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Posted by on Aug 13, 2023

Why Did You Doubt?

Why Did You Doubt?

As humans, we like to have things in our lives happen in predictable ways. Babies learn to expect certain patterns of behavior from the people around them. I cry, someone picks me up and feeds me, or changes my diaper, or helps me burp. I can count on getting reassurance and help when I need it. If I don’t, something is terribly wrong and I will tell the world about it at the top of my lungs!

With older children and adults, life is easier if we know what to expect. What time do I need to get up? When do we eat? What do we eat? Where do I have to be at noon? And so on.

When natural disasters hit, or wars, or even unexpected heat or rain that upsets planned or ordinary activities, we want to know why that happened. Historically, people have blamed the natural disasters on divine activity. The gods are angry, with each other or with us. Think of the stories of Zeus or Thor, who used thunderbolts or a great hammer to fight when displeased.

Middle Eastern peoples also interpreted such happenings as being the result of the displeasure of their gods. This form of explanation was simply part of their everyday experience.

The prophet Elijah ran into trouble with the king when he defeated and killed the priests of Baal. Jezebel, wife of King Ahab, was not amused. In fact, she tried to wipe out all of the priests and prophets of the Lord. Elijah escaped into the wilderness, where an angel gave him food and drink, then sent him on his way to the mountain of the Lord, Mount Horeb/Mount Sinai. On the mountain top, there was a cave. Elijah was nervous about being on the Lord’s mountain. It was dangerous. If you saw the Lord, you would die.

But the Lord told him, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord…” Before Elijah could do as he was told there was an uproar outside. The wind roared around the mountain. Rocks were crushed. There was an earthquake, then a fire. To the ancients, all of these were signs of the presence of the divine.

But God wasn’t in these physical events. After all the uproar, there was a tiny, whispering sound. That was the presence of the Lord and Elijah hid his face in his cloak, then went out to meet the Lord. (1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a)

Jesus’ disciples also had a frightening experience. They had just seen Jesus feed a huge crowd of people with just a few loaves of bread and a few small fish – the lunch of a child who offered to help feed the rest. Jesus had sent the disciples to return home with the boat across the Sea of Galilee, a large inland lake. He sent the people home and went up on the mountain by himself for a little while to pray. (Taking time out to pray by himself was a common practice for him.)

From the mountain he noticed that a great storm had arisen on the lake and the boat was struggling to stay afloat. So he went down from the mountain. Just before dawn, the disciples noticed something coming across the water. They most likely believed there were monsters deep in the lake who caused storms. Ghosts were also easily believable in the middle of a storm. So, when they saw a figure coming across the top of the water, they were terrified.

Jesus called out to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Well, could that be true? Might that be the kind of thing a ghost would say to lure them into a false sense of security? Peter responded, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said simply, “Come.” And Peter went over the side of the boat and walked towards Jesus.

All was well until Peter stopped to think about what he had just done. He had stepped over the side of the boat, in the middle of a storm, on a deep lake and was now walking towards what was either a ghost or his friend Jesus. Since people don’t walk on water, it might have just been a terrible mistake on his part. As such thoughts entered his mind, he began to sink into the water. He called out, “Lord, save me!” and Jesus reached out a hand and saved him, saying “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” The waters calmed and they got safely to the boat again.

The use of the term Lord was significant. That was a term used for God. The disciples recognized who their friend was and bowed down to honor him. “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

Once again, the storms raged, the winds blew, disaster was upon ordinary people, and the Lord was there, quietly reassuring them. Elijah on the mountain, and the Lord was in the quiet whisper outside the cave. Peter sinking in the waters of the lake. “Why did you doubt?” I am here in the midst of it all. (Mt 14:22-33)

We can think we’ve got everything under control. We want to share our faith and our experiences with others. We have a good job, or at least a steady one. Our children are healthy. And then something unexpected happens. We lose a job. A friend gets cancer. A pandemic shuts down the world. Forest fires darken the skies with smoke. Hurricanes and tornadoes destroy communities. And we wonder what we did wrong. Why did God let these terrible things happen to us? Did God do all of this to punish us? Are these indicators that the end of time is upon us?

I think it’s important to remember Jesus’ question, “Why did you doubt?”

What is it that you doubt? What do I doubt? Which promise of the Lord do I need to trust more deeply.

In this week, let’s try to remember to trust that we are loved deeply and unconditionally by our Lord. Whatever happens, it’s not that God is angry and out to get me. It may be that there are unexpected consequences to choices we have made, but God doesn’t set out to punish us. We are free to make our choices and they don’t always work out as we had expected.

