August 5, 2011

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first reading this weekend is from the First Book of Kings. First and Second Kings prominently mention the kings of the united kingdom of Israel, but they are not political histories.

The chief purpose of these writings is to reveal God’s mercy, justice and identity. Thus, along with the kings, and often more emphatically and extensively than the kings, these books mention prophets, who spoke for God.

So principal in the reading is the prophet Elijah. God speaks to him. Elijah learns that God will be visible and audible before him. Looking for God, Elijah is in the midst of a raging storm, but God was not in the wind. Next came an earthquake, never an unusual event in the Middle East. Elijah cannot find God in the earthquake.

At last, Elijah hears a tiny whispering sound. It is the voice of God.

Several lessons emerge from this reading. First, God communicates with humanity, and the communication is conveyed to humans by humans. Elijah, after all, was a human.

Second, Elijah looked for God in these great outbursts of nature, in the storm and in the earthquake. God is supreme over nature, it is true.

But the ancient Hebrew concept was that God did not so much punish wayward humanity, even through disasters, as much as that by sin humanity brought misery upon itself. Sin so disrupted the order of life that even nature was askew, bringing terrible events such as storms and earthquakes. God is not in such revenge.

Finally, God appears in places and events and forms least expected, such as in tiny whispering sounds in the middle of storms and Earth tremors.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the source of the next reading. Paul verifies his own status as an Apostle, and his own faith. He mourns that his kin do not accept God, admitting his own humanity. He would like to be with his own. But Paul insists that he will remain true to his calling as a Christian and as an Apostle.

For its last reading this weekend, the Church gives us a passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel. It is a familiar story.

In it, the Lord literally walks across water to reach the boat from which the Apostles were fishing. Peter, impulsive as was his personality, leaped from the boat in an attempt to meet Jesus. Indeed Jesus invited Peter to come forward.

However, also as often happened, Peter’s rashness gave way to uncertainty and doubt. When these feelings took hold, Peter’s own ability to walk on the water failed. He began to sink.

Jesus, however, not outdone by Peter’s lack of faith, pulled Peter from the water, rescuing Peter from death.


Jesus alone is the source of life. He possesses the power of God. This is the central point in this weekend’s Gospel.

The Lord literally walks on water. The reaction of the disciples is a crucial lesson in itself. Understandably, they are mystified, overwhelmed, and even frightened, as they watch Jesus walk on the water. This, however, is not the end of the story.

Peter’s response is the end of the story. When Jesus calls Peter also to walk on the water, Peter does as directed. He has faith, but human nature overtakes him. His faith weakens. He begins to sink. Jesus rescues him.

Peter then exclaims that Jesus is the Son of God! The final note is on Peter’s faith. Paul gave evidence of his own faith. It is on the faith of the Apostles that the Church stands, and it is their testimony that the Church painstakingly repeats.

Still, important to the lesson is the pause in Peter’s faith. He was human. Jesus saved his life, and Peter realized it. †

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