Readings: Genesis 37:1–4, 12–28, Romans 10:4–15 & Matthew 14:22–36
“Let us proclaim the mystery of faith!”
Those words are said by the priest during the Eucharistic Prayer every Sunday morning to introduce what is known as the ‘memorial acclamation’, when we respond together: ‘Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.’
The other place within the liturgy each Sunday where we are called to publicly express our faith is when we recite the Nicene Creed. Again the priest invites us to do so with the following words: ‘Let us together affirm the faith of the Church.’
What is the ‘mystery of faith’?
The Apostle Paul puts it so beautifully and simply in today’s passage from the letter to the Romans: ‘If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ Each Sunday we confess with our lips, as I’ve already mentioned; but do we believe in our heart?
In today’s gospel passage, the disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, and the boat is being battered by rough conditions. Jesus comes to their aid, walking on the water, and when they see him, the disciples are terrified, thinking they are seeing a ghost. Jesus tells them not to be afraid; that it is fact him, and not a ghost. Peter then says to Jesus, “If it is you, then command me to walk to you on the water.” Jesus tells Peter to come, and so he starts walking to Jesus on the water. Peter has faith; he truly believes in his heart that with the blessing of Jesus he can walk on the water.
But Matthew tells us that Peter then gets distracted by the strong wind. He gets frightened and takes his eyes off Jesus, and immediately he begins to sink. Jesus then has to reach out and rescue Peter. And Jesus says to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
I wonder; how often might we get distracted and take our eyes off Jesus? How often do we find ourselves questioning our own faith; facing moments of doubt just as Peter did? And like Peter, we probably experience those doubts during times of fear, when we are faced with a threat to our own personal safety, or to the safety of those whom we love. Perhaps this latest period of lockdown might be one of those times?
Even if we exclude the Covid 19 pandemic, we can say that it’s perhaps more challenging today, than ever before as a Christian, to keep our focus on Jesus. Life in the modern world is full of distractions; whether that be the busyness and commitments of both work life and family life, the pervasion of social media in our lives, the constant messaging of our consumerist society, or the expectations that are placed on us, either by society, or by ourselves directly. The reality is, there are many things that can cause us to take our eyes off Jesus, and then when life gets difficult or challenging, we can find ourselves struggling, like Peter, to stay afloat.
I would like to share with you now the story of Mary Slessor, who was born in 19th century Scotland. Mary’s father would spend his weekly pay check on alcohol, leaving the family to struggle to put food on the table, let alone do anything else. As a consequence, by the time she was eleven years old, Mary was working twelve-hour shifts at the local mill to earn money to keep the family fed.
For several years Mary worked in mission halls near her home in the slums of Dundee, and she dreamed of being a missionary in Calabar (Nigeria). In August of 1876 her dream came true, and she was appointed missionary to Calabar. Sailing for West Africa she found herself on a ship loaded with hundreds of barrels of whisky, which was ironic given her own family history of alcohol abuse.
‘In the years that followed in Calabar, she single-handedly converted three pagan areas by preaching the gospel, teaching the children, defending the abused, and rescuing the mistreated.’ She lived in mud huts, sleeping among crowds of local natives. She worked for forty years as a preacher, teacher, nurse, nanny and negotiator, managing to avert tribal wars, and rescuing hundreds of woman and children in the process. Mary is yet another example of someone who confessed with her lips that Jesus was Lord, and who believed in her heart that God raised Jesus from the dead.
We are probably familiar, to varying degrees, with the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis. Joseph is one of the twelve sons of Jacob, who himself was the grandson of Abraham. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, who were jealous of him because he was their father’s favourite son. Joseph’s situation goes from bad to worse when, while serving as a slave to an Egyptian official, he is falsely accused of attempted rape by the official’s wife, and is then thrown into prison, where he faces the prospect of execution.
But God has plans for Joseph, and through His divine providence, Joseph eventually finds himself as Pharaoh’s ‘right-hand man’, second only to Pharaoh in terms of power and authority in Egypt. And through Joseph, the nation of Israel eventually comes to be in Egypt, where of course, much later, it is led out of slavery by Moses. All of this, is the result of God’s divine providence; God’s plan for creation and humankind. Of course none of us are privy to the details of God’s plan. We are required to have faith; to trust in God’s plan, even if at times, it seems that God has deserted us.
One of my spiritual readings from last week, was from a book titled ‘You are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living’ by Henri Nouwen, the Dutch Roman Catholic priest and spiritual writer. I would like to read it for you in full now.
The world in which we live today and about whose suffering we know so much seems more than ever a world from which Christ has withdrawn himself. How can I believe that in this world we are constantly being prepared to receive the Spirit? Still, I think that this is exactly the message of hope. God has not withdrawn himself. He sent his Son to share our human condition and the Son sent us his Spirit to lead us into the intimacy of his divine life. It is in the midst of the chaotic suffering of humanity that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love, makes himself visible. But can we recognise his presence?
Can we recognise the presence of God in our own lives? Can we trust in Him, without doubt, and believe that with God, anything is possible?