This stained glass window in St. Mary Church, Deal, which is part of Our Lady of Hope Parish, West Long Branch, depicts a sinking Peter after he had stepped outside the boat and proceeded to walk toward Jesus. In his column, Father Garry Koch notes that when Peter lost faith and began to sink, he "retreated into the past instead of courageously moving toward the future -- from the familiar to the seemingly impossible."
This stained glass window in St. Mary Church, Deal, which is part of Our Lady of Hope Parish, West Long Branch, depicts a sinking Peter after he had stepped outside the boat and proceeded to walk toward Jesus. In his column, Father Garry Koch notes that when Peter lost faith and began to sink, he "retreated into the past instead of courageously moving toward the future -- from the familiar to the seemingly impossible."
Gospel Reflection for Aug. 9, 2020, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

At one point in life or another, and often in indescribable ways, God makes himself known to each and every person. Whether it is a flash of insight, a word spoken through another person, or a specific life experience, God calls all of us to a relationship with him. It would appear, at least on the surface, however, that many if not most people either miss the opportunity or ignore it all together. We often do not recognize the encounter because we are not expecting it, but usually it seems we overlook the experience because we either do not believe it to be possible or it doesn’t happen in the way that we would expect. It is interesting to note that those who have received the extraordinary gift of a private revelation, such as St. Bernadette, St. Juan Diego or the Children at Fatima. also frequently misunderstand at first their mysterious and miraculous encounter.

We need to have hearts disposed to seeking and experiencing the Lord before we can come to apprehend the encounter itself.

In one of the most poignant moments in the Scriptures, Elijah the prophet is summoned by God to flee to Mount Horeb on the Sinai peninsula, close to the mountain where Moses encountered the burning bush. Knowing that he was about to encounter the Lord, Elijah discovers that God was to be found not in the majestic but in the simple wisp of the wind blowing past his ear. One might have thought, as Elijah expected, that God would be found in a mighty wind, or a great cloud, or clap of thunder and lightning, but instead it is in a zephyr where he finds God.

The disciples traveled with Jesus for quite a while before the events of the Gospel for this weekend unfolded. They have given up much and abandoned their livelihoods to follow him, but that doesn’t mean that they fully understood who he was. Gradually in their encounters with him, they come to realize that he is more than a prophet or even more than the expected messiah. They realize that he is the very Incarnation of God.

As they encounter Jesus walking toward them on the water on a stormy night as they were heading to the other side of the lake, their faith is at first shaken and then deepened as they come to see that they live in the presence of the Son of God.

It is Peter – emboldened and impetuous – who steps outside of the boat and begins to walk on the water toward Jesus. Recognizing the absurdity of what he was doing he lost faith and began to sink.

We learn throughout the Scriptures and through the lives of the saints that God calls us to the absurd and not to the usual. We are called outside of ourselves and not deeper into our comfort zones. When he lost faith and began to sink Peter retreated into the past instead of courageously moving toward the future – from the familiar to the seemingly impossible.

At no point does Peter ever attempt to walk on water again. But absent that experience he could not have grown deeper in his understanding of Jesus and would likely have not been courageous enough to either discern or announce his great profession of faith in Jesus that follows very shortly in the Gospel accounts.

We have the tendency to expect God to call to us in the familiar to do the familiar or the safe thing. This is seldom the case. God calls us to boldness of life, to boldness of action, to boldness of witness to the Gospel.

Elijah and Peter each show us a path to experience God in new ways and in ways that we do not normally expect. They also embolden us to live a life of faith in response to that call that is extraordinary and not ordinary. The Lord does not call us to be comfortable. Rather, he calls us to step out of the boat, even in the midst of a storm, to bear witness to faith and God’s presence in the world.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.