19th Sunday Year A
Sunday 13th August 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Immediately after feeding the large crowd of people, Jesus forced the disciples to get into the boat and to go on ahead of him to the other side while he sent the crowds away. When the crowds had gone, he went up the mountain to be on his own to pray. When evening came he was still there, alone.
The boat was now far out at sea being tormented by the wind and the waves. Far into the night, just before dawn, Jesus came towards them walking on the sea. Seeing him, walking on the sea, the disciples were shocked. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they cried out, terrified. Straightaway, Jesus spoke to them, ‘Have courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Peter then answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ And Jesus said, ‘Come on.’ Peter, getting out of the boat, walked on the water towards Jesus. Then, noticing how strong the wind was, he was afraid and began to sink. ‘Lord, save me!’ he cried. Immediately, Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him. ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ As they stepped into the boat, the wind stopped. Those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘You really are the Son of God!’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 84: 9-14
I will listen to what God says
for God speaks of wellbeing for people,
for those who are kind
and who turn away from apathy and foolishness.
Yes, God’s salvation draws near to those living in awe.
In them, God’s glory lives in our midst.
Kindness and truth embrace,
Justice and peace kiss,
Truth springs up from the earth,
and justice gazes down from heaven.
Yes, God will fill our land with goodness
and our earth will yield abundantly.
Justice goes before God’s face,
and we shall walk within his steps.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, often in our lives we feel as if we have battled against the wind and the waves and we feel weary to our bones. May Jesus come to us across the waters of our fears and doubts, and filled with his Spirit, may we continue to believe even in the midst of the most difficult situations. We ask this in Jesus’ name confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
This Gospel reading occurs between accounts of Jesus’ miracles – events in which he uses his power in the service of people – as he normally does: But this miracle – walking on water – breaks the mould: it serves no-one but rather is used to a reveal who Jesus is.
After the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus compels, even forces the disciples to go away, or rather to go on ahead of him to the other side. Well, they must have wondered how he was going to get there as they had the boat and it was late in the day. Then Jesus himself sends the crowd away. Now alone, he withdraws up the mountain to pray. The noun here could mean ‘hill’ or ‘mountain’. Given the stress on Jesus withdrawing for prayer, ‘mountain’ seems more likely as mountains were traditionally understood as a place where one met God. Later, in this Gospel, Jesus will be transfigured on a mountain.
After the disciples take to sea, a storm comes up such that they hardly make headway. The watch referred to indicates that it is just before dawn. After having struggled all night rowing against wind and waves, they see the extraordinary sight of Jesus walking on the water. Power over the water, the ability to walk on water were images used in a number of places in the Hebrew Testament to denote a power unique to God. When Jesus calls out to reassure the terrified disciples he uses a self-designation used by God in the books of Exodus and Isaiah, ‘It is I.’
Peter’s response is amazing. He desires to share in the manifestation of divine power. Some instinct within him leads him to understand that Jesus is not just showing off but rather is offering an important revelation. He steps out on the water and while focused on Jesus shares in this power but, once he feels the wind, he allows fear to overcome him and his faith falters. The verbs used to describe Jesus saving him suggest strong decisive power.
The response of the disciples as Jesus comes into the boat with Peter shows that they have understood what was being revealed: truly Jesus is the Son of God.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
What must Peter have been thinking when he stepped out of that boat? Sometime before he had experienced Jesus stilling a storm. He had seen the healings, eaten the multiplied food. Now exhausted after a night battling a storm he sees Jesus walking on the water. As a Jew he would have recognised this as one of the most potent images of God’s power. He also heard Jesus use the divine self-designation, ‘It is I!’ Now he calls out to Jesus, asking if he can share that experience of divine power: ‘Lord, if it is you, call me to come to you.’ Focussed on Jesus, he has the audacity to step where he knows no human can go.
Audacity isn’t usually touted as a virtue. We, Christians, tend to be a cautious, somewhat circumscribed lot. Generally we are among the most law abiding citizens, usually polite and caring, taking out insurance. Risk taking isn’t a characteristic popularly associated with us.
I find this Gospel a personal challenge. What am I prepared to risk to allow God’s power to work in my life? Peter was prepared to risk his life. Yes, he faltered but he still looked to Jesus for help. Later in his life, when called, he would risk many other things, finally giving his life. The risks we could be called to take are usually not so dramatic but they are no less real. It could be confronting a bully in our workplace, challenging racist views of a relative, taking a moral stand in the midst of friends. When we are in a situation when we wonder what we should do, maybe we should pause and pray inwardly: ‘Lord, if it is you, call me to come to you.’
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
Focus – we are all aware of the difference that focus makes in a person’s life. For any achievement to occur, whether in relationship or in sport, we need to be able to exclude other options and hone in on our goal. The question is how and on what we are to focus. Lack of focus, at best, leads to a boring failure of a life, at worst, it is appallingly destructive. Obsessive focus, even on good things, can have even more damaging results.
Peter, when he remained focussed on Jesus, was able to do what no human had done before him: walk on water. Later, when focussed on Jesus he was able to lead the fledging Church. Even then, when he took his eyes off the person of Jesus, he sank into the morass of conflicted opinion just as heavily as he sank into that sea. Focussing on Jesus gave him direction and courage in his life.
The same holds for us. We need to look to Jesus and his teaching to guide and lead our lives. We all have a tendency to absolutize our experience, to want too much and too many different things, to think we suffer overmuch. Our lives so easily get out of balance and we find it difficult to hold the conflicting parts together. Focusing on Jesus integrates the disparate aspects of our lives, as the spokes do to a wheel. With his help, the various parts can then work together for our good and for the service of those around us. Focussed on him, we will not only be able to do extra-ordinary things, if he so calls us, but we will be able to do the ordinary things of life better. Jesus can call us out of our conflicted selves and form us according to the vision of God revealed in himself.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
Luis Borrassa Peter walking on the Water
Alessandro Allori Peter walking on the Water
Salvador Dali’s Jesus walking on the Sea looks almost whimsical. (Click red text).
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
As you go through this week, mull on how you act spontaneously in difficult situations. Do you give Jesus a chance to come to you and call you out of your fearful ways of acting? How can you slow yourself down to give him time to call you out into trusting him?
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
Think of the situations in which you feel overwhelmed and buffeted. Imagine how your little boat is overwhelmed and you are tired.
Jesus is coming towards you, calm and all powerful. Do you want to call out to go to him?
If you don’t, why do you want to stay in the boat?
If you do want to go, in whom will you trust when you stop out and feel the force of the wind and the movement of the sea?
Rest in the love of your God.