Each Sunday, I like to explore why the Church selects the readings for a given Sunday. In most cases, there is a connection, or common theme. I think there is a clear connection between the first reading and the Gospel. In the first reading Elijah has retreated to the mountains and is hiding out in a cave hoping to have an encounter with God. He experiences powerful phenomenons such as "a great and strong wind," an earthquake, and fire. 1 Kings 19:11-12. God was not to be found in any of these. Rather, it was in a "still small voice" (RSVCE) or a "whispering sound" (NAB) that God was found.
How are we to hear a still small voice or whispering sound? This can be very difficult to do if we are in a loud environment. Think about our lives in the context of our present culture. From the moment we wake up to the moment we put our heads down on a pillow at night, our lives are filled with noise. This can come from a variety of sources, such as the television, music, social media, the Internet, and our smart phones (just to name a few). All of these things compete for our attention.
I am reminded of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. If you have not read it, Lewis presents various letters from Screwtape, who works for Satan, to his demonic understudy, Wormwood. Each demon is assigned a human being and it is the job of the understudy to win the soul of the human for Satan. In each of the letters, Screwtape talks about some of the methods that have proven successful for bringing more souls to Hell. In the twenty-second letter, Screwtape rails against music and silence. Rather, Screwtape promotes noise:
Noise -- Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile -- Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress.
Turning to the Gospel, we hear an amazing story. The disciples experience a theophany, or a dramatic encounter with God involving a dramatic manifestation of his power. Jesus defies the laws of nature and walks on water, manifesting his divinity. Did you catch what Jesus was doing before he tread upon the waves? "And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up into the hills by himself to pray." Mt. 14:23. How do we inoculate ourselves from the noise? Get away from it all and engage in prayer. Peter later demonstrates why our prayer time is important. It is during our prayer time that our minds should become fixated on Jesus. It is a time of intense focus and silence, as we listen for the Lord to speak to us. Like Elijah, we have to daily tune ourselves to God's frequency so that we can be properly disposed to hear Him. Unlike the other disciples, Peter shows enough faith that he is willing to step out of the boat, trusting in Jesus that he will be able to walk on the water. His focus was initially on Jesus "but when he saw the wind, he was afraid" and he began to sink. Just as the wind distracted Peter, so too does the noise of our modern culture distracts us. This is reminiscent of something the author of Hebrews tells us: "let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith." Heb. 12:1-2.
And what about the second reading? How does it tie in? The account of Jesus walking on the water is one instance where the veil is lifted and the disciples are able to see who Jesus really is. He even tells them explicitly when they cry out in fear. Jesus says, "Take heart, it is I; have no fear." Mt. 14:27. The Greek translation of "it is I" is ego eime, which can also be translated "I am." Of course, this was the name of God told to Moses from the burning bush (another theophany) in Exodus 3:14. In the second reading from St. Paul's letter to the Romans, he echos the bold claim that Jesus "is the Christ, who is God." Rom. 9:5.