Which do we desire: comfort or challenge? Do we desire the old martial attitudes, focused in such activities as exercise, jousting, or boxing, or rather, do we desire the calm, collected tranquility of such easy activities as television, internet, and Netflix? Let’s be honest with ourselves: we want comfort. If we had to pick between remaining in our own time or dropping down into the Middle Ages, we would stay here in a heartbeat, kicking up our recliners to perish the thought of having to toil and labor for the bare minimum to survive. But is this what Jesus wants for us?
If we pay attention to Matthew’s telling of this episode of his Gospel concerning the Lord walking over the waters, we should notice one detail sticking out concerning the disciples: Matthew seems to imply that the boat was tossed about until the fourth watch of the night, or nearly 3 in the morning. Think about that: the Gospel says that as evening approached, the boat began to toss, yet Jesus seemingly abandons them for most of the evening. How terrifying it must have been for the disciples as the boat continued to rock and reel, yet their Master was not there to aid them. But when He does come, they are so frightened by His appearance they believe Him to be a ghost or an apparition.
Yet the Lord offers those prized words of consolation to any soul wearied and troubled: “Be not afraid.” Who responds immediately to this call but Peter, the one most eager to serve Christ? Even though the waves have buffeted the boat all night, Peter remains strong in his faith in Jesus, calling Him to command Peter to walk on those same waters. But even Peter has his weak points: even though he had endured the waves all night, Peter lost faith because of the strength of the wind. He begins to sink and cries out in fear just as the other disciples had done earlier. Only the strong arm of Christ is able to lift him up and put him back on the boat.
What do we see from all of this? First we are taught that our faith must be tested. The strength of our faith is quite similar to the strength of our body. What happens if we are soft on our bodies, feeding ourselves only the sweet and sugary and remaining inert? Our bodies grow fat and weak, susceptible to disease or decay. If we push our bodies, making the grueling effort to regulate our food and to exercise, rejecting the bad and replacing it with the good, we will get them into peak condition and reduce or even eliminate the possibility of disease. It is the same with our faith: we can grow quite soft in what we believe and profess, even to the point of being susceptible to the disease of error or heresy, falling away from the faith for a multitude of petty and irrational reasons. Yet if we push ourselves, learning more who this Jesus is, what He wants from us, what He has in store for us, nourishing ourselves with the sacraments, striving to remove sin and replace it with virtue, we will grow stronger in faith, able to challenge anything that the devil or the flesh or the world throws at us.
Yet we cannot rely on our own strength or ability alone. The disciples were afraid because of the boat tossing about through the night, while Peter became afraid only when he saw how strong the wind was. Each of us has those weak moments that will seem to test or may even break our faith. However, Jesus is always there, holding out to us the strong arm of His grace poured out for us in His sacraments, in particular the sacrament of confession. Our Lord knows our weaknesses, our frailty, our struggle to endure, and He knows that we will at times fail. But He does not want us to sink; rather, He holds out His arm, the arms by which He hung upon the Cross for our salvation, the same arm which He held out to Peter to keep him from sinking. If we are to become stronger in our faith, we must do it with Christ ever near to us, not just there when we want Him.
Finally, we must remember who is the center of our faith, who it is that grants us the ability to believe: God Almighty. Faith is initially a gift of God, a gift that we have not merited and could never deserve on our own. God, in His infinite love for each one of us, gives us every good and perfect gift we need to be holy. But we should never presume upon God’s good will nor should we believe that we have received enough. Jesus teaches us to pray unceasingly for everything we need and more. We ought to be like the prophet Elijah in our first reading: humbling ourselves before the transcendent, invisible God who waits for us to ask for everything. Prayer must be at the heart of our faith, or else we shall fail to grow, no matter how much we may will it or desire it.
Let us not remain comfortable with the minimal faith we have, but let us take up the challenge of living as Jesus commands. Let us cast off from the shores of this world to discover the untamed God who asks so much of us and offers us so much in return. Do not be afraid at the immensity of the task, but look to Jesus, our guide through the stormy seas. Pray that the Holy Spirit may be your Comforter in these difficult days, that His gifts may begin to bear fruit in you, even unto the growth of our church and the sanctification of our community. Let us indeed accept the challenge to follow Jesus Christ each day, that He may lead us through the turbulence of sin and strife to the serene and beautiful coasts of eternal life.