One of the beautiful places in the Philippines is the Apo Island in Dumaguete. Okay, let me qualify this. The island is beautiful, but its lot submerged underneath the sea is awesome. I found myself snorkeling there some six years ago and the experience is simply … breathless.
Not because I lacked oxygen, I guess also because of it, but primarily because of the beauty which stunned me when I plunged underwater. It was a veritable paradise under the sea, a heaven submerged under clear heraldic deep water.
In my own estimation, it’s not exaggerated to say that the beauty of the sea is overwhelming even without the schools of fish that swim with me. The exquisite coral formation put me in awe and made me cognizant of colors which I did not even imagine existed.
Flipping back my journal on 27 April 2008, I found this entry:
The island was really a paradise. God is such a masterful artist and a superb creator. Even under the sea, he was able to plant so much beauty and even sustain it … The only thing that made it a little disappointing is that I was not able to take a photo of it. But Fr. Wilbert (our socius) is right, what took place under the water is such a private moment between God and me.
The Word in other words
This Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 14:22-33) features Jesus’ disciples themselves who had some up-close-and-personal encounter with nature worth telling about. But as a stark contrast from my experience, theirs is neither calming nor breathtaking, rather, it features a facet of nature that accentuates its power and wrath more than its magnificence.
The Gospel writer had it that violent winds and wild waves visited the disciples in the middle of the sea; it rocked their boat. When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they were terrified that they cried out in fear ‘It is a ghost!’
Promptly, Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It’s me! Don’t be afraid.’
Peter, epitomized by the evangelist St. Matthew to be the leader of the pack, answered in behalf of the group, ‘Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ Jesus tersely said “Come.” Peter did as told; He got out of the boat and started to walk to Jesus across the water.
That gallantry—that bold and impassioned devotion to the Master—we have to give it to Peter. He knew how to bask in on the spotlight. And he must have known that this would be one episode which he’d shine the brightest, or so he thought.
Noticing the wind, he was frightened and began to sink. “Lord,” he cried, “save me!”
Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. “You have so little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
The wind died when both of them got into the boat. While the rest of the disciples who were in the boat bowed down before Jesus and said, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
And if my imagination serves me right, Peter—the fisherman—became their laughing stock.
It is Jesus
But who cannot not relate with Peter? Many times, when we encounter fear, focus and attention go down the drain. Before it, we are helpless. It consumes us. In that boat scene, Peter’s fear got the better of him, slipping off in his mind the most important detail in that episode: Jesus was present.
Fr. Bernard Haring, a moral theologian, once asked what is the most important thing done in the sacrament of confession. One answered ‘penance!’ one fellow said ‘contrition’ and another one bellowed out ‘forgiveness!’ Haring responded ‘no,’ ‘no,’ and ‘no.’ The more acceptable answer was to come from one little girl who blurted out ‘It’s what Jesus does!’
The long accomplishments in Jesus’ resume qualifies Him to cast our fear away and to calm our restless hearts.
His simple deed of breaking five loaves of bread fed a multitude;
He turned water into superb wine;
He raised Lazarus, a little boy, a little girl back to life;
He cured the mother-in-law of Peter and also that man afflicted with paralysis;
He cast away demons, in fact, legion of them! Even before a few minutes of breathing His last,
He forgave that repentant thief. He ascended back to the Father.
And the list is infinite.
But what do these get to do with us? With a sense of trust, hope and faith, may we find the courage to surrender our fear and tell Jesus “Lord, please take charge.” And like Peter, we are challenged, too, to be humble enough in accepting our limits, and say, “Lord, save me!”
And yet, we heard that even before he would be able to utter these, Jesus had already a ready response: ‘It’s me … come.’