Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
How did you encounter Christ? This was a common question when I was a seminarian when we were asked about our vocation story. I was amazed when some seminarians told their story to hear that they had encountered Christ in a sort of spectacular way. Some of them had a vivid life-changing experience that would be comparable to that of St Paul’s conversion. Some would say that their lives were such a mess that it all changed when they went to a church and prayed and felt the presence of Christ very vividly. Some of the seminarians were even converts from Protestantism and it was because their encounter of Jesus through the Catholic faith was so intense that some of them decided to enter the seminary and become priests. However, for me, it was a little different. It was like a small flickering flame from a candle that steadily grew within me until it subtly took over my life.
In the first reading for today and in the Gospel, the prophet Elijah and Peter encountered God in different ways. In the first reading, Elijah received a message from God that he would be passing by and Elijah should come outside of the cave where he sought refuge. Elijah felt so many different natural phenomena, like the heavy wind, the earthquake and the fire. But Elijah knew that the Lord was not in those, then there was a tiny whispering sound, Elijah knew that the Lord was there so he hid his face with a cloak.
For many of us, we usually seek many supernatural phenomena in order to be convinced that there is a God. We are drawn with amazement to supernatural phenomenon like the dancing sun, or statues of the Virgin Mary with tears running from her eyes or extraordinary healing of terminally ill people. And I do admit that these things draw a lot of people closer to God. But we shouldn’t forget that there are also little things in which God also manifests himself and tries to draw us closer to him. The beauty of creation for example. When I was in New Zealand, this is the closest encounter I had seeing the majesty of God’s creation. That’s why New Zealand is called “God’s Zone” for this reason. Whenever we encounter the kindness of another person like giving back your wallet after it has unknowingly fallen out of your pocket. Or receiving a visit from a friend that you haven’t seen for a long time. These are manifestations of God’s presence in our lives.
In the Gospel for today, Peter encountered Jesus in a very vivid way. When Peter starts sinking, he needs to be saved.
A few years ago, I saw a special on the Discovery Channel, an attempt by world renowned tight-rope artist Nik Wallenda. He crossed a gorge of about 1,400 feet at the Grand Canyon. He did it with only his skill and a long pole to balance him. In the attempt, there were no safety nets to catch him and he wasn’t wearing a harness just in case he slipped. And right throughout the attempt, he was praying and praising God and talking to his team in the whole 22 minutes of this record-breaking attempt. And he made it, to the delight of his wife and family and his support crew. And all that time he was just concentrating on what is at hand by being focused and praying to God throughout the attempt.
Peter on the other hand, challenged Jesus that if it is truly him and not a ghost, he should invite him by walking on the water. At first, Peter was successful in walking over the water towards Jesus but when his concentration lapsed because of the strong winds and fierce waves, he became afraid and started to sink. Only to be saved by Jesus when he caught Peter’s hand and said “You of little faith”.
Many times in our lives we do encounter Jesus in one way or another. However, when we lose our concentration and focus towards Jesus, we begun to sink. But we should realise that Jesus is always there to save us.
In these two encounter stories that we listen to in today’s Mass, both of them, though different, express one thing and that is God is always present. We may encounter God in different ways, however, the result will always be the same, God is always there to save us and help us conquer our challenges in life. So let us be more sensitive to God’s presence and if we are walking together with him, we will be able to overcome every challenge we have in life.