“The Family of God: Against Contrary Winds Prevailing”
August 13, 2017: The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jonah 2: 1 – 9/Psalm 29: 1-4; 10-11/Romans 10: 6a – 11/Matthew 14: 22 – 33
Fr. Gary W. Thurman
The gospel reading today is one of the most well-known, well-loved stories in the whole Bible. The four gospel writers tell about it, but Matthew gives us an extra dimension. It is not only telling us about Jesus calming a storm, but Jesus walking on the water and even Peter for a moment. The usual interpretation of this passage is how that with faith, you can walk on the water just like Jesus did. As long as we keep our eyes on the Lord, we can walk on the water. When we become fearful and we see the wave instead of the Master of the waves, then things become more difficult, and we begin to sink.
This is what Peter did. This is usually how this gospel is approached. At this point, I want to preach this gospel from a different perspective. We always talk about how Peter, in faith, got out of the boat and walked towards Jesus. What if, instead of walking towards Christ in faith, he was running from the boat in fear?
This looks like a lot of life. When someone is escaping a situation in fear or when someone is approaching something in faith, we all look alike. How can we really tell which is which? I have nothing against Peter. He has always been my favorite apostle, but looking at this gospel, it is possible for the men of God to run from God, to run from difficult situations and circumstances. Jonah did it. In the first reading, we see Jonah’s gratitude after the Lord saved him, but in chapter one, it tells us that God gave Jonah instructions and the instructions made Jonah very uncomfortable, so Jonah ran from the presence of the Lord. He even told the sailors when the boat was about to sink, “I am a prophet of God.” They knew that Jonah was running from the Lord because he had told them.
Peter had times when he also ran away from the Lord and situations. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was arrested, allthe disciples ran away in fear including Peter. Later that night, when Peter was in the courtyard of the high priests, people began to accuse him of being one of the disciples. After three times of this confrontation, Peter went out and wept bitterly. He ran from the situation because if he stayed, he will be arrested too. After the resurrection, when Jesus appeared to them on Easter Sunday evening, He told the disciples, “Remain here in Jerusalem until you are endowed with power from on High.” And yet in John 21, after Jesus had appeared twice, Peter said, “I don’t know what is with Jesus. He is here; He is gone. Now you see Him, now you don’t. He is not staying with us. I know what to do. I am going fishing.” Remember that there are no lakes in Jerusalem. Peter was worried that after what the chief priests and the elders did to Jesus, they might still be looking for him. He left Jerusalem because it was too much for him. He went to Capernum and he disobeyed the Lord.
Is it too much to think that in this case when Peter got out of the boat, he wasn’t impelled by faith but by fear? He was running away. What happened was that the boat was built to hold twelve strong, full-bodied, full-sized men. It was not made to also hold gallons and gallons of water. The winds had sprung up – not even a storm, a rain or a thunder – in the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is great for fishing, but because this sea is shallow it is unstable and any strong wind that comes up makes big tall waves.
The disciples faced high breakers and high waves coming at all sides of the boat when suddenly, the boat was filled with water. The boat was strong enough to hold the weight of the twelve disciples, but not strong enough to hold the weight of the twelve disciples and all the extra water, and this made the boat begin to sink. There was only one way that the disciples had to resort to so as not to sink: to bail, that is, scooping the water out of the boat. And this is what Peter and the other disciples did.
What made it worse for Peter was that it was Jesus’ fault that they were sinking because Jesus was the One who told them to get into the boat and go to the other side. In the gospel reading, it said, “He made them...” They were in this mess because Jesus told them to do it. Probably, if Jesus had been with them in the boat, they wouldn’t have been so worried because there had already been a storm at sea earlier. In this situation, the wind came up and Jesus and the disciples were in the boat crossing the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus was asleep. Peter and the disciples were bailing and then finally they said, “Master, don’t You care that we perish?” I don’t think that they were telling Jesus to stop the wind, but to get up and bail so that they would not sink. Jesus woke up and said, “Hush, be still,” and the wind stopped.
In the gospel, Peter and the disciples were bailing and the waves came crashing without Jesus. They were all alone fighting this, and in the middle of the situation, Peter finally said, “I can’t handle this. This boat is going down. There is no hope. I am getting out of here. The only way I could survive is to get out of the boat.” It wasn’t really a good thing to do. If there was a captain in that boat, it was Peter, and the captain is never the first to leave the ship. In fact, in many cases, if the ship is going to go down, the captain is supposed to go down with it, and certainly, not the first to jump out. For one thing, if twelve strong men can’t bail out the boat enough, what happens when one of them runs away? Now, you only have eleven men bailing, which is going to be much harder with less chance of surviving the wind storm.
It was a very selfish thing that Peter did. When Peter thought it was an apparition on the waves walking on the water, he said, “Lord, if it is You, tell me to come to You.” When he started sinking, he said, “Lord, save me.” It was a “me” thing; a selfish thing that Peter did. He was leaving his eleven friends to bail and have one less helper. It was an act of desperation because he saw no hope. He saw everyone working as hard as they could, but the boat is getting a little lower every time. Every time another wave crashes over the different parts of the boat, it goes down a little more. The harder they bail, the more waves come, and the lower the ship gets down – almost overwhelmed, ready to sink.
