Sunday, 9 August 2020 : Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday all of us are presented with the reminders that God has always been faithful and He will always be by our side no matter what, and although we may not perceive it or realise it, but the fact is that God is ever present in our lives and as we heard last Sunday from the words of St. Paul, ‘Who can separate us from the love of God?’ And therefore this is why we must all realise just how fortunate we are to be God’s beloved people.

Unfortunately, many of us often do not realise this truth, and we are often ignorant of the rich and wonderful love that He has given us all these while. The Lord has always been patient in loving us, but too often, we are too preoccupied and busy, and especially we are often blinded by our fears and uncertainties, our doubts and lack of strong faith and trust in God. And that is why we have often failed to recognise God when He had been there for us, and with us all these while.

In our first reading today, we heard of the story of the moment when the prophet Elijah came to meet with the Lord at Mount Horeb, after a long journey of forty days and forty nights from the land of Israel. At that time, for the context, the prophet Elijah had laboured among the people of the northern kingdom of Israel for some time, and went up against the king Ahab of Israel, his wicked queen Jezebel, and the many priests of Baal who all pushed for the worship of the pagan idols and gods.

The prophet Elijah stood alone in his struggle against the many enemies he had, and he often had to suffer and endure difficulties throughout all the years of his ministry, and even after he showed the might of God by the miracle of the fire on Mount Carmel, in which he humiliated the four hundred and fifty priests of Baal by their failure to prove the existence of the false god Baal, he was then hunted and persecuted especially by Jezebel who despised him and wanted him dead.

Elijah chose to flee into the wilderness and escape in hiding from the persecutions and the threats to his life. And the Lord for a time gave him food and water to drink, to give him the strength and called him to His mountain in the desert, and when he reached the mountain of God, as we heard in our first reading today, the Lord revealed Himself before Elijah, and this began with a great and mighty windstorm that came before the Lord, a great earthquake and then a great fire, and yet all of these were not where the Lord was.

Instead, God came after all of these mighty conflagrations and events, as a gentle breeze, or what some translations call as a ‘great silence’. The Lord came to Elijah in a moment of quietness, stillness and silence, as a reminder for us all, that first of all, amidst all the great challenges, trials, difficulties and ‘noise’ of this world, in the end, we will still find God in our midst in the depth of the silence of our hearts. Had Elijah fled from the great windstorm, the earthquake and the fire, he would not have perceived God’s presence.

This is echoed in what we heard in our Gospel passage today, in which we heard of the miraculous appearance of Jesus walking on the water in the middle of a great storm, with very strong winds and waves striking against the boat which the disciples were travelling in. The Lord was not with them because He sent the disciples ahead of Him while He went to pray alone to the Father in the mountains by Himself. And it was then that the Lord appeared to the disciples in the middle of the storm.

Although the disciples had seen all the miracles that the Lord had performed up to then, performing the impossible tasks of healing those who were sick, opening the eyes of the blind, loosening the tongue of the mute, opening the ears of the deaf, casting out demons and evil spirits from the possessed, and even raising up those who had been dead back into life, and heard all the words of wonder and wisdom that He had taught all of them, they still did not have firm faith in Him.

That was why they were very afraid when they saw Him in the middle of the storm, thinking that they had seen a ghost. They thought of this because they did not truly trust the Lord yet with all of their hearts and minds, and they still had those fears and uncertainties, probably thinking that as they feared for their lives because of the storm, they might have hallucinated and saw visions that were not there, and that was why, they thought they had seen a ghost. Indeed, when someone was about to die or experience similar kind of near-death encounters, history had shown that people could act erratically or hallucinate.

But in this case, it was truly the Lord Who appeared before them, walking on the water towards the disciples’ boats. He said to them all, “Do not be afraid! It is I!” And this is exactly what would also happen later when the disciples again saw the Lord suddenly appearing before them just after His Resurrection. Again that time, they thought that they had seen a ghost, but the Lord again told them, “Do not be afraid! It is I!” and showed them that He was not a ghost by eating before them, for ghost had no physical body and could not have eaten.

