“Courage! It is I, do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:22-34).
The spiritual as well as the material supper with which Christ had fed the multitudes who had followed Him was over. Five thousand men (not counting women and children) were satisfied with the teaching and the food. The left-overs were saved, in order to satisfy hunger elsewhere.
Christ tried to convince the people that it was time for His departure. His desire was to remain alone, in order to communicate with His Heavenly Father. The multitudes departed, and the disciples of Christ took their small boat and put out into the open sea. Christ went alone up to the mountain to pray. He prayed, in order to teach us our supreme duty. O you sons of men who do not pray! Why do you not see that you are living like irrational animals! Open the pages of the Holy Bible. There you will discover many great men who prayed throughout their lives. Open to the New Testament, and you will find that our Lord Himself, in days of triumph and joy, in days of human temptation, and even dying on the cross for our sins, prays! The evangelists inform us that He spent most of every day caring for the needs of men. By evening He would be exhausted. But always He disregards His exhaustion. He kneels. He prays. With the psalmist, let us pray: “Answer me when I call, O God, maintainer of my right; I was hard pressed, and Thou didst set me at large; be gracious to me now and hear my prayer. Mortal men, how long will you pay me not honor but dishonor, or set your heart on trifles and run after lies? Know that the Lord has shown me His marvelous love; the Lord hears when I call to Him” (Psalm 4:1-3).
With what weapon other than prayer can we fight the antichrist who so relentlessly pursues us? “Little children, it is the last hour, just as you have heard that antichrist is coming, and already many antichrists have appeared; so we may be sure that it is the last hour” (I John 2:18).
While Christ is praying on the calm mountain-top, down on the lake the patterns of everyday life continue. The disciples, in their small boat, proceed across the sea. The evening wind caresses their tired brows. The journey becomes more pleasant with the soft breeze. The disciples exchange thoughts about their Master and His latest supernatural works. Later on, they will proclaim that He is the Son of God. Judas was most likely figuring out how he could sell some of the miraculous left-overs, in order to make some money. Suddenly, the scene changes. The sea is aroused. A storm. An everyday occurrence on the Sea of Galilee. Huge waves opened their greedy mouths to swallow the small fishing craft whole, along with its passengers. The disciples cannot control the boat; the wind is against them. Their daydreams are rudely shattered. They give a cry of “SOS”: “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
Today’s Gospel Lesson is not without deep meaning. There is a mystic symbolism behind the reality of the events. In this narration I see mirrored the life of man. The sea is our short life. The boat is each one of us. The storm is the various adventures and trials of our lives, the pains and afflictions which we face every day. Sometimes the sea is very calm, as our lives roll along smoothly. At other times, completely unexpected, the storms of life surround us, just as the waves of the sea trapped the helpless disciples. Pain is present everywhere, from the palaces of kings to the huts of the poor. Precisely as the salt of the sea water is found throughout the entire ocean, so it is with human pain.
The disciples struggle in vain against the waves. The Lord does not immediately still the waves. Why? St. Chrysostom gives us the answer: “The Lord delays rushing to the rescue in order to teach us that, when we are suffering sorrows or pains, we should endeavor to bravely endure them, rather than asking to be immediately free from them.” We must say, with the prophet Jeremiah, “But Thou knowest me, O Lord, Thou seest me; Thou dost test my devotion to Thyself” (Jeremiah 12:3). The Lord knows that nothing causes men to turn to Him for aid and comfort so quickly as does disaster, especially when it is sudden. Thus we can understand why even some of the holiest men of the Bible were sorely tempted and tried, that they might come forth refined in the fires of temptation, pure as beaten gold.
Behold, Christ descends the mountain. He walks across the stormy sea. The disciples do not know that this is their beloved Master. They must assume that it is some sort of sea-dragon. Their situation has now become worse. St. Chrysostom writes that it seems to him, whenever we seek to rid ourselves of our afflictions, they only multiply, and our plight becomes worse. We need to remember, however, that the victory always belongs to Christ. It behooves us to have faith and confidence in Him. Our sufferings are but imperfect copies of His sufferings. St. Paul writes: “As Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so Christ makes our comfort overflow … I delight to suffer for you now and in my body am enduring what still needs to be endured of Christ’s sorrows for His body, which is the church” (II Corinthians 1:5; Colossians 1:24). Finally our Lord appeared to His frightened disciples with the words, “Have courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” At that very moment, the scene changes again. Wherever Christ is, fear disappears. Danger becomes joy. Where the rays of the sun of righteousness penetrate, the darkness is dispersed. The moment Christ entered the boat, the wind ceased. The ship, dear reader, is your home, your heart. If you are tired of the stormy waves of the sea, accept Christ — not as just a visitor, but as a personal Savior and Guardian of your life. Fall reverently at His feet and, with the Apostle Peter, confess your discipleship: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”