought to face is whether we will allow what we have learned as Christians to help shape our own hearts and minds. It being that if we take an honest look, each of us can probably find a few things that are holding us back. There must be some deep-seated attitudes within us that are actually contrary to who we believe God is and who we believe we are as his creatures.

These points of contradiction do surface out in our attitudes towards others. Our gospel lesson for today points to the “reversal” that, perhaps, should begin to take place in those areas where the contradictions manifest in our relationships to others.

It is my hope and prayer that we will have the wisdom and courage to begin looking at these “reversals” if only to rejoice with the same great feeling Jesus once had when he addressed the Canaanite as a “woman of faith”. Hence, I ask you this. When do you begin getting on the reverse gear?

Have some conversations among you and may God, in Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit rejoice in your respective “reversals” and tell y’all: “Great is your faith”.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Walking on water …

One of the profoundest truths we hold on so dearly is the divinity of Jesus. Christianity teaches us that Jesus is not only human but he is also divine. This claim, however, has not always been without its “rough edges”. While it may not have appeared as unequivocal as it should have been, Christ’s divinity is not, as argued by others, the result of a proclamation that was issued by a Church Council and, therefore, a human proclamation. To be more specific, Jesus’ divinity was not an idea concocted by those who met in that Church Council at Nicaea in 325 CE although that gathering helped in addressing heretical and erroneous teaching about Jesus. On the contrary, the idea of Christ’s divinity goes back to the New Testament times, way before the church became transformed into an institution conflicted by differing theology, dogmas and hierarchical structures.

If one had the patience and were to really look more closely on what Holy Scriptures has to say about Jesus’ divinity, one can end up with a long list of scriptural passages alluding to the divinity of Jesus. Included in this list would be citations that talk about how others have borne witness that Jesus is the Son of God, and therefore divine. It would also include passages citing Jesus himself claiming divinity as well as passages that talk about miracles alluding to Jesus’ divinity.

Our gospel lesson for today, (Matthew 14:22-33) is one of those passages alluding to Jesus’ divinity. To put it in context, recall that Jesus, after the feeding of the 5,000, sent the crowd home. He also sent the disciples out in a boat to go on the other side while he went up into the hills to pray. Soon thereafter, the wind was against them, perhaps, a vicious storm and the disciples found themselves battered by strong waves. Early in the morning, the disciples were further terrified by what they saw: Jesus approaching them, walking on water.

The story of Jesus “walking on water” would definitely push our claim for his divinity up another notch and not just because no human has ever defied the law of gravity and ‘walked’ on water. Those who tried sank. Those who tried to defy the law, including Michelangelo, needed contraptions.

For Jesus to have walked on water was, indeed, not a human feat. He had to be more than mere human. And yet for this miracle to be an allusion to his divinity there’s got to be more than this gravity-defying stunt. So what is it? What’s that vital link to justify our claim that this miracle s indeed a sound basis to make that claim.

A good way to begin is to go back to its historical context. When was this story told and why was it important that this story be told over and over again? Who were they trying to reach by this story and how was this story received by those for whom it was written?

Matthew, Mark and John, the two other gospel writers who have the same story, wanted very much to tell their listeners that Jesus was, in spite of having died, rose again and has conquered all, even death. And what a better way to demonstrate this than by relating a story of how, once, a tempestuous sea was conquered; a distinct symbolism that has some bearing on the Jewish mindset of how Yahweh conquered Chaos at the beginning of Creation.

Recall that in the Old Testament mindset, “conquering chaos” and “lordship over the sea” were attributed only to God. In the Book of Genesis, the story is told of God creating the heaven and the earth and the earth was “without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep”. That was how chaos was depicted and then, as Genesis 1:2 tells us, “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters”.

The spirit of God, the “Ruah”, hovered over the waters, the chaos, bringing order and lording over it. The tempestuous sea and the chaos it represents was subdued and conquered by Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Now, this understanding of how God began Creation was very clear to every Jew and to those whom Matthew was trying to reach. And here’s where the compelling connection comes in. Those who heard the story of Jesus “walking on the water” must have readily recognized this great Old Testament overtone. Just as the Primordial Chaos was conquered by God, bringing order through the hovering of the Holy Spirit, so does Jesus’ walking on water clearly affirms Jesus’ mastery of the forces of the sea and the divinity attributed to him. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s peaceful, creative, divine and redemptive power. His miraculous walking on water points to his divinity which He shares with God.

This gets even more exciting. Listen to this. Matthew tells us that the miraculous walking on water elicited from the disciples a very authentic human response, fear. On seeing Jesus, the disciples thought they saw a ghost and so cried out in fear. But immediately, Jesus spoke to them saying: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” These words, in the ears of the disciples and to those whom Matthew was reaching out, allude to the more familiar words in Exodus 3:14 where Yahweh, when asked by Moses by the burning bush who he was, replied “I am who I am.”

“I am who I am.”  “It is I.” Do you see the strong correlation between these two “divine” replies? Yahweh, saying “I am who I am” and Jesus saying, “It is I”. Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh.

Other than this passage being a good source to cite when referring to Jesus’ divinity, there are other lessons we can glean from today’s gospel lesson. So, moving on, we know from this story that “Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”. Jesus replied, “Come”. So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on water and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and started to sink. He then cried out, “Lord, save me! Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

The imagery of Peter and the disciples in a boat alludes to us, the Church. And just as they were in that stormy water so does the church often wafts through the wild and tempestuous sea, battered by the strong waves of scandals, schism, breakaways and the battering waves of decline.

Peter’s asking Jesus that he too might come to him on the water alludes to our collective plea to “share” in his divinity, not to be another god but in a way that we may be “like” Jesus. After all, as Christian, we should be Christ-like! Jesus’ reply to “Come” becomes our invitation to get engaged in that process of becoming like Jesus, beginning with our baptism when we were first given the invitation to “come and follow him”. That meant being invited to “walk” on the waters of sin, over the seeming placid waters of prejudice, bigotry and racism; the waters of fear and the waters of violence.

To all these, Christ Jesus, the Son of God, invites all of us to “come” and when we respond, we are, in some sense, “getting out of the boat and setting our feet on these virtual waters. And in so doing, some walk and others sink, back to “chaotic” waters of sin.

And why is that? Well, perhaps we can learn from our story today, especially with what happened to Peter. As long as Peter gazed on Jesus, he walked on water but the moment he noticed the strong wave, he began to sink. And so perhaps, for those who wanted to “come and follow” Jesus but somehow placed their attention somewhere else, they sank as well. And this is where we can end up the moment we put our confidence on someone other than Jesus. We will sink down to the “chaotic waters”, the moment we refuse to grab on the saving hand he extends to us, sinners that we are.

And that is why Jesus’ divinity matters. He’s not just a mere guru who will advise you of the “art of saving” or the “right techniques to repentance”. He’s more than that. Jesus is the Son of God, who extends his saving hand to all who wish to be reconciled with him.

We have been taught this by the apostles and the early church fathers and it is now incumbent upon us to teach this to those who will come after us.

Let us continue to answer our Lord’s invitation to “come and walk on the waters of sin”, coming to Jesus the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith.