Sunday, 13 August 2017 : Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today's Sunday Mass readings, all of us heard from the Scriptures all about God appearing to His people in times of distress, to bring them out of their troubles and difficulties, for they are His people and He is their God. He has established His Covenant with them, and He will always be faithful to that Covenant which He had made with them. He will make them strong and give them the power and energy needed to remain faithful.

In the first reading today, we heard about how Elijah met God in the desert, at the holy mountain of God, after travelling there from the land of Israel for forty days and forty nights. The prophet Elijah had been in exile from Israel, after the king of Israel, king Ahab and his wife, Queen Jezebel, with all the pagan worshippers and the enemies of the Lord wanting for his death.

This was after what Elijah had done to the pagan Baal priests at the Mount Carmel, where God showed His might and showed that He is the True God. Four hundred and fifty Baal priests were killed that day by the Israelites, and the pagans wanted to get revenge on the prophet of God, Elijah. And thus, Elijah had to flee from Israel to the desert, where God took care of him and provided food and drink to him.

And He called Elijah to His holy mountain, where He revealed Himself to Elijah, in what we heard in our first reading today. God first sent a great windstorm that battered the rocks and the mountain, and then an earthquake that sundered and shook the entire mountain, and then a great fire that sizzles and burnt everything in its wake, but the Lord was not amongst all of these. Instead, Elijah recognised God being in the gentle breeze that followed, and covered himself before Him.

God spoke to Elijah, His prophet and servant, and commanded him to do what He willed for him, that he ought to go back to the land of Israel to continue the works which God had laid out for him amongst His people. God reassured Elijah of His providence and guidance, and strengthened the faith and commitment he had, that he returned to Israel to confront king Ahab and all those who have made themselves enemies of the Lord.

What Elijah went through at that time, was the same as what the disciples encountered at the time when they were in the boat, battered by the winds and the waves. That is what we have heard today from our Gospel passage. The disciples of the Lord were inside a boat, rocked by the winds and the waves, and they feared greatly for their lives. They encountered a great difficulty and a challenging moment in their life.

And Jesus appeared before them, walking towards them on the surface of the water. They did not believe that it was Him, as to them, it was impossible for any human beings to be able to walk on water, and less probable still in the midst of such a great storm. Their faith in Jesus was still weak, and as they were in such a situation, they faltered.

The boat also represents the Church, as the Church is often represented as a ship, carrying all the faithful, the people of God on it, as they journey through life, represented by the voyage embarked by the ship through the waters. And we are just like the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord on the boat. All of us are human beings just as they were, all sinners and weak in the flesh, and just they doubted and had fear, so do we in our own lives.

The storms and the waves are the troubles and challenges that the Church and all of us the faithful had faced, are facing, and will be facing as those who have kept the faith in Jesus our Lord. And it is the same challenges which the prophet Elijah has faced, in all the persecutions he encountered, the threats made to his life and safety. The prophet had endured those difficult moments, and there were surely times when there would be doubts and fears in him, as it had been for the Apostles.

But the prophet Elijah showed us that in the face of opposition and worldly persecutions, all of us must remain strong and committed to our faith in the Lord, for he never gave up the fight and the struggle against the pagan worship and the lack of faith among the Israelites, but continuing to persevere faithfully through his actions and deeds. He recognised the presence of God in his midst, and humbly came before Him to listen to His will.

The Apostle St. Peter also made the same attempt, as he tried to walk on the water towards Jesus, but his faith was not strong and he faltered. He was sinking when the Lord Jesus came to pick him up by the hand, and saved him from sinking. This is what many of us Christians will encounter in our lives, through those moments when we encounter great difficulties and challenges, at which time, we may just feel that we would rather give up our struggles.

However, we must never forget the fact that God is ever there for us, guiding us, protecting us and providing for us all that we need. He is ever ready to bless us and to give us what we need to persevere. This He has given to the prophet Elijah, caring for him as he went through his exile, sending him ravens to provide him with food and drink, and then later on, in another occasion, He provided for him through the widow at the city of Zarephath, who then God also blessed and provided for, that none of them would ever be in need at a time when a great famine ravaged the land.

Through all of these, God wants to let us all know that first of all, as Christians we cannot expect to have a smooth sailing life without troubles or concerns. If our lives thus far have been good and without problems, then probably it is either because God has truly blessed us, or more likely, that we have not been truly faithful in our lives and in our actions. If we do not actively live up to what we believe in our faith, then it is no surprise that we have not been encountering opposition in our faith life.

Then secondly, There will definitely be those times when we will stumble and falter in our faith, as the disciples had been, meaning that at those times, we may end up questioning our faith and beliefs in the Lord. We will be like the Apostles who trembled in fear, even doubting that the Lord is there for us, and we will perhaps end up sinking like St. Peter, because we do not truly believe that God is there for us.

Yet, that is the reality which we must accept, that the Lord is always with us, no matter what happens, and He is forever faithful to the Covenant which He has established with us all, His beloved ones. This is what I have mentioned at the very beginning of this discourse today, and which is the key message which the Lord wants us to know, as we continue with our respective lives, and especially as we continue with the struggles and hurdles of our lives.

God is always faithful, even when we have not been faithful. If not, He would not have sent us His Son to save us, by the loving sacrifice He made on the cross for our sake. He has loved us even though we are sinners and rebels, all those who have refused to listen to Him and those who have disobeyed Him. What He wants us to do, though, is for us to be thoroughly converted to His cause, and to have a profound change in our lives.

How do we do this, brothers and sisters in Christ? We have to learn to trust the Lord, in His providence, by deepening our relationships with Him, through prayer and devotion, and by spending our time with Him. It is too often that we mankind had forgotten to spend time with God, just because we are too busy and preoccupied with our worldly matters, ending up getting more and more distant from the Lord. It is not surprising then that we doubt in God when difficulties and challenges arise, for in the first place, our faith in Him is lukewarm and weak.

And then, we should also practice and deepen our faith through real actions based on our faith. We do not need to do great and marvellous deeds, for indeed, any actions ought to begin from ourselves, from small and little deeds that we do in life. If we can learn to love our neighbours and all those people who come to us, needing our help and love, then surely we can also show love in even greater deeds. If we are able to be generous to others in small things, then we can be generous in even greater things.

Let us all therefore, be truly faithful and devoted to God, that no matter what tribulations and challenges that will come our way, we will always be able to persevere through them, following in the footsteps of the prophet Elijah and also the Apostles and disciples of the Lord, to whom the Lord had given the gift of faith. Let us no longer be afraid or be doubtful, but put from now onwards, our complete trust in God, for He is always faithful and loving to us, without ceasing.

May God be with us always, and may He bless all of our endeavours, that we will always be able to work together, as His one Church, united together on this journey, that we will reach out to Him and find our way to the eternal glory He has promised to all those who are faithful to Him. May God bless us always, forevermore. Amen.

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