Sometimes, the hard or unexpected things that happen are the result of the actions of others. In those times, the Lord is with us too, sharing in our pain and offering loving support to help us get through the troubles. He has been through hard times too. He knows our pain and suffering. He wants to help and offer a hand to lift us out of the waters of doubt and despair.

With Peter, we reach out to his offered hand. We return to the boat, having recognized our Lord.

Readings for the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A

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Posted by on May 1, 2022

Doing Ordinary Things When Everything Else is Not Normal

Doing Ordinary Things When Everything Else is Not Normal

Most of the time, when we wake up in the morning, we have a pretty good idea what kinds of things will happen during any particular day. We get up, dress, have breakfast, and get started on the day’s activities – school, work, social gatherings, and so forth. But once in a while, something unusual happens that upsets the entire normal reality. These can be happy things or sad things. Getting news of the birth of a long-awaited child, for example, starts a chain of joyful activities to support the parents and child through the first challenging days and weeks of life. Getting news that a loved one has passed away, on the other hand, starts of chain of difficult tasks, grief, and disruption of daily schedules and activities.

Having come through a year in which multiple loved ones have passed away, I find the reaction of Jesus’ closest friends during the days following his death and burial very understandable. On this Third Sunday of Easter, Jesus’ friends are bewildered and trying to sort out what has just happened. They know he has died. They are hoping against hope that there really is some way that Jesus has risen from death, but are they just imagining things? Can it really be true?

As all this swirls around them, Peter declares, “I’m going fishing.” Fishing is something normal, ordinary, everyday, easy to understand. Either you catch fish or you don’t. It was the work he and most of Jesus’ other closest friends had done for years before they met him. They can always go back to fishing.

We too go back to doing things that are comfortable. We go to the office and sit doing routine things that don’t require us to be brilliant. We go to school. We go to the kitchen and bake cupcakes. We wash the car, or pull weeds, or change the bedding so guests will have clean sheets when they come. Peter and the others went fishing.

St. John (21:1-19) tells us that they fished all night and didn’t catch a thing. At dawn, they saw someone standing on the shore who called out and asked if they had gotten anything.  They responded that they hadn’t. The stranger told them to toss the nets out on the other side of the boat and they would find something. This had happened once before, when Jesus first called them to follow him. They did as he instructed without arguing this time. The nets were filled to bursting with fish. It was at this point that something changed. “The disciple whom Jesus loved” (tradition says this was John) recognized the Lord and told Peter. Peter tucked his robe into his belt and jumped into the sea, swimming for shore. The other disciples brought the boat into shore and pulled in the net full of fish.

Jesus had a fire ready and invited them to bring some fish to cook for breakfast. They selected some as they counted their catch – 153 fish and the nets hadn’t broken! Why does it matter how many fish there were? Some writers in the early church noted that there were 153 peoples in the Roman Empire – thus the number reflected the entire world. Another theory suggests that 153,000 men worked to build the temple in Jerusalem, therefore these 153 fish might symbolize the construction of a new temple, not made of bricks, that would become the community of followers of the Lord. Remember, when Jesus first called Peter, he promised to make Peter a “Fisher of men” of humans.

After a breakfast of bread and fish, served to them around a fire by Jesus, there was still something that needed to be addressed – Peter’s denial of Jesus three times on the night of his trial. So Jesus asks Peter three times, “Simon… do you love me?” He uses Peter’s original name, Simon. Each time, with increasing intensity, Simon Peter responds that he does love Jesus. Jesus tells him first, “Feed my lambs.” The next time it’s,”Tend my sheep.” The final time it’s, “Feed my sheep.” The word love used by John to tell of this exchange has two different meanings in the original Greek. One is friendship. The other is deeply committed love. The first two times Jesus posed the question, he used the term for deeply committed love and Peter responded with the love of friendship. The third time, Jesus used the term for friendship and Peter used the word for deeply committed love. Peter’s commitment had become deeply personal and committed to Jesus.

Finally, Jesus mentions the type of death that will come to Peter. Peter is not going to die peacefully in his bed surrounded by his children and grandchildren in old age. Peter will die when he is older at the hands of others, in a way he would rather not die. Jesus then said, “Follow me.”

Peter and the others did follow Jesus. In taking a step into something familiar when they were in great distress and confusion, they met the Lord again and in a way that they could recognize him and again hear the call to follow. They returned to Jerusalem, they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and they witnessed to what they had seen and heard – the great deeds of the Lord in reconciling humanity with God.

