Nineteenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Robert Gay invites us to seek God with faith in times of distress.
The event of our first reading, the prophet Elijah’s encounter with God, occurs on the mountain. And whenever we hear of such encounters on the mountain, they leave us with an incredible sense of the otherness of God: as though we catch a tiny glimpse of the greatness and power of God, and of something of the difference between God and his creatures, even those that are chosen by him for some great service. The reaction to such an encounter is a sense of awe and wonder, and a sense of unworthiness. This awe and wonder, and are captured in the response of those who have such an encounter, perhaps most especially in the gesture of covering their faces. Elijah does just that when he encounters God in the sound of the gentle breeze, an encounter that is preceded by great and terrifying signs, where nature seems to be untamed. In the moment of stillness, having brought nature to stillness, God is encountered in his power and in his gentleness.
In our Gospel, we have another situation where nature seems to have unleashed its full power in the wind and the waves. And similar to the encounter Elijah has, the coming of Jesus across the waters, which is of course, an encounter with God, we see his power at work in the stilling of the waves, and in his reassuring presence in the stillness that follows. Jesus manifests his divinity in his mastery over nature in his ability to calm the wind and the seas, not to mention this power to calm the troubled hearts of Peter and the disciples. Their response is not to cover their faces, but to bow down before Jesus, a gesture of awe and reverence which is matched by the proclamation that he is the Son of God.
It our present times, we are all too aware of the great and destructive power of natural events. Looking further, we are also acutely aware of the destructive power that we, human creatures, can exert in our world. And, here, we should not just think of world events, but also closer to home – the ways in which we and others succeed in creating turbulent and difficult conditions in which to live our lives. In all of this, we can sometimes wonder where God can be found.
And yet, as we experience our often turbulent world, we should remember that the God who encountered Elijah in the gentle breeze, the God who walked towards the disciples across the waters and stilled their waves, is always at work, always present in the midst of even the worst difficulties, to bring us through with him. However, that path requires from us that we look not just at the difficulties and troubles as events unfold around us, but to look for God’s presence amidst the turmoil using the eyes of faith, to find Christ gently yet powerfully at work. That way we can not only be reassured that God is present and can be found, but we can also can trust that in Christ he will find for us a secure path through the difficulties, and in so doing bring us a greater faith in him.
The times when the events in our lives are challenging and difficult can become times when God shows himself most clearly to us. As such, they become a place where we encounter God. And such encounters can leave us in even greater awe of his love and care for us.