August 13, 2023
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Matthew 14:22–23
Our Gospel today presents us with two different images to ponder. The first one is recorded above, and the second one is the story of Jesus walking on the water. In the second story, the disciples were rowing against the wind and waves in the early morning before the sun rose. Jesus appeared to them walking on the water, and they were frightened. Jesus confronts the fear they experience and calls Peter to walk on the water as a sign of his faith in Him. Peter begins to walk on water, and then in fear, he begins to sink. He cries out to Jesus Who catches Him and then gently rebukes Peter for his lack of faith.
It is helpful to understand the first image in this Gospel passage as the context for the second. In this first image, we see Jesus dismissing the crowds after feeding the five thousand and going up a mountain to pray all alone. Though Jesus was always in perfect union with the Father and, therefore, had no need for prayer, He prayed nonetheless because it was His human expression of the deep union He had with His Father. As He prayed, He also set forth an example to all who would follow Him, teaching them by His example about the importance of private prayer. The primary lesson He taught on this occasion was that prayer is the remote preparation we need so as to overcome all apparent obstacles in life and to confront fear with perfect faith.
First, the obvious “obstacle” Jesus overcame through His prayer was symbolized by His walking on the stormy sea. No one walks on water. It’s physically impossible. But that’s the point. When we make our life of personal prayer a priority, God will lead us to accomplish that which appears to us to be impossible. It might not be walking on water literally, but His walking on water after spending the night in prayer is symbolic of every apparent impossibility we face in life. The lesson is that if God wills it, nothing is impossible. We will know that if we make personal prayer our first priority.
A second obstacle that Jesus confronts is fear. Fear is paralyzing and results in us “sinking” when life becomes difficult. Again, personal prayer is the necessary preparation for overcoming fear. What’s interesting is that we have two witnesses of prayer. First is Jesus’ witness. He prayed because it was good and right to pray. The second is Peter. He prayed when he started to sink. He said, “Lord, save me!” This is the prayer of one who failed to have faith and prayed out of a present need rather than out of pure love of God. Too often, Peter exemplifies the prayer life that many Christians have. We often wait to pray until we need help and are sinking. But what if Peter had also spent the night in prayer simply out of love of God? What if he had just finished praying all night when he was invited to walk on water? Perhaps then he would have easily walked to Jesus and would not have given into fear.
Reflect, today, upon making your life of prayer the number-one priority in your life. Maybe you have many responsibilities in life. Nothing is more important than praying—and not only when you feel trapped or feel like you are sinking. Instead, we must all establish an unbreakable habit of prayer to God for the singular reason that it is good and right to do so. The fruit of such a life of prayer is that no matter what obstacle comes our way, we will have the faith we need to follow every command of our Lord, overcoming even that which appears to be impossible.
My prayerful Lord, You spent the night in prayer to Your Father not because You needed help, but because of Your love. Your prayer was an expression of that love and was a natural requirement of it. Please help me to also establish an unbreakable habit of prayer so that my love for You will remain strong and so that I can follow You through every apparent obstacle in life. Jesus, I trust in You