Sunday, July 25, 2010

In God's Hands

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Our gospel lesson [Matthew 14:22-34] today tells the story of one of the more unusual events in Jesus’ life and ministry: His walk across the raging sea of Galilee to bring salvation and comfort to His disciples in their battered boat.

Matthew tells us that while the weather was still calm, Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go without Him to the other side of the sea. The Greek verb used here suggests that Jesus made more than a simple request. He constrained His disciples to get into the boat and leave without Him. With great reluctance the fishermen parted company with Jesus, while He Himself went up to a mountain alone to pray. When evening came, a sudden storm blew up, the wind and the waves arose against the boat, and the men struggled greatly to keep from sinking.

Let us pause at this point to ask a very important question. Was this just an amazing coincidence? Did it just happen that the one time in three years that Jesus decided to take a night off and leave His disciples on their own would turn out to be the very night that they were all nearly killed? Was that just dumb, rotten luck? Hopefully we realize that luck had nothing to do with it, and that God’s will governs all. Was it therefore the will of God that the disciples would have to face this terror seemingly alone until Jesus saved them by the miracle of walking on the water and calming the sea? Absolutely it was, and we even have scriptural evidence to support this.

From Psalm 107, beginning with verse 23 we read, “Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, they see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea.They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths, their soul melts because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, to that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven”. [Vss. 23-30]

I cannot imagine a more clear and exact prophetic foretelling of this event. Not only does it describe what happened perfectly, but the imagery here of the boat rising up to the heavens and plunging down again to the depths, with the terrified sailors aboard staggering to and fro like drunken men is vivid enough to almost make us feel--gulp!--a little green ourselves! It certainly helps us understand a bit better what the disciples went through when this frightening incident befell them.

But there’s one verse in this psalm that might disturb some people. Did you catch it? It’s the one which said that the Lord “commands and raises up the stormy wind, which lifts the waves of the sea”. These words might seem to suggest that Jesus stayed behind to cause the storm that He would later rescue His disciples from. If that’s the case, it sounds a bit like the stories we sometimes hear of a demented firefighter who commits arson on a building just so he can later be seen as a hero for rescuing the tenants. That’s certainly not right or laudable. Is this what Jesus did?

I don’t think so. We always need to be very careful in our interpretation of any prophecy, and certainly very careful in any judgment we might attempt to make concerning the inscrutable will and purpose of God. The truth is we don’t really know what Jesus was praying for on that mountain. Perhaps in His divine wisdom He already knew that this storm would arise and be far more terrible and deadly, and thus prayed for it to be lessened that His disciples would not perish in the sea before His arrival. Perhaps He prayed that they would be protected from the devil during this perilous time. It is likely He also prayed that they might have the strength and courage to endure this hour and to benefit from it spiritually, rather than to simply lose their minds in terror. In my opinion, our Lord was not up on that mountain plotting mischief against His own disciples, but was praying that they might be preserved through this trail they were about to face, and that they would gain from it.

From our perspective we can easily see that the disciples did benefit greatly from this event. Matthew tells us that those who were in the boat fell down and worshiped Jesus, finally understanding through this miracle that He is the Son of God incarnate. Their gain is also our gain, for while the world often mocks the story of Jesus walking on the water as a kind of fairy tale, we understand it as further proof of His divinity which helps us to also trust in Him during our trials in life.

Trials and sufferings and sorrows are the terrible consequences of the sins that we humans have brought into our world. They are a fact of life in this fallen cosmos, and will not cease until the cosmos itself is renewed. Sometimes when we find ourselves in the midst of our own most terrible and frightening moments, it can seem as if the Lord is nowhere to be found and that we are left alone. Perhaps the disciples thought this, too. Thankfully, this is not the truth.

A major point of this gospel lesson is that we are never alone, never forgotten by Jesus, and that He is well aware of all that befalls us in life. The disciples mistakenly thought they were alone, but they were not. Jesus was aware of them and was praying for them, and at the right moment He came to them, bringing salvation and a greater faith than they had ever known before. He came to them even though it was not humanly possible to do so. What man cannot do, the Son of God can do and will do, because He holds us all in the palm of His divine hand.

So let me pause again to ask a few more very important questions. When the storms of life strike you, is that just dumb, rotten luck? Are you tempted at such times to feel that God has left you alone to be tossed about in the turbulent seas while He must be off on some heavenly mountain somewhere doing...well, God knows what? Is it hard for you to see that your suffering can possibly be allowed by a merciful God? Do you at times feel forgotten, neglected, or perhaps even punished by God?

In whatever sufferings we are called to face, we must understand that the good and perfect will of God governs them all. This does not mean that God is the cause of our sufferings. He is not the arson who sets the fire in order to look like the hero when He saves us. We are the ones who have set fire to our world; the fire of sin and rebellion and death. Though God is never the cause of our sufferings, He will at various times permit them to come into our lives. But His redemptive power is such that He can use even our sufferings to accomplish that which is necessary for our salvation.

God also mercifully reduces our sufferings to a level we can endure. The fishermen might well have been killed in the sea, but our Lord did not allow that to happen. This world is a very dangerous place, filled with enough wars and disasters to potentially extinguish all nations a hundred times over. But God does not allow this to happen. I believe that God also intervenes with the same mercy in our personal lives as well, to lessen the harsh sufferings that we might otherwise encounter. People often question how a good God can allow bad things to happen. Can we possibly imagine how much worse such things might actually be if God did not care for each of us and reduce our trials to a level that do not destroy us, but lead us rather to faith and eternal life?

The reality is that we cannot avoid trials and suffering for long in this world, but God is always right there with us to accomplish an infinitely greater good in our lives. Sometimes He delivers us from all suffering; sometimes He delivers us through our sufferings. But in the end, His purpose is always to accomplish what is the absolute, eternal best for us. We must each come to a personal acceptance of this, lest God’s merciful and redemptive work be utterly lost upon us and we remain broken and angry like those who reject God. Our Lord is with us in the midst of every storm in life, and if we keep the remembrance of His goodness always before us, He will bring us in the end to His quiet and peaceful haven.

+To the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


At 8/14/2010 4:13 AM , Blogger Cristian T. said...

Nice blog, great posts/articles.
I want to present you an website, of a Romanian Orthodox Priest.

On the right side of the page you will find the translate module.

At 4/05/2011 6:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

...great message Father Reagan


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