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Ave Maria!

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany celebrated after Pentecost--3 November AD 2013

“What manner of man is this, for even the wind and the sea obey Him?”[1]

Ordinary of the Mass
Latin Text
English Text

    There is a relationship between the Sundays after Epiphany and those after Pentecost.  If Easter comes early, a few of the Sundays after Epiphany must be omitted—but then there is some extra time before Advent, so the Masses that were omitted are added back toward the end of the liturgical year.  Actually, it is the collects, Epistles, and Gospels that are added back.  If you look in your missal you will see that all of these Sundays have the same chants as the Last Sunday after Pentecost.  Today these readings added back are from the fourth Sunday after Epiphany.

    Today’s Gospel picks up almost where it left off on the third Sunday after Epiphany, in Saint Matthew’s eighth chapter, when our Lord healed the Centurion’s servant, and compared the faith of that Roman officer to many of the “children of the kingdom” who would not feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  There was a brief stop at the home of Peter, where our Lord cured his ailing mother-in-law, and, later that evening, healed a large number of the possessed and the sick.

    As our Lord made his exit, he was stopped by a scribe – a lawyer of the Mosaic law – who wanted to go along with Him.  Our Lord was frank with Him:  “The foxes have dens, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere even to lay His head.”  Another man, already a disciple, who asked for time to go and bury his father, received the classic answer: “let the dead bury the dead.”[2]  There is an air of urgency in our Lord’s voice – time is short – some divinely appointed deadline begins to loom in the unspecified future.

    They got on a boat and left Capharnaum for the “other side” of the Sea of Galilee;  in fact they were to cross its longest dimension.  But among the Apostles we know there are at least four experienced fishermen: Peter, Andrew, James, and John—there were not yet twelve of them—and virtually all of them were from somewhere around the sea.  The Gospel doesn’t say, but it is easy to imagine Peter taking charge of the voyage, and telling Jesus, who was from the hill country of Nazareth to just go below and relax— “I’ll take care of it;  we’ll let you know when we get there;  nothin’ to worry about.”  When Jesus went to sleep, there was probably a good deal of discussion among the Apostles about the things they had seen in the past weeks and days since their calling to become “fishers of men.”

    They were a ways out into the deep when, all of a sudden, the wind picked up, and began to remind them how frail a craft they were in when compared with the crashing of the waves.  If we use our imagination once again, perhaps it is the young John who suggests to Peter that: “Maybe we ought to wake Jesus, and see what He wants us to do?”  To which Peter might have replied:  “Jesus is a carpenter … and a great preacher … but we’re the sailors here.”  (The ladies here understand this: it is almost as though John had told Peter to stop and ask for “directions.”)  But it didn’t take very long before these experienced fishermen began to realize that they were in trouble beyond their abilities to deal with it.  “Lord! Save us! We are perishing!

    “And He rebuked the wind, and there was a great calm.”  Imagine that … you can rebuke a man who intends to harm you; you can threaten him, or appeal to his mercy, or even reason with him … sometimes you can even get an animal to back down if you make enough noise or wave a big enough stick.  But Jesus rebuked the waves and got the wind to back down!  In a sense, this was more than just healing a few sick people – physicians healed the sick often enough – but this was the ability to command the overpowering forces of nature:  the wind, the waves, the rain, maybe even some lightning!  “What manner of man is this that such things obey him?”

        At was a sufficient demonstration of divine power that, on a later, similar occasion, when the Apostles were alone in the boat, and Jesus came to them walking upon the water, our impetuous Peter asked Jesus for an invitation to join Him in His walk.  And of course, we know that Peter did walk upon the water—at least until he began to think about what he was doing—and faith gave way to fear—when, of course, Peter began to sink.  When Jesus calmed the water on that occasion, it seems to have dawned on Peter and the others – as it had never dawned on them before – “Truly, Thou art the Son of God!”[3]

    In commenting on this Gospel, the fifth century doctor, Saint Cyril of Alexandria reminds us that there are at least two ways in which we can interpret these great miracles of our Lord.[4]  In one way, we should be inspired with holy fear.  He reminds us that in the Old Testament, through the Prophet Jeremias, God reproved the almost universal corruption of Jerusalem:

    Will you not fear Me, asks the Lord?: and will you not repent at My presence?  I have set bounds of the sea, … and the waves shall toss themselves, and shall not prevail:  they shall swell, and shall not pass over it.

    But the heart of My people has become hard of belief, and provoking, and they have revolted and gone away.  And they have not said in their heart: “Let us fear the Lord our God, who giveth us the early and the latter rain in due season: who preserves for us the fullness of the harvest.”

    Among My people are found wicked men, that lie in wait, setting snares and traps to catch men.… their houses are full of deceit … they have most wickedly transgressed my words.  Shall I not visit for these things, saith the Lord? or shall not my soul take revenge on such a nation?

    The prophets prophesied falsehood, and the priests clapped their hands: and my people loved such things…. Will you not fear Me, asks the Lord?: and will you not repent at My presence?[5]

    We ought to be terrified by the notion that all of our sins take place in the presence of God Himself.  God sees everything that we do.

    But Saint Cyril closes on a hopeful note:

    The sea is a figure of the visible world, and the Church is the little ship.  And the rowers are the Just, who because they have received the Faith, have Christ always present with them.

    The Church is assailed by violent storms, and the waves of many persecutions beat against the Holy Bark.  And countless trials agitate It.  The cruelty of unclean spirits rages against It, and fills It with the fear of death.

    But Christ is among His chosen servants.  And while in His holy wisdom He permits them to suffer persecution, and He seems to sleep – when the storm is at its fiercest and we can endure it no longer … He will awaken without delay and take away all our fear … and He will change our mourning into the joy of a shining and untroubled sky.

    He averts not His face from those who trust in Him.

    Remarkable, isn’t it?  The presence of God can—and should be—terrifying to those who act wickedly, and preach falsehood, and judge unjustly.  But that very same presence can change “mourning into joy” for those “who love one another” and keep His Commandments.  Our Lord’s miracle, today, is a wonderful consolation in these troubled times, when our very civilization seems to be falling around us.  Let it be for us a consolation, pray that for none of us it will be a justifiable warning.

“God averts not His face from those who trust in Him.”


NOTES:

[1]   Gospel:  Matthew viii: 23-27.

[2]   Ibid., 14-22.

[3]   Matthew xiv: 22-33.

[4]   Homily 6 on Saint Matthew,

[5]   Jeremias v: 22-31.

 


 


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