Sunday, August 14, 2011


Readings for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (from last Sunday!)

We as human beings tend to have a lot of expectations.

We expect to have the perfect childhood. To graduate from high school and go to college. To get a great job that pays a lot but doesn't expect too much from you. To get married and raise a family.

Sometimes, Prince Charming looks like Hugh Dancy!
I know that when I started college, I expected to meet my Prince Charming at school and be married by the ripe old age of 22... maybe 23. When I actually reached that ripe old age, I realized that not only was I in no way ready to be married, but that my plans from four years before were completely laughable!

But then again, it has been said that if you want to make God laugh, all you have to do is tell Him your plans.

I also expected to be able to easily find a job in my field after obtaining a graduate degree. We see how well that's turned out so far.

Again, ha ha. I can hear you having a good chuckle, God!

Itty, bitty living space!
We not only have expectations about how our lives will turn out, but how God will be a part of our lives. We have expectations of where to find God and what He will do for us. It's as if sometimes we expect to rub the magic lamp and have God grant us three wishes!

The readings this past Sunday allude to these expectations that we have about God. We first see Elijah from 1 Kings waiting for God as He passes by on a mountain. Elijah expects to hear God in the strong wind, the earthquake, and the fire that threaten to crush the mountain. We can only imagine Elijah's surprise when he doesn't find God in these manifestations of power, but instead hears God in the "tiny whispering sound." (1 Kings 19:12)

In the Gospel, we encounter Matthew's account of walking on water. Peter and the disciples are caught in a terrible storm, and they see Jesus walking towards them on the water. They are afraid, but Jesus cries out for them to take courage. Peter, in his usual boldness, asks Jesus to command him to come to him on the water, and he begins to walk towards Jesus with complete faith. Yet, when he sees how strong the wind blows, he starts to doubt, and as he sinks, he cries out to Jesus to save him. Jesus can only say, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:31)

I'm sure the disciples were a bit shocked to see Jesus walking towards them on the water. They never expected to see something so extraordinary. In doing this, Jesus calls them to faith, or as Pope Benedict XVI has said, Christ shows them what happens when "something meets us that is greater than anything we can think of for ourselves."

"Jesus, save me!"
Peter expected the walk on water to be a breeze (compared to that gusty wind!) because he completely trusted in Christ. In an unfallen world, complete trust in God would be easy. However, Peter failed to account for his own human weaknesses, letting himself get in the way of fulfilling his expectations for that journey across the water.

I'm sure there were many thoughts running through his mind as he started to sink, but I can bet one of them was some sort of mental anguish with God: "But I did what you commanded, I trusted you and believed, I expected not to sink!" What Peter failed to see was that it wasn't his expectation in God that failed to deliver - it was his own failures that caused him to sink. When we, like Peter, place our complete trust in God, only to see how strong the wind is, we become frightened and falter. We like to place the blame on God, and how He failed to "rise" to our lofty expectations, when it is in fact our own pride and fear that stands in the way. Dom Lepori explains this much more eloquently than I ever could:
To the amazement of his friends, Peter climbed over the side of the boat. Before his feet even touched the water, he knew that it was really Jesus out there waiting for him... Jesus was not moving. Was he close? Was he far away? It was impossible to tell. It was as if the distance between him and the Lord varied according to the thoughts and feelings of his heart. And just when Simon started to feel proud of what he was doing, a gust of wind blew in between him and Jesus, and somehow in that moment he lost sight of the Master. Far from the boat, without Jesus in view, he suddenly found himself suspended above the restless lake. The only thing he could do was sink. And in fact, he felt himself plunge down, not only into the water, but also into the dark thoughts and doubts that had tormented him all night long. His anguish was complete: he realized that he was sinking not out of weakness but out of pride and that death would not seal his powerlessness but his rebellion.
There is nothing wrong with expecting God to take care of all of our needs, and trusting in His will. Yet, it is wrong to have the expectation that things will always go smoothly and according to (our own) plan. When we let these prideful expectations cloud our view, the distance between ourselves and Christ grows larger. Our hearts no longer purely seek him but instead are plagued with fear when things go awry, doubt in how things will turn out, and pride when our expectations give us a feeling of control.

This is something that I have been struggling with in my own life over the past few months. I had come to expect everything to start to fall into place, and when it didn't, I let my trust in God falter. As I've been slowly sinking into the abyss, I continue to ask God where He has been all this time, instead of evaluating my own actions.

The good news is that this gospel reading doesn't end with Peter drowning, but with Jesus reaching out his hand to save him from the crashing waves. All Peter had to do was ask for help, and he received Jesus' hand and forgiveness. Unfortunately, it's not always as easy as simply asking for God's help. We also have to combine this with trust in Him, a recognition of our own failures, and an acceptance of HIs expectations for us. Sometimes it isn't easy to see or hear God, but He can always be found in the tiniest whisper in the wind, with his hand reaching out to us from the darkness, begging us to come back home to His love.


  1. I love this interpretation of the readings this Sunday! They hit me pretty much square in the brain, as well!

    "The good news is that this gospel reading doesn't end with Peter drowning, but with Jesus reaching out his hand to save him from the crashing waves."

  2. This is a wonderful post, Liesl! C.S. Lewis said something to that same effect: if you want God to laugh, tell him your plans! Also hit on the noggin, many thanks!

  3. Thanks for the citation on that quote - I couldn't figure out who said it first!


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