19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Ages 6-9): Jesus Saves
(Adults, miracles are difficult for 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. Begin by reading the Gospel aloud to the child, unless the child is a very fluent reader.)
Last week we considered the actions of Jesus as he fed five thousand--no, way more than five thousand--people. He took bread, blessed, broke and gave it. We thought about how these same actions are repeated at the Last Supper and also when we go to Mass. We wondered how one event points to another. St. Matthew is careful to tell us that this week's Gospel reading follows immediately after Jesus feeds the people with abundance. Perhaps Jesus' actions in this Sunday's Gospel point to something more as well.
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.
Interesting. After feeding the people, Jesus goes up the mountain by himself to pray. Also, after the Last Supper--after he gives all of himself to the disciples in the bread and the wine--Jesus goes into the Garden of Olives by himself to pray. We know that afterwards the soldiers come and take Jesus away. He dies on the cross and his body is placed in the tomb. The disciples are upset and scared and feel alone. But early in the morning on the third day, God fills Jesus with new, eternal life--the Risen Life of God! He will never die again!
But I am getting off topic, aren't I? We are not talking about the Resurrection, are we? Back to the Gospel for this Sunday. The disciples are alone in the boat, trying to row to other side of the lake but nature is causing 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? Another miracle--first Jesus feeds so many people with abundance when there seemed to be so little, and now he walks on water! This second miracle seems to be for the disciples' eyes only. What can this mean? What is this miracle telling us about who Jesus is?
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.”
That word "immediately" catches my attention. It reminds me that Jesus' actions might point to another event. There is another time that Jesus wants to make sure the disciples know they are not seeing a ghost. Early in the morning of the third day after he dies--the day of the Resurrection--Jesus is filled with the Risen Life of God. When he appears for the disciples' eyes only,
They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened...?” (Luke 24:37-38)
In both situations, Jesus is doing something that should be impossible. He is doing something that nature does not allow. No one can walk on water because they sink. No one can live after dying. Death is the end of life, isn't it? Is Jesus breaking the laws of nature?
Or is he above the laws of nature? Who is Jesus??
St. Matthew uses the word immediately one more time. (I know you're wondering, is she going to be reminded of the Resurrection again??)
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. But when he 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
When Peter is frightened, what does Jesus do? Immediately he saves him. Jesus saves. In fact, this is what the name "Jesus" means, "God saves", or "The Lord is salvation." He does what his name says.
Jesus saves. He gives us his Risen life--the life that is so much stronger than death--to each of us in our baptism. We call this salvation. He is who his name says he is.
Jesus walks on water and Jesus saves Peter, before he ever dies and is risen. But am I just imagining it or does this event seem to point at the Resurrection and at who Jesus is? I wonder if this event later helps the disciples understand the Resurrection when it occurs. I wonder if it helps them understand that death is not the end. I wonder if it helps them to know who Jesus is.
Certainly, they are able to exclaim,
“Truly you are the Son of God!”
And we can say that to Jesus, too, each time we pray.