domenica 13 agosto 2017

«Vere Filius Dei es!»

Two weeks ago, we finished reading the Sermon of Jesus in parables. Last Sunday we should have started the narrative section of the fourth part of Matthew’s gospel, which is about the Church considered as the first-fruits of the kingdom of heaven; but we celebrated the transfiguration of the Lord. If we had celebrated the Sunday liturgy, we would have read the account of the miracle of the loaves. Today we read the continuation of that story. Jesus dismisses the crowds and strangely orders his disciples to precede him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Why? Jesus needed to stay alone for a while. Evidently, the experience of that day had been particularly stressful for him. Besides the teaching and the feeding of the five thousand, we know from the gospel of John that people wanted to make him king. I think that something like that would not be easy to manage for anybody. It must have taken a lot of time for Jesus to convince the crowds to leave him alone and go home. So, there was need of a moment of solitude, silence and prayer to metabolize that experience.

Meanwhile the disciples had covered a good stretch of their crossing; but there was a storm, and the boat was tossed about by the waves. Towards the end of the night, Jesus appears walking on the sea. Instead of rejoicing, his disciples get frightened and mistake Jesus for a ghost. At this point, Jesus identifies himself and tries to reassure them. Then Peter, as usual, steps forward and asks for the impossible: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus allows him and he starts his walk on the sea; but he soon begins to sink, and screams for help. Jesus stretches out his hand, catches him and scolds him for doubting. When they get into the boat, the storm calms down. After seeing what happened, the disciples cannot but say: “Truly, you are the Son of God” (Vere Filius Dei es!)

How can the disciples come to this conclusion? First, they see him walking on the sea. This means that he has power over the waters. In the Old Testament, it is God who controls the waters; so, Jesus has a divine power. Second, when Jesus makes himself known, he says: “It is I,” literally, “I am,” which is the ineffable name of God. Third, when Jesus get into the boat, the wind ceases. On a similar occasion, when Jesus had calmed a seastorm, the disciples had said: “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?” (Mt 8:23-27) Now they themselves answer that question: He is the Son of God.

So, this walking of Jesus on the water is a revelation of his deepest identity. But we should not confine ourselves to seeing in it just a miraculous event happened two thousand years ago. The gospel is not just a report of past events; it is the account of something present. The gospel does not speak only of Jesus and his disciples two thousand years ago, but even of his disciples at any time. When Jesus tells his disciples to precede him to the other side of the sea, we could see in this command the mission of the Church through history. Meanwhile, Jesus has gone up on the mountain to pray: Jesus has ascended into heaven to intercede for us. This does not mean that he has abandoned his Church in her journey across history; it is that his disciples just cannot see him. But it is not necessary to see the Lord for him to be present. We have heard in the first reading the experience of Elijah: he just heard the sound of a gentle breeze, and understood that he was before the Lord. The boat is tossed about by the waves of a stormy sea: the Church has always to face the assaults of the hostile forces of the world. It is at those moments that Jesus reveals himself to his Church and reassures her; but the disciples often do not recognize him and mistake him for a ghost. Peter asks Jesus to allow him to go to him amid waves and gets this grace; but he is a human being like us; there are moments when he doubts and begins to sink. Thank God, there is the hand of Jesus ever ready to catch him and save him from the water. When Jesus gets into the boat, that is, when he is present in his Church, there is calm. Only in Jesus can the Church experience peace. He is the Lord of history; nothing is beyond his control. To accept him into our boat, it is enough to acknowledge his identity: “Truly, you are the Son of God.”