A God of Weekend Retreats or Raging Storms? – A Homily for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

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Editor’s Note: In an order to provide our readers with more voices reflecting on the Word of God each Sunday, we’ve asked all of the baptized who contribute to our site to take a turn each week crafting a homily.  Read and enjoy!

By Javier Soegaard

Have you ever heard hippie give a retreat talk?

If you have, they almost certainly used today’s first reading to talk about God. With their eyes squinted–indicating their perpetual level of chill–and their body essentially moving in slow motion, they probably encouraged you to close your eyes and experience the God of silence, the God who whispers in all things and in all hearts.

It’s not a bad retreat talk, even if it’s a bit cliché. However, I’m not so sure that it’s precisely what the reading is really getting at. When we read it alongside today’s Gospel we are not being asked to recognize God in the peace and quiet of a weekend getaway. Rather we’re being schooled in the type of trust required to recognize God when things are at their absolute worst.

But, you might say, isn’t Elijah on a sort of retreat in that first reading? Things seem pretty relaxed in this mountain cave of his. Well, I’ll say this. Elijah’s isn’t the sort of retreat you make with your business or on a quest for spiritual enlightenment. If you look back a page or two in First Kings, you’ll find that his is the kind of retreat you make after you’ve ordered the execution of a powerful queen’s 450 favorite prophets. In other words, it’s the kind of retreat you make where you’re running like you-know-what for your life.

When we have this flight-for-your-life mentality in mind, we begin to realize the gravity of the seemingly innocuous statement: “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” Wait. You want me to leave the cave where I, your prophet, am safe from my enemies?! You want me to go outside atop a mountain where people from all over can see me, including, I should add, those who want nothing more than to end my life?! That sounds like a great plan, LORD.

God is asking Elijah for a senseless type of trust. God is asking him not to run from the grave and harrowing situation of his life, but in facing it patiently—standing tall amidst the raging wind, firm beneath the quaking earth, and unshaken before the raging fire—to have the wisdom to recognize God’s promised peace and true presence in the aftermath.

Similarly for Peter it seems that foolishness and recklessness with one’s life is a pre-condition for recognizing the Lord and coming-to-faith. Unlike Elijah, Peter seems to be the one making the ludicrous request.

Jesus is on his way to the boat! He is not asking the disciples to come to him; he is going to meet them. He has been alone praying for some time, and is now looking to resume his time with friends and followers. There is nothing that to suggest that Jesus wants Peter to meet him on the stormy sea. It is Peter instead who says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus matches Peter’s boldness with a confidence of his own. “Come,” he says, giving no instruction but the implied, “And if you come out here, trust me.”

We think we know how the story ends. Peter fears, Peter falls, Jesus saves, Jesus asks why. But how easily do we forget about this last line of the Gospel? “Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’” Be aware that this isn’t Peter’s line. I suspect he was too busy catching his breath to make a confession of faith. Yet, his actions, brash and foolish though they were, have nevertheless given the Lord an opportunity for others to see, for others to come to faith.

So what we have here in today’s Scripture testifies to the variety of ways that our own, often reckless trust in the Lord can lead to real recognition of and encounter with the Lord. Perhaps it would be easy if we were being called to imitate Elijah or Peter literally—to test our trust in situations of easily quantifiable danger. Thankfully, for most of us gathered today, those types of situations aren’t readily available.

But we all have our raging winds, our earthquakes, our fires, our stormy seas. We all have places in our life at this moment and in the near future where we will have our trust in God will be put to the ultimate test. For some, perhaps we will be gifted with the wisdom to see God in the aftermath, to know he was with us throughout the process in quiet, but deeply powerful ways.

Some of us may not have this consolation, however. Circumstances being what they are, we may end up like Peter, pulled into the boat after running to the Lord—after giving him all our trust—and yet it is only ours to sit, catching our breath and choking, while others revel in the presence of the Son of God. Even if we’ve done all the work and taken all the chances, sometimes it just isn’t in our lot to have that tangible experience of grace. But, if it has led others to faith, if our example of trust and confidence in the Lord has led others to see and to know God, then perhaps our joy should be even greater.

Friends, it is a beautiful thing for God to be present in our lives, for us to know his peace as we seek to live our Christian vocations—but it is a precious and glorious thing when we begin to realize that God might be working through us for the good of others.

So let us trust the Lord who made us. Let us fear neither darkness nor the wild of our lives, but instead look for God in and after those moments. Let us pray for the grace of consolation in our difficult times, but most of all let us pray that our trust in the Lord will bring others a similar, life-changing faith in him.

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