At this time, the disciples see something out across the waves. They are not sure what it really was –Jesus or a ghost. All they knew was that there was something walking on the water. Peter said, “I don’t know what it is, it might be Jesus or probably a ghost. But whatever it is, it is able to handle the storm and the boat. So I am leaving the boat and go to whatever that is.” This is Peter’s motivation: getting out of the boat because he is going to drown if he stays in the boat. So Peter says, “Lord, if that is You, tell me to come to You.” It was not a smart thing to do because for one thing, what if it wasn’t Jesus? What if it really was a ghost? As far as they knew, how can Jesus walk on water because no one has ever done that before? One thing that they knew that could walk on water was a ghost, which is why they said, “It is a ghost.” Peter was desperate and what he was thinking was to get out of the boat. All that he could do was to run, to escape the desperate situation for which there was no hope and no way of escaping.
Why am I painting Peter in such a negative light? In this perspective, with all those waves, and with all those breakers pouring and piling over them, how many of us could relate to Peter like that? How many of us can relate to the fact that every time we are getting ahead in life, here comes another breaker? Just as we get the boat bailed out, here comes another wave. The more we bail, the more things, the more wave come on top of us. It just seems hopeless!
This is life today! Sometimes, it just seems hopeless - too many waves and not many things to bail with; and sometimes, we can get to be like Peter and say, “It is impossible. I can’t do this anymore. I’ve got to run. I’ve got to escape this boat because this boat is not helping me at all.”
Look at the waves that is out there today. Look at our political situation. We already have confirmed reports that there are terrorists in our midst, not just down South or up North, but in our city. They are not just homegrown terrorists, but terrorists who are trained and raised in terrorist abiding countries. They are here and their agenda is to claim this nation for themselves This is a big wave! Who can stand up against this?
There are political situations in some of the countries in Asia where nations are picking up on some little islands just to pick up a fight so that they could get a fight with another nation. Some countries are picking up on us and they are playing around these things, and they are talking about war. We are talking about potential war. This is a big wave that we all have to face. It is a big wave that is out there.
Look at the economic condition of our nation. You work as hard as you can, you take extra jobs, and you do everything you can to raise enough money to take care of the bills, but the harder you work, the faster prices rise. The harder you work, things just builds up – something breaks down. Something needs to be replaced; the tuition goes up, and every budget that you can think of goes out of the window. When we get a report from the doctor that is going to cost us a lot, what do we do?
People are already predicting that the economic bubble in the Philippines will burst sooner or later, just as it did in the United States in 2008. It says that the Philippine economy mirrors the United States with about 8 to 10 years following. Many people say it is coming, and this is another wave. How can we get any tougher than this? As it is, the costs of things are astronomical. How can anyone legitimately expect us to pay five hundred thousand pesos for our children to get through college? How can a normal person do this? How can an average person afford to pay a two or three million pesos life-saving operation? This is where the medical communities come because the medical and the educational community are here not for service anymore, but for business because they are owned and operated by business people. They earn not as ministries to help people, but to make a business. This is a huge wave! How can we handle this?
Traffic is not going to get better because they keep on building new condominiums and commercial centers. This is not the way to solve traffic problems. When new roads are built, they use the property to build new commercial centers and they develop the area. When areas are developed, it means more traffic, not less traffic, and traffic is not going to be fixed.
Look at the morality situation. Who would have thought that some of the things that were illegal are now legal? Divorce, drugs, trans-genders, and transvetites are seen. The world is so different from what it used to be. Wave after wave comes upon us, and we see that this is not the world we wanted it to be and the world we grew up in, and it seems hopeless. Why is this happening?
Another wave is when some of the people in our lives let us down. We thought that if we tell a person a secret, they would keep it, but they would post it on social media. We thought we could trust the teacher in the school to teach the truth, and we find out that what they are teaching is not according to the Bible at all. Children thought they could trust their parents to provide for them, but now, they had to drop out of school. People thought that they could trust their spiritual leaders only to find out that their moral life is no different or worse than everybody else in the congregation.
These are really big waves that make us say, “There is no hope. How can we get from here?” Just like Peter, these things hit us, but there is something that makes things even more difficult and impossible – those secrets in our hearts that we dare not tell anybody else. Our secret faults, our secret failures, our secret flaws, our secret doubts and our secret fears. We can’t tell anybody else, but they are always there. Sometimes, they are there in the early hours of the day when we wake up, nagging us and making us sick saying to us, “There is no hope. You can’t get out of this. This boat is sinking. You might as well leave the boat and try something else. This isn’t working.”
With all these waves, with all these situations crashing over us, the temptation is so strong to run and to quit and say, “It is impossible to get through this situation. I’ve got to try something else.” People quit their job because of many office politics. Students try so hard to do well, and they barely pass, so they quit and get a job. After college, one tries to get a job, looking for work, and can’t get one because of competition. For the married people who swore their lives to each other, they suddenly find out that their spouses are sharing their lives with other people. Is it time to quit and to give up?
