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August 13, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

In his Gospel, Matthew narrates two episodes where the disciples, when crossing the lake of Galilee, found themselves facing the storm: the first time in chapter 8 (vv.23-27), the second in today’s passage Gospel (Mt.14:22-33).

Each crossing has a symbolic value. A crossing reveals: there is a crossing that the disciples are called to make, there is something to leave and there is a goal to reach; and in-between there is always an unexpected event, a difficulty, because no crossing is ever taken for granted.

In today’s episode, what is left behind is the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes (Mt. 14:13-21): one cannot remain there forever, because it is a miracle that is open to ambiguous interpretations, which Jesus absolutely wants to avoid. In John’s Gospel, after this episode, the crowd looks for Jesus to proclaim Him King (Jn 6:15), and Jesus flees immediately.

And in fact, “immediately after” (Mt. 14:22) Jesus orders the disciples to go before Him to the other side, even before the crowd is dismissed. He himself retires in dialogue with the Father: it is there that Jesus finds again the full truth of His mission and His life.

In Matthew’s Gospel, the prayer of Jesus is mentioned only two times: here and in Gethsemane, (Mt. 26:36-46), and this makes us think that even in this case, after having multiplied the loaves, Jesus must face a real struggle, as in Gethsemane, a distinctive crossing.

What Jesus experiences on the mountain, the disciples experience on the lake, where the storm broke loose. In the middle of the lake, in the middle of the night, the disciples are alone and scared. There the Lord reaches them, walking on water, but initially His presence seems to frighten them even more, so that they struggle to recognize Him and to remember that once His stilled the force of the storm. Fear closed their heart in incredulity. Then, His voice again, His word – with which Jesus “at once” (Mt 14:27) reaches them – manages to calm the storm that is in their heart.

And here there is a further passage, which only Matthew’s Gospel reports: Peter, seeing the Lord walking on the water, wants to do the same. He understands that the power, to overcome evil, to dominate the forces of nature, belongs to the Lord and to those who walk near Him, and no longer does anything seem impossible to him.

But only when the Lord calls to him: “Come” (Mt. 14:29) does he dare to step off the boat, just as only at the word of the Lord were the nets thrown into the sea after an unsuccessful night of fishing.

It is the Word that caused Peter to walk, and he’s able to continue on the water like the three young men, in the Book of Daniel, they walked amid the flames, without the fire doing any harm to them (Dn. 3).

But when his ears no longer listen to the voice of the Lord and the sounds of the stormy sea fill him, Peter is afraid once again, and so what before was possible becomes impossible: Peter is sinking, submerged by the waves and by his fear.

There, however, prayer comes alive: “Lord, save me” (Mt. 14:30). For the third time, in the space of a few lines, Matthew here uses the adverb “immediately”: immediately Jesus extends his hand and grabs Peter (Mt. 14:31). And this “immediately” is there to say that salvation happens right there, as soon as the man shouts out his impotence and his trust in the Lord.

This happens, in life, in providential times, that are often tumultuous times, when man alone understands not to do it by himself and at last that he doesn’t have to rely on himself. Then he discovers that the Lord is there with him, is present even if he does not always recognize it. And that with Him evil cannot cause fear any more.

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