Depending on your understanding of the Bible, today’s reading can be taken as a factual account of what actually happened or as a symbolic narrative or parable to give the Christians of that time courage in their trials and to strengthen their faith.
At the time of writing this narrative the Church (the boat) was being persecuted and Christians executed and scattered (buffeted by the waves and wind).
Despite their plight Jesus was with them (Jesus went out to them, walking on the water).
They were terrified and cried out in fear but Jesus said to them: ‘take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’
The ambiguity of their faith is graphically demonstrated by the actions of Peter; brash overconfidence immediately followed by fear and doubt.
The message is clear: ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt’.
For a generation now the boat (the Church) has been buffeted by the winds and the waves. Scandals have multiplied. Church leadership has been found wanting or totally lacking. Many have abandoned the Church. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life have fallen dramatically. Up to recently, efforts at rejuvenation have been confined to regression to the certainties of the past.
Today a new spirit is slowly filtering into the life of our church. A spirit of freedom, co-operation, mutual respect and appreciation of each others talents.
In the Old Testament we read, time and time again, how the Israelites (the chosen people) wandered from belief in the One True God and his teaching and how this was closely followed by defeat and disaster. These defeats and disasters were interpreted as punishments from God for their faithlessness.
We know that Our God does not punish us his children. It is we who, when we abandon faith in our God and wallow in selfishness, greed, exploitation, national and tribal interests, to the detriment of unity, generosity, mutual respect and sharing of the gifts Our God has given us, allow injustice and oppression to creep in and become the norm. It is this situation, which we ourselves bring about, that causes wars, economic disasters, financial collapse, deprivation and hunger.
Our Church’s troubles, recent and present, are the direct results of the very same causes which we (our Church) have brought upon ourselves. For too long our church has concentrated on control of the member, political influence and preserving the good name of the institution at all costs to the detriment of the total wellbeing of the members.
The buffeting of the winds and the waves which our church has and is experiencing are the direct result of our own waywardness.
But Jesus of Nazareth is calling out to us ‘take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’
We must let Jesus climb back into our boat (into our church, into our parish, into our hearts). Only then will the wind die down and the calm of total trust in our God abide in our hearts, our parish and our church.
So now is a time of great opportunity for our church and our parish and for each one of us. We have learned, the hard way (the only way), that seeking influence, control, power and blind obedience are not God’s way. We have learned that power corrupts and our church is no exception. I must now cultivate an open and gentle heart, a receptive and welcoming parish and a church which is of service to all God’s children.