By Matt Marchand
This is a reflection on this weekend's readings.
Many of us have become as isolated as Elijah. Sure, we are not in a mountaintop cave, but so many of us are confined to our homes because of the pandemic. In the chaotic moments of the world around us there are hurricanes, fires, civil unrest, and so much more. Where is God in all of this? Stay awake! Be vigilant! The Lord will soon be passing by you! Be prepared to welcome Him in. Prepare yourself to recognize and "find" the God who is often, humbly, hidden from our obvious perceptions.
I will share my theological opinion with you, it is an intuition that has as much of a chance of being wrong as it is right, but it may be interesting to you none-the-less. I believe that the whisper Elijah heard was the Divine Name, YHWH (In Hebrew), Ego Eimi (In Ancient Greek), or "I AM" (in English). I believe Elijah heard the name of Lord, the one given to Moses at the burning bush. After the climax of many awesome powers and earthly wonders comes a gentle touch of a humble and peaceful God, "I AM," and Elijah knew it was God who passed by.
In the Gospel of Mark (MK 6), the author makes it a point to say that Jesus had "Meant to pass by them." In Mark and Matthew, Jesus says, "Take courage [Ego Eimi, YHWH, I AM], do not be afraid." This should be remarkable to us in two ways.
First, when Mark writes that Jesus "Meant to pass by them," I believe he was invoking the story of Elijah on Mount Horeb. Whereas God revealed Himself to Elijah in the silence, so too, should we expect God to reveal Himself in this story, and He does. Jesus refers to himself with the Divine Name. We'll talk about Peter next, but at the end of this story, Jesus gets into the boat and calms the sea. It is only then, in the silence, that the apostles recognized, "Truly, you are the Son of God."
[Note: Son of God means begotten of God. To be begotten means you have the same nature as the one who begot you. Jesus refers to himself often as "Son of Man" and "Son of God." When he accepts the title "Son of God" he is claiming to be of the same nature of God.]
Second, when Peter shouts out "Lord, If it is you..." many believe that Peter wanted to verify that Jesus wasn't a ghost or that he was actually Jesus. I don't think that is what happened here. Jesus just invoked the Divine Name as his own, for the Jews, the invocation of that name upon oneself was a blasphemy of the highest order and deserved immediate death. The first command is that there is only one God and so a human claiming to be God must be making a false claim. We see this happen several times in the scriptures. I believe that Peter knew full well it was Jesus, I believe his question was really asking, "If you are YHWH...(the Son of God) Command me to come to you on the water."
Peter was putting the Lord to the test, and in return, the Lord put Peter to the test. This scene is eerily similar to the crucifixion, where the Pharisees mocked Jesus and put him to the test. "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." Both Christ's walking on water (with the calming of the sea) and his Crucifixion, in the completion of both, end in all those around him proclaiming, "Truly [you are/this is] the Son of God."
What was the Lord's test to Peter? Jesus invoked the Divine Name and then said, "Do not be afraid." It was a command. It was the counter test. Peter obeyed the Lord by coming to him on the water, but he disobeyed the command not to be afraid. He looked at the wildness of all that surrounded him and he did not trust God's providence over his perceived danger. Only then did he begin to sink. In crying out "Lord, save me," Peter's belief that Jesus was God became complete. His faith that Jesus was Lord was solidified while his trust in the Lord was still lacking.
In these turbulent times, we need to be remind of the Lord's command (repeated often), "Do not be afraid." I don't believe it was a command simply given to the Apostles, I believe it was a command for us today and always. "Take courage, I AM, do not be afraid." If you are sinking into fear then close your eyes and say, "Lord, save me." Reach out your hands in prayer to Jesus and Jesus who loves YOU as much as He loves Peter, will take your hand. We can surrender to fear or we can surrender to God's providence, but we can't surrender to both. Surrender to God with faith in His providence and he will see you through any suffering in the current moment, He will also see us through death itself, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (PS 23:4).
God does not ever promise to prevent suffering and trial in our lives, he promises to deliver us from it. These are the words of the Our Father, "Do not subject us to the final test and deliver us from the evil one." When Peter was saved, the storm was calmed, the apostles were delivered from the evil [bad and scary things] around them and saw God. When Elijah watched the ferocious powers of earth but was safely delivered from their wrath in the mountaintop cave, he heard God. When Jesus gave his life on the cross and delivered the world from sin, the centurion spoke for us all, "Truly this was the Son of God." The test has always been the same, it is Jesus asking us, as he asked Peter, "Do you love me?" If the answer you would give is, "Yes," then "Do not be afraid." Another way to state this is that the Lord is asking you, walking on water in the storm, “Do you trust me?” If the answer is, “Yes,” then “Do not be afraid.” His mighty hand is always stretched out to save us.