19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Published: August 10, 2014

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock and during the confirmation Mass at St. Joseph Church in Conway on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014.

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Bishop Taylor

The word "courage" comes from the word for "heart" — that's why we call a heart attack a "coronary." We are only courageous about those things to which we have given our heart. For instance, parents display an astounding amount of courage when it comes to protecting and providing for their children, running risks and making sacrifices that they probably would not have made had it not been their child. Indeed, not only does love inspire courage, acting courageously causes that love to grow. 

It deepens our investment in the well-being of the other, to the point that our lives become so tightly intertwined that it hurts us more to see that loved one suffer than it would be to suffer the same adversity ourselves. Cowardice focuses on the self and is rooted in fear. Courage focuses on something bigger than ourself and is rooted in love. It overcomes fear through death to self.

In the Gospels Jesus acts courageously in every single encounter and in every situation that arises because doing his Father's will means investing his heart in us totally, and in our well-being. He has come to save us from sin and death and all that holds us bound — even our own stupidity! That's why he acts so courageously even when dealing with his adversaries: he doesn't reject those who reject him.

Since God can do all things — starting with walking on water and calming storms — what is there to fear?

Giving in to discouragement would be a failure to love and so he continues to love them — and hurt for them, just like a parent continues to love and feel hurt for a wayward son or daughter about whom it would be easy to become discouraged. But of course, giving up on them would mean forgetting God's power to save! And Jesus has come to save us. 

It is for that reason that today's Gospel has so much to say to us today! The disciples are confused and afraid. In last week's Gospel Jesus fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes, which has to have been exciting, but also unsettling: there's something very mysterious about Jesus and now they're discovering that in continuing to follow him, they're on unchartered territory. Now, in today's Gospel, the mystery about who Jesus really is and what he's come to do gets even greater: they're caught in a frightening storm at night and here is Jesus coming at them like a ghost walking on the water.

Now they're really spooked! And so what does Jesus do? He says, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." He is already beginning to teach them to put their trust in him. Regardless of all the adversaries that he — and they — will be facing, and regardless of how "at sea" they may feel when faced with an uncertain future, he will be with them to guide them safely through that experience.  

So Peter then takes the first step out of the relative safety of that boat to join Jesus and face the waves courageously himself, but then he begins to sink. He panics, but at least he has the trust to cry out "Lord, save me!" — and Jesus, who has been right there with him all the time, guiding him through the experience, does just that.

And even more than that. Not only does he pull Peter out of the water, he then proceeds to calm the storm itself. At which point those in the boat have discovered something new and completely unexpected about who Jesus is: that he is "the Son of God!" This causes their love for him — and their courage — to grow. Since God can do all things — starting with walking on water and calming storms — what is there to fear?

How about you? What do you fear? Are you "all in" or are you still holding back out of fear or for some other reason? Have you given your heart to Jesus? That's the only way that you're going to find the courage you need to live faithfully the challenging life of the Kingdom of God now, and thus share fully in the joy of the Kingdom of God in the world to come. Scripture reminds us that the road to life is narrow and few are those who have the courage and self-sacrificing love to take it. The road to perdition is wide and filled with cowards who live for nothing bigger than themselves.