Commentary on the Gospel of

Kyle Lierk - Creighton University's Campus Ministry

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the early months of a deepening relationship I was experiencing with a woman many years ago, we found ourselves bumping along the interstate in a UHaul in the Mojave Desert with a load of items we were transporting from her childhood home to where we were living in San Francisco.  The air in the truck’s cabin was thick with radical honesty about the relationship, our histories, and where we saw things going between us.  In the midst of the dialogue, I found myself slowly getting overwhelmed by what I perceived to be the disruption this level of relationship was going to have on my cozy, independent, “single” life (the one where I thought I was in total control).  My chest began to tighten, the steering wheel felt like butter in my hands, and I found it difficult to breathe.  I quickly pulled the UHaul onto the shoulder of the freeway, jumped out, and began walking in the opposite direction of this discomfort.  As I looked at the ground, tears blurring my vision, I saw broken pieces of glass, blown out car tires, and trash blowing about.  “This is how I feel inside,” I thought as I staggered along.  Totally topsy-turvy and turned around.

Amidst destruction, disruption and disorientation, Jesus says, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid...Come.”  I just wasn’t listening to Jesus in that moment.

In our first reading today, Elijah had his own encounter with disruption.  On the mountain, a place where many have gone to find perspective (prophets like Moses and Elijah to Jesus to the desert mothers and fathers to naturalist John Muir to poet Mary Oliver), Elijah is confronted with a holy mess of natural disaster:  galeforce winds that are breaking rocks to bits, an earthquake, and an all-consuming fire.  Somehow, through all of this, Elijah stays put in this discord.  His patience and persistence pays off.  “After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.”  The Lord passed by.  What follows is God’s commission of Elijah -- his being sent out on mission to fulfill God’s plan.

Amidst destruction, disruption and disorientation, Jesus says, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid...Come.”

In today’s Gospel, Peter experiences a similar call amidst chaos.  You know the story well.  The disciples are sent by Jesus in a boat “to the other side.”  For the Galileans of the day, the sea was a dangerous place containing any number of monsters and maniacal manifestations lurking in the deep.  They kept to the shallows for safety.  Jesus sends them into deeper waters.  In the darkest hour of the night (the “fourth watch”) sometime between 3:00-6:00am, a storm swamps the disciples’ boat and they are in disarray.  It is at that very point, the point when all feels lost and desperate, that Jesus appears, walking on the water.  They are so disturbed by their terror that they don’t even recognize him -- they are blinded by their fear.  It is at that very point, the point when dark spirits have dispelled the light, that Jesus speaks:  “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid...Come.”  Peter is so moved by this comforting call that he springs out of the safety and stability of the boat onto the unstable and watery terrain of the sea in order to draw near to Jesus.

I imagine Elijah and Peter would have something to say to us today.  Here we are, experiencing the storm of this global pandemic that has caused a deep disruption in our lives, especially those marginalized populations who are most heavily impacted by the virus.  They may even have something to say to us in the United States as we more honestly face the damaging winds, shaky ground, and destructive fire that is systemic racism.  Fear has set in, folks!  Fear that the virus has forced us out of the world as we knew it into an unknown future.  Fear that the dismantling of racist policy, systems, and structures will force many of us out of our boats of privilege and onto an unfamiliar landscape of racial equity.  Fear that our country will continue to divide itself even further.  But notice when God and Jesus show up and where they stand:  amidst the chaos, within moments of confusion, standing in the deeper place beyond the fallacy we create that we are in control and beyond what feels comfortable (and actually, ironically, ends up confining us).

Amidst destruction, disruption and disorientation, Jesus says, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid...Come.”

On the side of the road in the Mojave, I eventually looked up from the chaos on the ground to the beauty before me.  A mountain range stretched out across the horizon.  Immediately upon my eyes catching that new view, I heard a voice in my heart whisper, “The world needs something different.”  It was the voice of God challenging me not to turn, tuck tail, and run when things get difficult or disorienting; rather, to stay in the tension and the discomfort with a “strong back and a soft front,” as resilience expert Brene Brown likes to say.  I rediscovered my breath, turned, and walked on my woozy but sure legs of faith back to the truck and back to the relationship.  I got in, put the UHaul in drive, and we proceeded on our way.  That woman is now my wife and we are still “bumping along” in the grand adventure of covenantal love 13 years later.

My prayer is that we all can continue standing in the tension and listening for the whisper of God’s voice amidst whatever dark spirits work to disrupt or destroy us.  My prayer is that we can step out of what feels comfortable, even in the face of fear, and step toward the Savior.  My prayer is that we can truly listen and respond to Jesus’ command:  “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid...Come.”


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