Sunday Sermon for August 10, 2014, the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: 1Ki 19:9a, 11-13a; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33
We live today in a world of assumptions. We assume that people are a certain way just because they came from a certain place, because of the color of their skin, because of their cultural background, or whatever other factors we might consider. To some degree this is just human, but all too often it is wrong. All we have to do is to think that someone should be able to assume that all people who profess to be Christian and good, honest, charitable people. We should be, but we have way too many examples that prove that this is not always an accurate assumption.
Worse than making assumptions about other people, we sometimes even make assumptions about God. For instance, we think that He is supposed to act in a certain manner. On one hand we can say that God always acts in love. However, when we assume that this implies that He will always give us what we want, nicely wrapped with a fancy bow on it, we are very frequently mistaken. We see a good example of this in the first reading as well. Because God showed Himself to the people of Israel in His power at Mount Sinai, we might assume that that is the way He should always show Himself.
In the first reading Elijah goes to Mount Sinai, which is also called Mount Horeb, and climbs the mountain as Moses had a thousand years previous. With all of the people gathered around the foot of the mountain at the time of Moses, God came down in a fiery cloud and shook the mountain. Elijah now witnesses the fire, the wind and the earthquake on the mountain, but God was not in any of them. Instead, the all powerful God showed Himself to His Prophet in a tiny whispering breeze.
Any preconceived idea of how God was going to me made manifest was immediately shown to be human assumption and not divine will. If we fast forward to Jesus, we see the same things happen. People did not want to believe in His Incarnation and birth; nor did they want to believe that the Messiah was crucified. In fact, they used this as a proof that He was not the Messiah.
What we have to learn from the readings today is that we simply need to keep our focus on God and allow Him to do whatever He desires. If we assume He is going to act in a certain way, that is probably the best way to guarantee that He will not act in that manner. Elijah was able to keep his focus where it needed to be; he was not distracted by all of the extraordinary events taking place around him. Peter, on the other hand, took his eyes off of Jesus and was caught up in the power of the wind and the waves; he began to sink. God was not in the wind or the waves; He was the calm, peaceful presence in the midst of the chaos.
We do not know if our Lord is going to work in extraordinary ways in our day. People always seem to want the fireworks or the “wow” factor. We know that God has the power to do that, but we also know that 2000 years ago Jesus said that an evil age seeks a sign and that no sign would be given it. We cannot assume that God will work in one way or the other, but we can know that we must simply keep our eyes on Him so that we will recognize Him in whatever fashion He chooses to reveal Himself.
As for our assumptions about people, we need to be very careful there as well. We need to remember, first and foremost, that God loves each person and has created that person in His own image and likeness. There are many today who love to revile the Jews. There are certainly some Jewish people who have not acted according to precepts of the Law; there are also many very good people who are Jewish. The Jews are the People of God and even St. Paul said that he could wish that he were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of the Jews.
We have to have the same kind of charity toward all people, be they Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or whatever. Among each group, some are good and some are bad, but all are made in the image of God and all should be treated with the dignity and respect owed to any human person. To make general assumptions will be to our detriment. Our assumptions cause us to become distracted and we begin to sink. Just keep your eyes on the Lord and everything else will come into focus.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.