Sunday, July 13, 2014
WALKING ON WATER
Here's a homily I gave at a wedding Saturday. We used a special reading -- Peter walking on the water.
Beth and Alex,
You obviously gave some serious thought to the choice of readings for your wedding ceremony. I hope that the Lord will give me a few words to share with you to unpack some of the riches in those scriptures.
We just heard the gospel story of Jesus walking toward his disciples on the sea. Peter says to the Lord, “If it’s truly you, then tell me to come to you on the water.”
There’s an interesting dynamic here between Peter and Jesus: Jesus is a rabbi, who has collected followers who want to imitate him.
In those days the students would try to imitate their rabbi in everything: copying his every move – the way he stood, the way he sat down, the way he read the scriptures. It sometimes got comical as they copied the way he held his fork. The goal, the ideal was to do what your rabbi did.
So now we have Peter sitting in the storm-tossed boat when suddenly his rabbi, Jesus, comes toward him walking on the waves. It’s not long before the impulsive Peter says to himself, “Hey, if my rabbi is walking on water then I want to walk on the water too!”
This is why he says to Jesus, “Lord if it is you, tell me to come to you.” And he steps out in faith to begin imitating his rabbi by walking on the waves.
This afternoon, Alex and Beth, you are stepping out in faith onto the stormy waves, wanting to imitate your teacher, Jesus, in his way of LOVING.
You chose the first reading, from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans because it offers some specific details of how this love works in practice. Here are just a few phrases from that passage:
· do not be haughty but associate with the lowly;
· do not be wise in your own estimation.
This is what Jesus our Rabbi did all the time, and like good disciples, we want to imitate him
So, Beth and Alex, if you truly want to imitate your Teacher’s example the way Peter did, then each of you has to step out of the seeming security of your own individual boat, your separate lives and start walking on the waves together, holding on to each other for support.
You are both mature enough to know the sort of waves you’re going to encounter, and the kind of stormy winds that can weaken your resolve and threaten your promise to love each other with Christ’s self-sacrificing love. You know about the waves that will try to swamp your project of living together a life of loving and serving others by your married love.
Saint Peter could see the waves and feel the wind before he stepped out of the boat that evening. So you and all of us can learn something from his experience.
I’d like to return to our Gospel text for a moment: Peter has jumped out of the boat and started walking on the waves just like his rabbi. So far so good. Then, we remember, Peter started looking around and saw the height of the waves and felt the fierce wind, and he began to sink. I want to concentrate for a moment on what Jesus says to Peter as he reaches down and lifts him to safety: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt.”
In the original Greek text, the word for “doubt” is distazo. It’s made up of two elements: DI, meaning “two,” and STASIS, meaning “to stand.” So when Jesus asks peter, “Why did you doubt?” He is asking literally, “Why are you standing in two places at the same time?”
You see, Peter believed that Jesus had the power to let him walk on water BUT he also believed that human beings cannot walk on water. Believing both things at the same time, he “doubted.” And we see what happened: he started to sink.
Peter is like all of us here today: his faith, like our own, is often mixed with doubt, his strength, like ours, is often mixed with human weakness, so that when the trials come, our faith can start to waiver and we, like Peter the greatest of the apostles, can start to sink!
Well, Alex and Beth, what’s to keep your faith strong as you start your walk on the water? The love songs tell you that you’ve got each other, that you have your mutual love to strengthen you. More importantly, our Christian faith tells you that you can count on Jesus that rock that stands above the waves.
And surely you, like Peter, believe Jesus is the answer.
But I would like to return to that first reading for a moment and let St. Paul offer some crucial advice. Listen to his words:
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
“Do not conform yourselves to this age.” What does this mean?
If you conform yourself to this age, then you will put your trust in created things the world prizes: possessions, power, and prestige;
rely on yourself alone, with no reference to God; and you will put your own wants and needs first.
Are you going to rely on Jesus and at the same time conform yourselves to this age? That’s standing in two places at once. You can easily imagine how quickly your marriage will start to sink into the stormy waves. Marriages don’t last when you are standing in two places at once. You have to choose: Selfishness or selflessness? Me first or others first?
Alex and Beth, we are here this afternoon to be with you as you step out of the boat together. We are all in a great position to encourage you: First because we love you, of course, and second because everyone here know what it’s like to have the waves lapping at their knees and then their waist. All of us have to struggle with standing in two places at once.
So, when those stormy times come, and you know they will, and you start to feel yourself sinking in the sea, remember that Jesus is there to lift you up when you pray. And remember this day, and all of the people who came to watch you jump out of the boat together. All of us here know what it feels like to have the water come up past our knees, and we promise to be there for you. We’ve got your back.
And finally, we are trusting that you two, strengthened by the special graces of this marriage sacrament, will be there for us as well.