19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) – August 9, 2020
St. Mary – Derby, KS
1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a; Psalm 85; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33
(1) From the Kingdom to Faith
These past five Sundays, all our attention has been focused on the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom which Jesus ushers into the world, which overtakes the world and all the worldly powers. The Kingdom which—as the argument goes—is what our hearts truly long for. And Jesus told all of those parables to illustrate this, and he has that great “kingdom feast” (the feeding of the five-thousand) which is shown in opposition to the feast of Herod, the “kingdom of the world.”
But remember, at the foundation, at the root of it all, “The Kingdom of God is not a socio-political something, it is not people following wonderful legislation based on Christian dogma and doctrine, and it isn’t ruled by the pope. The Kingdom of God is found in Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God comes through our relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.…The Kingdom of God is found in relationship to a person” (Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time A). It’s that very famous line of Jesus, “Come to me” (Mt. 11:28). Time and again, Jesus doesn’t hand out a game plan for conquering the world, he says, “Come to me.…Follow me.”
And so the Church turns our attention to the next important and, really, fundamental question. “Ok, Jesus is announcing a Kingdom, he is claiming to inaugurate this kingdom, to be the Messiah, the kingdom itself. How do we know he’s not lying?” Right? Again, we all just kind of take this for granted. We come to church, we “believe in Jesus Christ” (whatever that means), and we go along with it. But if you listen to people—listen to people today, listen to people in the Gospels—what you hear time and time again is, “Jesus? Wasn’t he just a rabbi from Nazareth? Wasn’t he just a nice teacher? Sure, we should take some of his advice, but we don’t need to follow him or give-up our life for him.” We hear this in the Gospel itself: Jesus is back home in Nazareth, teaching about and announcing the Kingdom, and people aren’t buying it; they say, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t this Joseph and Mary’s boy? Didn’t we watch this kid grow up?” (c.f., Mt 13:55).
And this is what the Church has us focus and meditate on for today and the next three Sundays, this is the question the Gospel of Matthew tries to address in these chapters: “Can we trust this man? Can we have faith in this man?” We are faced with the question of faith in Jesus. St. John, in his first letter, says, “This is the victory that conquers the world: our faith” (1 John 5:4). In other words, “our faith” is the way that the Kingdom of God conquers over the kingdoms of the world. And so this issue of faith is a big deal. We can come to “Jesus club” all we want; say the words, sing the songs, do the “Catholic stuff.” But faith!? Faith in Jesus—real, authentic, uncompromising faith in Jesus—is something else.
(2) “Why don’t you think your husband is going to kill you in your sleep?”
What is faith? What do we mean by “faith”? The caricature of “faith” is believing certain propositions to be true that are incomprehensible to human reason, that you must believe out of blind obedience, that you have to believe and don’t have a say in the matter. “People of faith” are people who irrationally hold certain things to be true, who believe outdated and irrational doctrines, who are irrational themselves. But that’s not faith, and we know that, and other people know that too.
Faith, in its most basic form, when we talk about faith—faith is trust. Faith is that very human, very rational, behavior of trusting another; trusting another because you have freely interpreted all of the signs which point to the conclusion that you can trust them.
The classic example of this (and the Bible uses it as the metaphor for faith a whole bunch) is marriage, the faith and trust essential to marriage. Do you trust your wife? Do you trust your husband? Why do you fall asleep, lose consciousness, every night next to this guy that could murder you in your sleep? Exactly! I sound crazy! This person has given you reasons and signs that they can be trusted. You dated each other for a while, learned about each other, spent time with one another, and based on those facts and events and companionship and signs—based on all of that evidence, you freely decided that you loved them, that you wanted to share your life with them, yes, but also that you could trust them. And so on your wedding day you made vows to each other! How do you know she wasn’t lying to you? That he wasn’t lying to you? Because all of the signs pointed to the fact that they weren’t lying. And what’s more, one of the vows you made was, “I promise to be faithful to you.” So you even said it, you promised that you would be faithful, you promised that they can trust you. And so based on all of these signs, you freely and rationally trust them, have faith in them. You are willing to lose consciousness next to them every night and not think they are going to kill you—and people don’t call you crazy or irrational for that.
