Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Seventeenth Sunday of the Year: 2015

he disciples indeed, who were still carnal, were amazed at the greatness of His virtue, they could not yet however recognize in Him the truth of the Divine Majesty. Wherefore it goes on, “For their hearts were hardened.” But mystically, the toil of the disciples in rowing, and the contrary wind, mark out the labors of the Holy Church, who amidst the beating waves of the world, and the blasts of unclean spirits, strives to reach the repose of her celestial country. And well is it said that the ship was in the midst of the sea, and He alone on land, for sometimes the Church is afflicted by a pressure from the Gentiles so overwhelming, that her Redeemer seems to have entirely deserted her. But the Lord sees His own, toiling on the sea, for, lest they faint in tribulations, He strengthens them by the look of His love, and sometimes frees them by a visible assistance. Further, in the fourth watch He came to them as daylight approached, for when man lifts up his mind to the light of guidance from on high, the Lord will be with him, and the dangers of temptations will be laid asleep. Often then does the love of heaven seem to have deserted the faithful in tribulation, so that it may be thought that Jesus wishes to pass by His disciples, as it were, toiling in the sea. But in whatsoever heart He is present by the grace of His love, there soon all the strivings of vices, and of the adverse world, or of evil spirits, are kept under and put to rest. –The Venerable Bede

About the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.

You do not have to be a harden skeptic to wonder a bit about the first miracle in the Gospel: Jesus walking on the water. It is perfectly possible to believe that miracles are possible, that they can and do happen and that this miracle did in fact happen and still wonder what the point of it was. It might seem a childish dare: “look why I can do and you can’t” the boy yells from the top of the tree to his fearful playmates below. The other two miracles mentioned in the Gospel are much easier to understand, the calming of the sea and the multiplication of  the bread and fish, miracles motivated by necessity and compassion. But does Jesus really need to walk on the water?

In fact, when Jesus walks on the water he is saying ‘look what I can do and you can’t’ and he is saying that when he performs any miracle. The definition of a miracle is doing something which nature and man cannot do. True enough the results of some miracles could be done by nature but God gets the results without nature. Someone might be instantaneously cured of a disease, although the doctors might have been able to heal him given enough time.

All miracles are, therefore, an incentive to faith. Jesus says in St. John’s Gospel “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves’.  Miracles convey to us information which serves belief. The quote from Jesus at least implies that we might be able to get along without miracles – ‘believe me’ – and many theologians have held that this is a better, more meritorious state of affairs. But there is nothing in the world wrong with believing with the help of miracles. Miracles give us something to go on, tilt us in the direction of faith, not in a the way that faith is no longer necessary, but in way which inclines us to believe.  

Jesus walks on the water in order to show that he is God, doing what only God can do. And the other miracles show us the same thing. We might think that miracles let us off the hook for believing, for having faith, because miracles give us hard evidence. But St. Thomas says that miracles do not prove that Jesus is God in the way in which a mathematical formula or scientific observation might prove something. Why? One big reason is that we cannot reproduce a miracle on demand, which would be necessary if we wanted to subject it  to mathematical analysis and scientific experimentation.

Miracles demonstrate that Jesus is God not by some sort of scientific proof but by drawing forth from us faith.   Faith the old medieval guys said was something halfway between science and opinion. Faith is not based on nothing but neither is it as simple as 2+2+4.  Part but not all of the reason we believe is miracles, they are part of that something upon which faith is built and preserved. All miracles give us something to go on, tilts us in the direction of faith.  

All the miracles of Jesus are compassionate, walking on the water every bit as much as calming the storm, the miracles which tell us who Jesus is as much as the miracles that heal us.  Jesus demonstrates his divine authority and his power over nature and his compassion by calming the storm as well as by walking on the water. He does the same when he heals the sick, raises the dead, gives sight to blind, makes the lame walk.

Miracles reveal the divine love and mercy too because God will not force us or coerce us into believing. He always gives us a way out. There has never been and never will be a miracle that you cannot talk yourself out of or someone else talk  you out of.  God always preserves our freedom.. This can never be taken away from us but it also the very thing which makes hell hell  and  heaven heaven.

I cannot count the number of miracles I have experienced and I also cannot the number of the times when miracles have been ignored or forgotten or seemed to have no discernible influence over what people believe and do. This the price we for pay for free wills, the price of love.

But miracles need not only to be noticed but also remembered. The Bible is largely a record of miracles because people were worried that they would forget them and that future generations would not know them. Because the only way people can stop being afraid, like the disciples in the boat, is if they remember what God alone has done.  The Jews never stopped hoping because they remembered that first Passover, Exodus, the parting of the sea. One thing that is obvious from the New Testament is that the Apostles also had to do a lot of remembering. In their case and our case this involves painful memories as well as pleasant ones.  The times when we did not understand about the loaves; when we thought Jesus was a ghost; when we hardly noticed that the wind and storm raging about us was stilled.

About the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea