How do you respond to adversity when you are powerless to do anything about it? This is the question raised – and answered – by the Gospel for today (August 3rd). It is the familiar narrative of Jesus rescuing his disciples, who were caught in a terrible storm on the sea (cf. Matthew 14:22-36). The disciples are terrified; in the face of crisis they panic. Jesus walks on the sea to reach them. He is unmoved by the waves. The Lord seeks to calm them by the simple assurance that it is he whom they see, that he is with them. Once he steps into the boat with them, the storm ceases and they are safe. The disciples bow down to him in recognition that he is the Son of God.
In the middle of the narrative, Peter says: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you across the water.” The Lord did so and Peter stepped out of the boat. Whenever I read this account I wonder if I could have done that. Could I have stepped out of the boat into the raging sea? Whenever we find ourselves in the midst of adversity beyond our control, that is precisely what Jesus asks us to do. There are basically two possible responses to crisis: fear or faith. In this narrative we are taught precisely what faith means: recognition of our powerlessness, placing our trust in the unlimited power of Christ, who loves us, following where he leads and believing that he will bring about the miracle that saves us. Notice that Peter actually asked the Lord to command him to get out of the boat. At first read it would seem that Peter was rather more bold than intelligent, but further reflection uncovers something important in his request. Placing our faith in the unlimited power of Christ can at times mean taking steps that we would rather not take, that might seem fraught with danger or difficulty. The key is to take them with Christ, confident in his presence and love, and keeping our eyes fixed more on him than on the adversity.
We don’t like to be powerless; we prefer to be in control. In so many ways control is an illusion that evaporates in the face of hardship and leaves us feeling terrified. What the disciples experienced in the storm on the sea is repeated in our own lives in a variety of ways. A faith that still doubts is what Jesus calls “little faith”. Do we doubt the love of the Lord and his power, even as we profess our belief in him? The answer to this becomes clear in the way we respond to adversity. An initial response of fear or worry can be natural enough, but do we choose to remain in the fear? Jesus summons us to the faith that decides to place all of our confidence in his power and love, which are real, and not in the illusion of our own control. By turning to him and taking the steps he asks us in love to take, we put our faith in action and discover anew why Jesus is the reason for our hope.