Sunday, August 13
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 14: 22 – 33
After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”
Compared to our technologically precise measurement of time, both the ancient Romans and ancient Jews had a more “relative” time. The actual measurement of time lengthened and shortened due to the ebb and flow of the seasons. The day was divided into 12 equal portions, as was the night. These 24 divisions were “an hour,” even if they were 50 minutes or 70 minutes long due to the changes in seasonal daylight.
Within this system, Jews measured sunset to next sunset to constitute a single day, while the Romans gave us the standard of midnight to next midnight. The Romans further divided the night hours into four “watches” of 3hrs each, the amount of time the Roman army believed a guard could stay fully alert in darkness.
With this understanding of Roman and Jewish time, we can surmise that the disciples pushed out into the sea towards the final part of the Jewish day, before the sun had set. “When it was evening,” after sunset in the Jewish reckoning, Jesus has already made it up the mountain and started praying. “Meanwhile,” the text tells us, the disciples are miles from shore in their boat in a storm, getting tossed about. Both Jesus and his disciples are praying, but for very different reasons!
It is not until the “fourth watch of the night” that Jesus walks out to the disciples in the boat. The fourth and final watch of the night fell between 3-6am. Therefore, depending on the season, the disciples were easily on their boat for over 9 hrs being tossed about and threatened with drowning. Their lives certainly flashed before their eyes multiple times. And in the very midst of their terror, they see Jesus. He is in the last place they expected to see him: walking calmly across the waves of the storm threatening them.
The storms in our lives can seem equally endless. Many of us have kept the fourth watch, filled with anxiety or despair. But even in the darkest part of night, we must not give up hope in God’s love. We must keep watch even amid a twilight tempest, knowing that Jesus may soon appear in our lives in the most unlikely of places.
Father Matthew Morris