And it works the opposite way, too. Maybe your wife or your husband has given you signs that you can’t trust them! Maybe they were unfaithful to you at some point, and so you can’t trust them completely. Maybe they have done other things that make you question their trustworthiness. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable losing consciousness next to them every night. And this happens in friendships too: someone promises something, someone gives you signs that you can trust them—but then, all of a sudden, something happens and you lose trust, trust is broken. And again, you freely and rationally conclude the opposite: that, based on the signs and evidence, you can’t trust them.
(3) The Method of Faith
So what is the underling “method” of faith? When we place our “faith” in someone, when we trust someone, what is happening, what are we doing, what is the method we are following? Faith comes from interpreting the signs, the evidence; freely and rationally interpreting the signs; and freely and rationally drawing a conclusion based on these signs. In other words, faith involves freedom: you can’t force or coerce someone into trusting you, you can’t force someone to overlook the signs that you can’t be trusted. And faith involves reason: if you irrationally trust someone, we all know that’s a bad idea; and if you irrationally distrust someone you are paranoid, a conspiracy theorist. Faith is free and it is rational.
What the Gospels try to convey, over and over again, are stories, testimonies, eyewitness accounts of all of the signs and evidence for us to freely and reasonably interpret. The Gospels are a testimony about all of the signs and facts the apostles experienced, and they are meant to bring us to faith in Jesus, bring us to trust this Jesus. “Why did these twelve guys follow him? Why did people suffer and die for him? What did they experience that led them to have faith in this man?” That’s what the Gospels recount for us.
(4) “Walking on Water” or “Peter’s Faith in Jesus on the Sea of Galilee”
And so today and the next three Sundays we turn to this issue of faith: real, uncompromising faith in Jesus. This Gospel passage we have today, the story of Jesus walking on water and Peter walking out toward him, is our first glimpse at this faith and trust I’m talking about. Jesus has been with the disciples a while now, they have listened to him and followed him and shared their lives with him and seen him do miracles—there are a lot of signs, a lot of evidence that he can be trusted, that they can place their faith in him. For Pete’s sake, Jesus had calmed a storm on the sea before (c.f., Mt 8:23-27)! And so here again, the disciples have been struggling against this storm all night, and Jesus arrives. All of the evidence, all of the signs point to the fact that they shouldn’t be worried, they shouldn’t fear. But they think Jesus is a ghost—they can’t even trust their own eyes. And so Peter says, “If it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.” And he does. And Peter is walking on water. So many signs that Jesus can be trusted!
But what happens? Peter doubts. And so what does Jesus say? “O you of little faith! Why did you doubt?” Jesus calls Peter out for his lack of faith, his lack of trust.
And so when they get back into the boat, the disciples do him homage, and they admit, freely and reasonably, “Truly, you are the Son of God! Truly, you are who you say you are! Truly, you can be trusted, you are deserving of our faith, of our trust.”
(5) Trust Jesus
Why is Jesus so concerned that people trust him? Have faith in him? Because he is the Kingdom, in and through a relationship with him we experience the Kingdom. And relationships are built on faith, on trust.
If we are going to conquer the world, if the Kingdom of God is going to prevail, what is needed is faith. And remember, faith doesn’t come out of thin air. Faith comes from interpreting signs, freely and reasonably interpreting signs. And so Jesus makes it a huge point to give us every reason to trust him, to have faith in him.
And the most indelible and lasting sign: that “while we were still sinners, he died for us,” and rose from the dead. The Cross, freely giving himself in love for us, stands as a sign for all of us that he is worthy of faith. The Resurrection, a sign that he has overcome the world. It is this mystery, this Paschal Mystery, that we celebrate and take part in here in this Eucharist. We don’t come here because we’re part of the “Jesus club,” or because saying the right words and singing the songs and doing the “Catholic stuff” keeps us out of hell, no. We are here because we have faith that Jesus is who he says he is. And because in a relationship with him we can conquer the world.
It is FAITH IN HIS PRESENCE that saves us from nothingness, that saves us from nihilism, that saves us from sinking into the chaotic waters of life. Faith is “not a law to which we conform, but a love to which we adhere, a presence to follow more and more with all ourselves, a fact within which we can truly sink” (Giussani).