Homily for August 7, XIX Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A year I
“Near indeed is the Lord’s salvation to those who fear Him.” This phrase from today’s responsorial psalm reflects a theme that we can find throughout today’s readings, and carries an important message for us.
The prophet Elijah, in the first reading today, is feeling discouraged. The people of Israel have rejected God and are seeking to kill Elijah for the things he has said and done as God’s last living prophet. So, he has fled into the desert and, with the God’s help and guidance, has arrived at Mount Horeb. Now, God promises to show His presence to Elijah in a special way. What is particularly interesting here is that the Lord is not in the unusual and spectacular events that follow – the fire, the storm, and the earthquake – but rather in the tiny whispering sound.
So here, God shows Himself not in the extraordinary things, but in the ordinary; the kind of thing that could be going on at any time without us even noticing it. Elijah is paying attention, so he hears the small sound and goes to meet God at the door of the cave, and God gives him further instructions as to what to do. So, if we want to know what God wants from us, we have to be sure we are paying attention to perceive God in the ordinary things around us. He is always present and near at hand, but He rarely forces Himself upon us.
In the Gospel reading, the disciples are in a boat, not a cave, but they also are surrounded by a storm. It seems that they are alone, but Jesus knows exactly where they are and what is happening. When Jesus decides to join them and comes to them walking on the water, they are terrified. Only Peter has the courage to speak to Jesus, and he asks the Lord to prove His identity by helping Peter walk on the water too. Jesus grants Peter his wish, and Peter steps out on the waves, but he is frightened by the storm and starts to sink. Jesus is immediately at Peter’s side, pulls him up, and calms the storm. Once again we see how the Lord is near to us, and ready to guide us and raise us up. We need to be willing to perceive Him even in unlikely places, and ready turn to Him in faith.
Faith really is key if we want to discover God’s presence, but not everyone has that gift. St Paul suffers greatly because most of the Israelites – the Jewish people, Paul’s own flesh and blood, family and friends – have not believed in Christ. In a way, Jesus is closer to the Jews than to anyone else; He was born into a Jewish family, and the Jewish religion is all a preparation for the coming of Christ. Jesus spent most of His life and ministry on earth with the Israelites. But even though Jesus was so close to them, many did not believe.
The Jewish people are a special case, and Pope Benedict XVI in the second part of his book “Jesus of Nazareth” makes it clear that they still play a special role in God’s plan, as Jews. However, we should pray for all people who do not believe in Jesus, and those who do not believe in God at all. May they discover that God is real and Christ is our Savior, that God loves us and is watching over us, and – in the beautiful but paradoxical expression of St Augustine – is “closer to us than we are to ourselves.”