19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Ages 3-6): Our Shepherd King
(Adults, miracles are a difficult subject to discuss with young children. We don't want them to think that Jesus is a magician or a superhero. His power is God's power and this power is exercised through the Church today. You could begin by reading the Gospel aloud to the child. Alternatively, you could read the first paragraph of the reflection to the child, then read the Gospel, and then continue with the reflection.)
Last week we were shown something about the Kingdom of God. We listened as Jesus fed so many people. It seemed like there was not enough food, but there was abundant food--enough and more than enough--so that all could eat and not be hungry. That's what the Kingdom of God is like. Jesus showed us that the Good Shepherd feeds his sheep with the best food. He gives them abundant life. This week, God shows us something more about the Kingdom. God shows us who the king is.
Remember last week, Jesus wanted to be by himself but everyone came and joined him? In today's Gospel, he finally gets his alone time. We have to ask ourselves, who does Jesus need to be alone with?
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.
Oh, I see! Jesus needs to pray, to be alone with God. He has given all that he has to so many people; now he needs to be quiet and still with God.
The disciples are in the boat on the way back to the other side of the lake. In good weather, this would not be difficult, but the disciples are having a problem:
When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.
What is happening here? This is not something usual. Jesus does not usually walk on water. Usually, he rows a boat to cross the lake, just like everyone else. But he leaves his prayer time and walks across the water to them. When the disciples see this, we know how they feel:
But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
How can we understand this? What is God trying to show the disciples?
If we consider what the Good Shepherd does when one of the sheep is lost, maybe we can start to understand.
Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? (Luke 15:4)
Jesus desires so much to be with his disciples when they are in trouble, and so, in this moment, God shows the disciples just who Jesus is. Nothing can keep the Good Shepherd away from his sheep. The wind and the waves cannot keep him from them. In this moment as Jesus leaves his prayer time, God gives the disciples a peek at the King of the Kingdom of God.
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.
Look at that! Jesus calls to Peter, and Peter comes. We know that the sheep follow the Good Shepherd because they know his voice.
But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him
What can we learn from this? Is the Gospel telling us to climb out of boats because Jesus will walk over the water to us? I don't think so. This was a special moment for the disciples to show them who Jesus is. But we already know who Jesus is. We know he is the Good Shepherd who loves his sheep so much. We know he finds his sheep when they are lost and afraid. We know he protects them, and immediately reaches out his hand to catch them. We can rest in that knowing, and when we pray, we can pray together with the disciples,
“Truly you are the Son of God!”