ON THIS NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME we are reminded that when we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can do amazing things. Peter and the other disciples were fearing for their lives on the sea of Galilee. They were experienced fishermen – pros like we see in “The Deadliest Catch” television program – and they knew because of the nature of that storm that they were in trouble. Yet, in the midst of the storm, in the fourth watch of the night (in other words, about 2:30 in the morning), soaking wet and after having rowed for hours, Jesus came walking on the water. They were already fearing for their lives; when Jesus came toward them walking on the water, their first response was that Jesus was a ghost, a figure of death, rather than a Savior and bringer of life. Jesus said in response, however, “Be strong. It is I. Don’t be afraid!” After hearing those words cutting across the fierce winds, Peter spoke up: “Lord, if it is really you, bid me to come across to you on the water!” Notice what Peter did not say: “Lord, if it’s you, give me too the power to walk on the waves.” He wasn’t interested so much in the extraordinary event, in having Jesus’ power over nature; he just wanted to come as quickly as possible to the Lord. And he had faith enough to ask to do it, and to risk everything. The ferocity of the storm up to that point had made him fear for his life and he and the others had been rowing with abandon for hours to prevent their little boat from capsizing and sending them overboard. Yet he loved the Lord so much that he would take that risk of faith and hop overboard. He stepped out of the boat and by Jesus’ power didn’t sink as he headed toward the object of his desire, Jesus. Consequently we also learn from today’s Gospel that when we take our eyes off of Jesus, almost anything bad can happen, and usually does. St. Peter, through Jesus’ power, was actually walking on the waves, but even amidst that great confirmation of faith, Peter’s faith began to waver. St. Matthew tells us that Peter “took account of the winds” — in other words, he became distracted, he lost his focus on Christ, and in doing so took his eyes off of Jesus and began to worry again. When this happened Peter started to sink into the life-threatening waters. The same thing happens with each of us, with any believer. When we take our eyes off of Jesus, when we are distracted by “other things” (especially those “things” which are contrary to Christ) there’s no limit to the depths to which we can sink. This is what countless saints have recognized throughout their lives. St. Philip Neri used to greet the Lord every day: “Lord, it’s Philip, please help me lest I betray you again!” So many other saints have made famous the saying: “But for the grace of God go I!” All of them knew that, were it not for the grace of God in helping them to keep their eyes fixed on Christ amid the storms of their personal lives, they’d be capable of committing almost every sin. Folks, when we take our eyes off of the Lord, we can and will fall. Safe to presume that each of us is aware in our own lives of the times when we have been distracted by various “winds” blowing through our lives – distractions – that took our focus off of listening to and following Jesus. As a result we, too, sank. Some of us may be treading that very dangerous water right now. The question is what we are we going to do about it? We also learn from today’s Gospel that Peter, as soon as he had fallen, as soon as he had recognized that he had taken his eyes off of the Lord, immediately cried out, “Lord, save me.” And Jesus at once put out his hand and held him. He lifted him up, brought him back into the boat, and when both had entered, the wind died down. Peter had the faith to know that Jesus our Lord, Savior and Redeemer could and would save him and cried out without hesitation. We should learn from Peter and do the same. Whenever we sin, by taking our eyes off of Jesus and falling in any number of ways, we too, without hesitation, should cry out to the Lord to save us from these sins. Jesus will stretch out his hand to save us. Why? Because Jesus loves us! This is not some simple coffee mug or t-shirt sentimentality – Jesus truly loves us, folks. Knowing that, let’s take stock of our relationship with Him, get into the confessional, reach out to the waiting and loving hands of Christ our Savior, then start renewed and refreshed by following Christ on the one path that leads to eternal life.
-Fr. Mike Lumpe