Like Peter, when we think it is impossible, we ran away and try something new. What I would say to you today is: Don't give up! Don't quit! Don't try to escape, and think that there is somewhere else where there is less waves. I have all experienced situations leading me to quit, and what I could say is that it never works. It never changes the situation.
When Peter jumped out of the boat, the storm was still there. Now, the only problem is that there are only eleven disciples to bail instead of twelve, and they are now more in danger than they were before. Peter walks on the water for a little while, but before long, he is sinking. When Jonah ran away from Nineveh, and tried to get to Tarshish, it didn’t work and he ended up in the belly of the fish.
If you think you can run away, it won’t work. It doesn’t help. In fact, the storm stopped when Jesus picked Peter out of the water, and they went back into the boat. Jesus did not bring him to the shore because the boat was where Peter belonged. This is where the eleven disciples also belonged. The urge was to quit and to run away. The urge was to find something easier, but remember that Jesus made them get in the boat. This was His calling for them. This was His mission for them, and this was where His covering and protection was for them. As with Peter and Jonah, when they got out of their calling, that is when they really had a problem. They thought they had problems before. There were all the kinds of mess when they started trying to run. Running fixes nothing. It was time to get into the boat for Peter and start bailing and help his friends to work together in the ministry that Jesus had given them. For Jonah, it is time to get to Nineveh because the people needed his message.
Getting out of the boat did not help Peter. Running away from God’s presence did not help Jonah. Running from our situations will not help us either. I can speak from experience because I have done it, and I found out that it is not the way to go. There are times that you are walking towards God’s will and obedience, and it looks like you are running, but you are not. If you are running from something out of fear, it is not going to help.
There are a couple of reasons why quitting and running won’t help. First, don’t be afraid of the waves because they are God’s waves. The storm stopped when Peter got back in the boat because that is where he belonged. Jonah’s ministry started when the fish spewed him out onto the land and he walked the five hundred miles from where he got spewed out to Nineveh. In Jonah chapter 2, he had this song of deliverance while he was in the belly of the fish where he said, “Lord, all your waves washed over me.” In Psalm 42:7, it says, “All of your waves and billows have washed over me.” In Psalm 88:7, “All your waves have washed over me.”
These are God’s waves and He doesn’t send waves to kill us. If you are being faced with waves left and right, remember that it is all God’s waves that have washed over us, and it is not going to kill us. He sent them for a reason. From Peter’s life, it helps us to learn that running from the boat won’t help because sooner or later you are going to sink. The boat was not the problem. The boat was what Jesus made them get in because it was their vessel of safety. It was their ark, so to speak. He brought them to it, and help them survive the flood.
Second, quitting and running won’t help because as it says in Psalm 29:10, “The Lord sat as King at the flood. The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace.” The Lord is the King not only of Noah’s flood, of Jonah’s flood, of Peter’s flood, but also of our flood. We may be encountering waves on every side, but they are God’s waves and they are not going to destroy us because He is King over our flood. We’ve got to believe this. The temptation to quit, to run, and to try something easier is just a temptation, and it is not God’s will. Jesus made us get into the boat, and the waves are God’s. Take fear from the story of Peter, his running away from the boat, and the result of this. It wasn’t good.
Maybe you are here today and you have considered running from your situations. Maybe, you have considered the ultimate escape, the ultimate run, which is to escape from life itself – suicide. In many parts of the world, the number two cause of death among young people is suicide because they see no hope. They see all the waves and are being pounded by them every day of their life, and they want to make it stop. The only way they see to make it stop is to run from life itself.
We don’t have to do this because there is hope. There is always hope because there is always God, and He is the God of hope. Romans 15 says that if He is the God of hope, and He is always with us, hope itself is always with us. We are not looking to see waves, but there is a King over the floods who owns these waves and says, “Be still. Peace.” If we have been guilty of running, close to running or have run away from something because it may seem impossible, remember, with man, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible. This is our hope.
Remember, God loves runners, too. This is how much the Lord loved Jonah, who was running just like Peter, just like me, and just like you. God loved Peter even when he was in the midst of running, which is why half way beneath the waves, Peter reached out and said, “Lord, save me,” and Jesus did. When Jonah was going into the depths of the sea, the Lord appointed a great fish for him. The Lord loved Jonah so much because He literally created and appointed a special fish just to keep him safe and alive in the sea for three days, amidst the pressure at the bottom of the sea.
If you have been running today, I am here to tell you that don’t think that God has given up on you. He hasn’t. He still loved Jonah, He still loved Peter, and He still loves you. What we need to do is to say, “Lord, I am sorry for running. If You help me get into the boat, I will be very happy to get back into the boat.”
This is where the Lord calls us to be. I know that there are people who have seriously considered running, are seriously running, or are now, even as I speak, running. My word for you is: stop; it doesn’t work. It won’t work. It makes things worse. The only safe place is where the Lord puts you, and if He puts you in a boat, even if it is in the storm, that is the best and safest place for you.
The personal application is between you and God. Only He knows, but know that this message is for each one of us. Let us take it seriously and learn from Peter. Learn from Jonah and know that running will never fix anything. And as Romans 10:11 says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed,” because the Lord gives strength to His people and He blesses them with peace.