Jan Brueghel the Elder, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee (detail), 1596
Transcription of Homily
4th Sunday After Epiphany
Translation of the Epistle for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany.
Brethren, owe no man anything, but to love another; for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law. For, thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness; thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is comprised in this word: Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. The love of our neighbor worketh no evil. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.
Translation of the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew.
At that time, when Jesus entered into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, a great tempest arose in the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves; but he was asleep. And they came to him and awaked him, saying: Lord, save us, we perish. And Jesus saith to them Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then rising up, he commanded the winds and the sea, and there came a great calm. But the men wondered, saying: What manner of man is this, for the winds and the sea obey him?
Saving words of the Gospel.
Why are you faithful? Oh, ye of little faith.
In the name of the Father to the Son, the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Today, on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, were presented with this very event-filled Gospel in just a few verses. And it shows us a very human situation in which we all find ourselves at times. We want our Lord to fix situations but we don’t want Him to fix us. Our Lord goes to the core of the problem here in these verses; the problem that we all share at times. How many times do we want our Lord to make our problems go away and we threaten Him with a faith crisis? We say, Yeah, take care of this and everything will be fine. There’s a certain veiled threat there. And, you know, it helps though, to understand this Gospel. In its context, it’s following on the heels, no pun intended, of a couple of would-be vocation stories. These would-be followers of Christ: but first, let me go bury my father and He says, Let the dead bury their dead you follow. And these others who have their own cares of possessions or comforts or certitudes, and those little fragments of their lives that are not subjected to Christ. And He says, But you follow me. And then what do we see right after that? These words at that time Jesus entered into the boat, his disciples followed Him. So this following of Christ then is not something that guarantees we’re going to have it easy. It’s actually because they’re following Christ that they entered into this crisis.
So He gets in the boat and His followers follow Him and they go for a ride. In the English translation, it says a great tempest. There’s not no word about storm in the Greek. It says seismos; a quaking. There’s a quaking, it says seismos megas there’s a great quaking, so everything is shaking, there’s an earthquake and there, as a result, these waves are just pouring over the sides. Christ’s presence doesn’t prevent this rather he occasions it. It’s a trial. He provokes it. He wants us to have trials. If we didn’t have trials, how could we exercise virtue? If everything just went our way and we would just go our way, and it wouldn’t be really His way.
We see this juxtaposition of the panic, the understandable panic, of the Twelve and then the divine serenity of God asleep in the boat. So is God’s dormition, so to say, accompanying this existential fear? Sleep is something like a hybrid of presence and absence, we experienced that often in our prayer life. When you go to Adoration we come with our concerns, our worries, we know He is there but it doesn’t seem like anything’s happening at times. And that’s our own inability to see and hear what He’s doing.
And then we see this, it’s almost like an S.O.S. right that just three words. Kyrie sōson apollymetha. Kyrie, Lord, it’s an evocative so they’re crying out, Lord, Kyrie sōson it doesn’t say save us; it says save. It’s just the concept save that’s all they said. Sōson doesn’t say save us. Save. In other words, they just need this primordial concept to become reality because of the dire situation they’re in, and then after they say Lord save, we perish actually. It’s a got what’s called a perfective prefix on this verb; means we’re already lost. We’re already lost. Lord and save. Were lost. Those are the words of these disciples who are in this crisis that our Lord wants them to be in.
This, we’re already lost is like the opposite of what was called the prophetic past in Hebrew, you know the different tenses of the verbs. There was what in Hebrew you find in the Psalms what’s called the prophetic past; Lord, you have saved us and David is saying this, You have saved us when nothing is evidence of being saved. It’s just a bare naked act of trust in Him. You have saved us even though everything seems like it’s going down. Well, this is the opposite. It’s like everything is lost is the opposite of that prophetic past you find in Hebrew. And our Lord has this double rebuke.
It’s interesting to the order of events, the order of things that He addresses. First, He addresses their problem. He’s probably shouting over the wind. And what does He say? He doesn’t rebuke the wind so they can hear His voice. He shouts over the wind and the waves and He analyzes them. If you if your house is burning down and you call the fire department, and over the crackling and the roaring of the flames of your house going down and the fireman shows up and says, Well, actually, you know, the problem here, is that electrical, you got your wires… That’s where, you know, an analysis isn’t what you’re after at that moment, you would hope that would come later, right now just put the fire out. Well, you know, the Apostles are not looking to be psychoanalyzed. They want Him to take care of a situation but our Lord takes care of what’s most important first. And what is it? Oligopistoi, scarceness of faith, like the word oligarch, right. It’s there’s a small group of people that run things. Not that that would ever happen here, but oligopistoi means is there’s a small, small faith. There’s some there’s faith there, but it is small; a scarcity. There’s something but it’s not and in then, deiloi, calm cowardly, why are you, de loi? Deiloi, why are you cowardly? Why are you useless? That’s another translation of the word. Why are you so useless? That’s kind of what they want to hear at this point. Right? You know, the way the water’s coming over the sides, and He says, You’re useless. You’re cowardly. And they’re kind of looking around, Okay, we accept that. Now would you get on with this?
Well, there’s a reason our Lord does these things in this order, because He wants their faith to grow. This is also on the heels of the Sermon on the Mount. We can be tempted to think that our faith is just an interior thing. But our Lord is the master of the cosmos. At the very beginning of Genesis it says the Spirit of God hovered over the waters, and these are same waters, and now He’s calming them or He’s going to calm them. He wants to reveal then to the Apostles their root problem their problem: a scarcity of faith. And so there’s this seismos megas which is followed by galēnē megalē, a great calm. So there’s a great quaking, then there’s a great calm. And our Lord doesn’t appeal to the Father. He doesn’t have any magical charms, there’s no formulary that He repeats to make the sea to calm. It’s just the power of the word, because He is the Word; He is the Eternal Word of God, so much so that even, as it says, even the winds and the sea obey Him.
There’s hypakouousin which is obey and it comes from hearing, from hearing, just like in Latin, ob audere all our DNA from hearing, we get auditory right? So this obedience comes from hearing. What is the connection here? Paul tells us: faith comes from hearing. So, this ability to communicate with Him, to have a heart that is open to Him to trust, and, above all, the proof of this faith is obedience. So this obedience to Him, that is the proof of faith. The elements obey Him.
But we live in what’s called the moral universe, which means there are multiple wills at play. So our task is to adequate our own will to His; to hear what He has to say and to accept it, not because it makes sense, not because it makes our lives easier, not because He’s fixing situations, but because we know who He is on His own authority not because it makes sense — that comes later. First, there has to be an act of the will under the action of grace and an act of the will that is faith. When, after the Bread of Life discourse, seemingly all of the disciples walk, almost all of His followers walk away from it because of this dogmatic discourse that He gave on the Real Presence in the Eucharist. It says almost all of them walked away and then Christ points to His disciples. What about you, you’re gonna walk away too And Peter, what does he say? He gives really a definition of faith. He says, To whom would we go you have the words of eternal life?
So we go from this quaking of the sea in the earth, to this quaking of a fearful cowardly, useless disciples, as our Lord says, to now this quaking, this shaking of marvel, seeing what He is capable of doing, and you know, our Lord is constantly challenging their faith. Often we find in this repeated praise. And they believed as if it were the first time. You know, our faith has a short shelf life, so it has to be constantly renewed. So it’s constantly renewed in as much as we have this attitude of hearing, of listening, of obeying it. So, if we want to grow in our faith, that’s where it starts. It starts with listening, our prayer life and above all, in our obedience.
In the name of the Father and the Son, the Holy Ghost.