Justice Reflections From Fr. Claude

Nineteenth Sunday of the Year

There is something very fitting about Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on water and the invitation to Peter to do the same. The story is relevant to the experiences Matthew’s contemporaries of turbulence, polarisation, violence, and uncertainty. These experiences are also very much part of our lives.  



Most people, like Elijah, look for God’s presence in places of power, violence, strength or in earthquakes, fires, or winds. Like people today, we want a God who will punish wrongdoing. But not us or our friends. We want a God who will get mad and even where the end justifies the means as with the bombings 78 years ago of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, our concept of God is again challenged as we saw in the story of the wheat and weeds.  Elijah after killing many pagan priests discovered that a just and God-centred world cannot be achieved by the violent destruction of ‘the sinner’ or evil. This is how the powerful deal with conflict. Elijah finds that God is not in destruction, violence or killing but in the ordinary quiet, gentle breeze. We discover this as we respond every day in courageously serving and in solidarity with others. The destruction of Hiroshima and on Wednesday of Nagasaki, though justified, were acts of violence revealing the worst that people are capable of against both creation and people. Yet, God is present in organisations (such as Pax Christi, Pace e Bene) and individuals that promote peace and nonviolence saying, ‘There has got to be another way’.  The prophets called people beyond the ‘narrow places’ of their lives, to get out of their boats, and respond to people crushed by poverty, trauma, abuse, and violence – all connect with capitalism, empire, wealth, war and nationalism. We move beyond these narrow places when raise our voices in response to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor. Many people are crying out in fear. Some cry out with tears and screams of horror. Some cry out with silence. Some cry out through paralysis, not knowing what to say or do. Some cry out with rockets and bombs. Some cry out with political rhetoric and posturing. In whatever way we do it, at some point we all cry out in fear. It is always a call to step out and take courage.


As we listen to Jesus’ invitation to Peter’, James Baldwin’s words come to mind: ‘The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us, and the light goes out.’  We are invited to keep connected with Jesus and one another. Focusing fully on our call to work for justice we find the resources to stay afloat in shared community and taking the risk of loving and embracing our enemies, absorbing the fear and anger in others without retaliating, and providing inspiration and hope for others. We can ‘walk on the water’ in united community rather than allowing selfishness, fear, suspicion cause us to become separated and sink rather than hold on to one another.  Peter’s fear is not unfamiliar to many of us. We know what fear feels like.


Our challenge is not to allow the walls of our homes, communities, churches, or religious houses shield us from violence, injustice, atrocities and indifference around us. We cannot show ourselves to be followers of Jesus when we remain in the dark or avoid the unknown waters of conflict. We are drawn into uncharted places where the still small voice can only be heard if we quieten ourselves and align our hearts to God. Like Jesus, we are all meant to work for the empowerment of the marginalised. Many people, all with a name and face, languish on the margins of a busy world without anyone to gaze on them with the tenderness that alleviates isolation and separation. 


Pope Francis has heard the call to walk on water as he discerns how to deal with threats to peace via nuclear weapons, challenging alliances between groups and nations that threaten peace. He has stepped out of the boat to oppose pre-emptive war, narrow fundamentalism, racism, rejection of immigrants, and environmental destruction and fearlessly confront the polarising threats to our world and church. He has stepped out of the boat, in the face of opposition, by fearlessly and lovingly look towards the peoples of the Amazon and the injustices they endure.


This is no time for us to be silent, to remain safely behind closed doors as our country aligns itself with other countries to prefer to play war games rather than work for peace.  We are being called to get out of the boat and confront whatever ‘demons’ keep us silent and compliant.  We are invited to do what seems impossible: to build our lives and friendships here and now, amid troubles and tragedies that life serves up. Sometimes walking on water might be easier than forgiving where there is resentment and bitterness; being a peacemaker where there is suffering and conflict; being compassionate where there is hardness of heart; preaching the good news while the world staggers under the weight of hopelessness and fearfulness. There are other moments that can be tumultuous: speaking out and not remaining silent in the face of wrong; taking a stand before family, friends and colleagues’ opposition; when we try to do what is right in face of racism, the forces of poverty, urban problems, government intransigence or even the church.


Jesus does not come to us from outside our storms and fears even though we might often look for him outside the circumstances of our lives and the solutions to dire circumstances do not come only from outside the circumstances themselves. Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus came to the disciples through the wind and in the darkness. His peace, words of comfort, and presence are not beyond the storm but in the eye of the storm. He is present in the place of our fear. Jesus is God-with-us and so would not be anywhere else. Otherwise, he is not God-with-us. What the disciples thought would destroy them became the milieu in which they recognised Jesus as the Son of God.


We are not literally being asked to walk on water, but to believe that God’s love for us and is more powerful than chaos, evil and apathy. Our challenge is to take on the storms in our lives with a love and hope that risks going overboard. The headwinds are fierce, but the force of God’s Spirit is greater still. ‘Take courage, it is I.’ His greeting said ‘I’m here for you.’


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