In both occasions, as we can see from our viewpoint of those who looked back into history, we see the doubt and fears in the hearts of the disciples and the uncertainties in their minds that kept them and prevented them from truly having a complete faith in God. They doubted and thought that, ‘No, the Lord could not have done that, or that could not be really Him, or how can He be there? I thought I was all alone in this suffering’ among other thoughts possibly running through their minds.

And St. Peter showed this sentiment further when he asked of the Lord, that if that was really Him, that He would enable him to walk on the water just as He did, and that he could come to Him through the water safely. St. Peter in this sense had more faith in the Lord because he still wanted to try and trusted in Him enough to want to walk on the water. And as he did miraculously walk in the water, it was later then the waves and the wind that returned the fear in his heart and mind, and as his resolve faltered he began to sink.

Yet the Lord reached out to St. Peter and helped him up, after a light rebuke of his still lacking in complete faith, to show that first of all, again, God will never abandon His beloved ones, all of us to fall and suffer alone in the darkness. He will lift us up, strengthen us, rescue us and empower us. This is what He had also done with the prophet Elijah from earlier on, when the prophet was also despairing over the toughness of the challenges of his work and ministry, how he was hated and persecuted, and even had his life clearly threatened.

The Lord reassured and strengthened Elijah, and gave him a new command, to return to the land of Israel and follow in whatever He would command him to do, to continue in reaching out to the stubborn people of the northern kingdom and call more of them back to be reconciled with God. And the Lord also reassured St. Peter and the disciples, both on the occasion in the middle of the storm, as well as at His appearance just after His Resurrection, that He was always with them, guided them along the way, and although they might have been shaken in faith, but He would never abandon them, and sent them to carry out His will, to spread the Good News to all people.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord wants us all to remember through all of these that even in our darkest moments, when we think we are all alone and without hope, He is still there for us, and will help us to get out of our troubles and trials. However, we need to realise just how the fears, uncertainties, doubts and all these obstacles in our hearts and minds often keep us from seeking the Lord and working with Him to get on the right path, and we need to overcome these, and grow in faith that we may trust the Lord ever more and put our faith more in Him.

This year, more than ever, our faith and resolve had been tested to the maximum and even beyond by all that had happened. Not only that we have this terrible pandemic that still continues on claiming lives and causing many more to suffer in the hospitals, but all the collateral damages it caused to the economy by severe and almost complete disruption to the economy, supply lines and transportation, travel and hospitality industry, businesses and others caused so many among us to lose our source of income through unemployment or through severe pay cuts or pay freeze, and many others also suffer mentally from the combinations of these issues.

Amidst all these challenges and troubles, do we still have faith in God? Do we even still have hope in our hearts? Or have we instead been filled with fear and doubt, uncertainties and concerns? As I said earlier, many of us are inundated with all these obstacles that prevented us from appreciating and knowing just how close God is to us, and how He has always been with us, even through these most difficult moments of our lives. Many of us continued to fear and worry for the days to come, because our faith in God is not strong, and we allow the devil to sow even more fear within our hearts, that led us to act irrationally and selfishly, that inadvertently led to even more fear and suffering.

Take for example, the actions of many people who wanted to take care of themselves first amidst these terrible problems, as we saw people who tried to hoard essential goods for themselves, or important items like masks and gloves, and also those who allow their fear to turn into anger, and lash out on others, being uncaring and even violent when everyone are supposed to be helping one another in overcoming these difficult situations together. We must not allow fear, uncertainty, all the ‘storms’ and ‘waves’ in our lives from distracting us and being obstacles in our trust in the Lord’s providence.

Instead, brothers and sisters, as Christians all of us are called to be the beacons of God’s light and hope, His guiding light and strength, that through us, our words and actions, in how we interact with one another, we should help one another, awaken the hope in those who have been despairing and without hope. Let us all remind one another that God is always with us, ever faithful to the Covenant that He has established with us, and that in the end, all those who remain faithful in God will rejoice.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all remember that we are all God’s beloved people, the descendants of the holy patriarchs and all those holy men and women, saints of God and more, as St. Paul had said, and we will always be beloved by God. Let us all be inspired and strengthened, encouraged that God will lead us and He has called us to do His will. Let us all glorify Him by our deeds in life, and let us bring hope and light to this darkened and suffering world. May God bless us all and our good endeavours, now and always. Amen.

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