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles (5:27-32,40b-41) describes an event from some of the earliest days of the church. The apostles had been teaching and healing people daily in the city. The community was growing dramatically. The leaders of the Sanhedrin had told Peter and the others to stop teaching and causing such disruption of everyday life in the city. But Peter and his companions did not stop. They were arrested and ordered to stop speaking in Jesus’ name. Peter and the others declined to do so, saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” A section of the story not included in the ready tells that they were flogged and released with a warning not to continue teaching. But as they left the Sanhedrin, they rejoiced to have “been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.”

The story of the early church continued for many years and is told in the Acts of the Apostles. It’s well worth reading. Many triumphs, many defeats, much joy and much suffering. Ultimately, the preaching of the Good News throughout the Roman Empire to Jews and Gentiles alike continued and spread. There’s more to the story of early Christianity in this book than can be included in the Sunday liturgies.

The story culminates symbolically in the Book of Revelation (5:11-14), as John describes what he saw in his visions on the Island of Patmos over 50 years after Jesus’ resurrection. The reading today describes all creatures in heaven and earth, creatures under the earth, and the entire universe giving praise to God. This is the reality of the work of all of creation, the praise of God.

In this one day’s readings, we see the transition of a group of discouraged men who just needed to do something ordinary, to go fishing, when everything was crashing around them around them. In this transition they became a group of men unafraid to speak out before religious and political authorities in witness of what they had seen and heard. They took this word out to their community and it spread through the known world. All the earth can now join in praising God for this reconciliation of human and divine.

How do we participate in this great mystery? Do we find the Lord in the ordinary things of life? Do we meet Him in each other and in strangers along the way? Are we open to hearing new things, to receiving new insights from the events and people in our lives? Do our lives reflect the joy of the resurrection? Will people find us and our lives appealing enough to want to learn the source of our joy?

Easter and its wonders continue this week. May we be open at this time to see the Lord in new ways and in new places as we move through our daily activities, as the Apostles did on the seashore long ago.

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Posted by on Apr 24, 2008

St. Mark the Evangelist – Following the Lord’s Call Doesn’t Always Happen the Way Others Expect

St. Mark the Evangelist – Following the Lord’s Call Doesn’t Always Happen the Way Others Expect


St. Mark was a young man in the earliest days of the church and by the end of his life had played an important role in spreading the Good News of Jesus in Asia and North Africa. He even touches us as well, through the Gospel which bears his name.

We first hear of Mark in the Acts of the Apostles on the day Peter was released miraculously from prison. Peter returned in the night to the home of Mark’s mother, a gathering place of the community in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12).

Mark may have been the young man in the Garden of Gethsemane who ran away naked when Jesus was arrested, but the young man is not named, so we don’t know for sure (Mark 14:50-52).

Later we hear of Mark traveling with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Early in that journey, Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). No explanation is given for his departure from the mission. Paul was very unhappy about it and later refused to take Mark along on his second journey. As a result, Barnabas did not travel with Paul on the second trip, going instead with Mark to Cyprus (Acts 15:37-39).

Mark spent many years with Peter. He is mentioned in various contexts in later chapters of Acts and in the first letter of Peter, always in terms of his faithfulness in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus.

The thing that really strikes me about Mark, though, is that he didn’t follow the path that had originally been set for him – that first journey with Paul and Barnabas. Something was not right. He left, despite the knowledge that the older adults in the community might not understand and be angry with him, thinking him a failure or a quitter. He returned home to Jerusalem.

If he had not followed that sense (or quiet voice) that told him that going with Paul and Barnabas might be the wrong thing for him to do, it’s entirely possible that Mark would not have been the one to accompany Peter in his work and journeys. The Gospel According to Mark might never have been written. It is generally understood to be the one that tells the story of Jesus based more on the memories of St. Peter. It was most probably the first of the Gospels written, maybe even before 70 A.D. Our understanding of how the early Christians had experienced the life, death and resurrection of Jesus would be different.

As an older adult now, seeing young people struggling to find their way in faith, to find the Lord’s path for them (regardless of how they phrase it), I find great comfort in the story of Mark. It’s OK to change course on one’s life journey, to try one path, find it’s not quite the right one, and move to another one. It’s OK not to follow the career for which one studied – or the one chosen by someone else. It’s OK to ask embarassing questions of leaders in our community. It’s OK to insist on justice and compassion. It’s not only OK, it’s essential to listen to the quiet voice and follow the Lord as He calls each one of us. We are all richer for it.

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