19th Sunday of Year A
Theme of the week: Finding God in our adversities.
Jesus loves you. Sometimes, we hear these words so often that the words lose their impact on us. Consider this, by our sins, each of us deserved to be condemned to an eternity of sufferings, eternally separated from God. But “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) Imagine, in order to save us from eternal damnation, God allowed Himself to be shamed, tortured and killed. Such is the extent of God’s love for us, resorting to self-sacrifice in order to save us. And such act of self-sacrifice is not just confined to our Lord Jesus either. Following the example of Jesus, we hear in this week’s Second Reading, that St Paul was so distress that his own people did not accept Jesus that he was prepared to make the greatest of sacrifice – he would sacrifice his communion with Christ in exchange for his kindred’s acceptance of Christ (verse 3).
How about me? Like the Jews St Paul spoke about, have I too failed to see the grace of God in my life? For many of us, this is often the case when we encounter difficulties in our lives, whether it is sickness, financial difficulties or loss of a loved one. My brothers and sisters, you are not alone. The Old Testament prophet Elijah had the same experience. 1 Kgs 18 tells the story of how Elijah vanquished the prophets of Baal, a pagan god. By doing so, Elijah offended queen Jazabel and had to flee for his life. So distressed was Elijah at his plight that he failed to see the grace of God in the midst of his difficulties. He wanted to die (1 Kgs 19:4). This was in spite of the fact that Elijah had just performed a great miracle by the hands of God to defeat the false prophets of Baal. Like Elijah, we too are frail in our faith.
The First Reading recalls how Elijah took refuge in a cave at Horeb, the mountain of God. This was the same place where God first revealed his glory to Moses through a burning bush. Here, God showed his tender side to Elijah. He did not come via the strong wind, earthquake or fire, but through the gentle breeze. Sometimes, in the midst of our adversities, God comes to us in the most unexpected way to strengthen us. With God by his side, Elijah eventually prevailed over the evil king Ahab and queen Jazabel.
The Bible is full of such examples. A few days ago, on 6 Aug, we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration. Jesus was about to head to Jerusalem to face his ultimate trial. The Gospel of the day (Mt 17:1-9) tells the story of how Jesus took Peter, James and John to Mt Tabor. There, Jesus was transfigured: “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Mt 17:2). Then, Moses and Elijah appeared before Him, conversing with Jesus, strengthening Him before the impending trial.
Mt 8:24-27 tells the story of the disciples being caught in a violent storm. Think of times in our lives when we are like the disciples in the boat, facing darkness and turbulences. Often in the midst of adversities, like the disciples in the boat and Elijah in the cave, we too fail to see God even though He was right there in our midst. In the case of the disciples in Mt 8, Jesus was literally in the boat with them! The Gospel this week tells the story of another storm. Once again, the disciples found themselves caught in a storm and they were afraid. You may say, “when are they ever going to learned?” My brothers and sisters, we are just like them.
Like the disciples, God comes to us in our needs. Strengthened by God, we can do amazing things and overcome great difficulties. In Elijah’s case, he performed great miracles and prevailed over the king and queen of the land. In this week’s Gospel, Peter prevailed over nature and walked on water. However, when doubts entered Peter’s mind, he became frightened and started to sink. Reflect upon this for a moment. Is not this story similar to our struggle between faith and doubt? At times when we doubted God and started sinking, did we hear the same rebuke from Jesus: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (verse 31)
In the Gospel, Peter called out to Jesus for help: “Lord, save me!” (verse 30) Jesus then reached out his hand t and caught Peter. Sometimes, like Peter and Elijah, we too have to experience adversities before we find God. In fact, the very difficulties we face are a blessing from God, to shake us out of our complacency so that we may see the hands of God in our lives. In the midst of adversities, let us cast aside our doubt, cry out to the Lord, “Lord, save me!”. The Lord will come to us, sometimes dramatically like the Transfiguration; sometimes subtly like the gentle breeze. Let us stretch out our hands and catch hold of Jesus’s outstretched hand. In response to Jesus saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (verse 31), let us say to Jesus, as the father of a possessed child once did, “Lord I believe in you, help me in my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)
My dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord be with you. Emmanuel.