19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
It is said, “Little faith can cause fear; much faith ends all fear. Little faith can cause superstition; much faith ends all superstition.” People who have little faith are easily overcome or defeated by fear. They believe in so many superstitions – including ghosts –and they are even paralyzed by them. On the other hand, people who have much faith can easily overcome fear. They would not allow superstitions to get hold of them; they would not allow ‘ghosts’ to scare them to death.
We could say that the disciples, in today’s gospel, belonged to the first category. We have heard how one evening, while the disciples were on the boat they saw somebody coming toward them – walking on the water. But they did not recognize that it was Jesus. They were overcome with fear – due to their “little faith.” So, instead of seeing and recognizing Jesus, they saw a ghost. Their little faith made them see ghost where there was no ghost.
The theme of fear is further dramatized in the story of Peter. Peter was doing fine, even walking on the water toward Jesus, until he began noticing how strong the wind was. In other words, when Peter stopped trusting in Jesus and focused his attention to the winds and the waves, his trouble started – he began sinking.
Today’s gospel message for us is this: If we are to follow Jesus across the stormy sea of life, we must keep our eyes firmly fixed on him. We must open our hearts to recognize his presence. We must not disregard his works and actions for us. We must not fail to notice when and how he comes to us. We must not ignore his voice when he speaks with us. We must not forget his faithful love: that he will not forsake or abandon us, that he is and will be with us always. In other words, we must not lose sight of his abiding presence in our life.
When we take our focus away from the Lord Jesus, when we fix our eyes on other things, when we concentrate on the waves and storms of life, when we dwell too much on our problems and troubles, on our hardships and difficulties, on our struggles and burdens…when we do that, we begin to sink. When we concentrate on our difficult circumstances and forget to confidently lift them up to the Lord, we, too, sink in frustration and despair.
Jesus says, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” This is what Jesus tells his disciples in today’s gospel. And this is what he is telling us too. Let us admit it: There is so much fear in us. And our fear makes us see ‘ghosts’, preventing us from recognizing Jesus.
An English poet said, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” We can also say: “If problems come, can Jesus be far behind?” The Lord will certainly be just around, maybe in a form that we do not recognize, or even in a form that frightens us. We fear “the ghost of poverty” but it might be Jesus teaching us to trust in God’s providence. We fear “the ghost of financial problem” but it might be Jesus drawing our attention to more important things we take for granted. We fear “the ghost of failure” but it might be Jesus pointing to God’s greater plan for us. We fear “the ghost of loneliness” but it might be Jesus giving us the opportunity to be alone with him. We fear “the ghost of sickness” but it might be Jesus giving us the privilege to share in his passion and cross. We fear “the ghost of death” but it is Jesus welcoming us to our heavenly home.
One night, Therese of Lisieux coughed heavily. She felt something come out of her mouth. When she looked at it, she recognized it was blood, a sign of serious illness. But instead of getting afraid, she rejoiced in the realization that Jesus, her Bridegroom, was near.
Jesus is always with us, actively present in our lives. So, when troubles come, hear the Lord speak, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Let us end with a prayer: Lord, as I face the waves and storms of life, I am terribly afraid. You know my struggles in my daily life. When life gets to be too much, when the going gets tough and rough, make Your abiding presence felt and allow me to come to You. Calm my feelings and emotions, assuage my fears and anxieties, and open my heart to Your peace. Help me to rest in Your love and to trust in Your protection. In Your name, I pray, Jesus. Amen.