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Jesus is the peace at the heart of our fearfulness

Nineteenth Sunday of Lent: 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a; Ps 85; Rm 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33

By on Friday, 5 August 2011

“I will hear what the Lord God has to say, a voice that speaks of peace. His help is near for those who fear him, and his glory will dwell in our land.” The psalmist prays with an unshakeable faith in the God who hears our prayers, the God who responds with his glory and peace. Sadly, we cannot always pray with the same equanimity, especially when we are overwhelmed with the anxieties and stresses that come to every life.

The scriptures at this Sunday’s Mass reassure us that God reveals himself to us, not in spite of our anxieties but at their very heart. Elijah on Mount Horeb was at the point of despair. He had confronted the evil of Israel’s idolatrous kingdom at Mount Carmel. His victory there had been short-lived, serving only to bring down on his head the hatred of Queen Jezebel. Abandoned and alone, Elijah had fled into the wilderness. His fighting spirit had been finally vanquished. The forces opposing him were too threatening. Now he longed only for death. The Elijah who had taken refuge in mount Horeb’s cave had been brought to the darkest moment in his ministry.

It is against this background that we should consider the manner in which the God of Israel revealed himself to his prophet. Almost certainly the prophet had longed for some divine intervention that would destroy the enemies of Israel’s faith. This had not happened. Instead, Elijah was taken to the mouth of the cave, there to witness the usual symbols of divine power. The Lord was not in the mighty wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire. Finally, there came the sound of a gentle breeze, and the Lord was in that still and gentle breeze.

It is only natural, especially when we are anxious and afraid, to long for some dramatic change of circumstances that will deliver us from our plight. Our thoughts are naturally dominated by the forces that threaten to overwhelm us. Elijah was brought to realise that at the heart of his fearfulness, hidden beyond the wind, fire and earthquake, was the stillness for which he longed. When we give time to prayer, the Spirit stills our hearts, disarming our noisy anxiety. Then, and only then, do we begin to experience a peace that is beyond every fear.

The Gospel reveals Jesus as the peace at the heart of our fearfulness. The evangelist set the scene with a deliberate contrast between Jesus at prayer and his disciples struggling with the storm. Jesus had been at peace in prayer while his disciples were consumed with the immediacy of wind and waves. From this prayerful communion with the Father Jesus had entered, and subdued, the power of the storm. Peter had longed to enter into the peace that Jesus had brought, but ultimately, as his fear took over, he had begun to sink.

Only when Jesus was with them in the boat did the wind drop. The divinity of Jesus shines through this narrative, revealing him as both Messiah and Lord of creation. On a personal level it invites us to believe that we, like the disciples receiving Jesus into the boat, can never be overwhelmed by the storms that threaten. When Peter had begun to sink he had cried out to his Lord. Like Elijah before him, he had been answered with a peace hidden in the heart of the storm.