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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, August 10, 2020
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Eyes fixed on Jesus

Bishop Patricio Buzon

Since Covid-19 struck us six months ago and drastically changed our way of life, we are left with many questions which until now remain unanswered. One such question is: what is God telling us with this pandemic? What is his message?

Today’s readings may help provide some answer. Our gospel today continues the story of the miraculous multiplication of the bread and fish. After the people had eaten, Jesus dismissed the crowd and instructed his disciples to take a boat to the other side of the lake. That night, he was on the mountain in prayer, while his disciples’ boat was merciless tossed about by a violent storm. Before dawn, Jesus came down walking on the lake and told the disciples, “Have courage, it is I. Do not be afraid.” Peter asked to come to Jesus and started to walk on the water. Soon fear overtook him, and he began to sink. Pulling Peter out of the water, Jesus then joined the disciples in the boat. There and then, the winds dropped and the waves subsided.

This story can well be the picture of our world today - a world brutally battered, not only by the pandemic and its terrible effects on life, health, job and economy. Our world today is badly beaten by many more dreadful disasters, such as: natural and man-made calamities (think of the horrific explosion in Beirut); poverty and hunger; inept and corrupt governments; authoritarianism and violations against human rights; climate emergency… and the list can go on.

Overpowered by the storm, the disciples felt totally helpless and abandoned. How they wished Jesus was with them and not on the mountain. In our own present storm, we too cannot help but share the same feeling, when God seems too distant, if not totally absent. But, is he?

At around three o’clock in the morning, Jesus finally came to the rescue. But instead of bringing consolation to the disciples, he added more to their fear as they mistook him for a ghost. But actually, they were right. The sight of Jesus walking above the waves recalls the story of creation when the Spirit of God hovered over the dark primal waters of chaos. (cf. Gen 1:2) Jesus is the Spirit (Ghost) who can ride any storm because he is God, who is infinitely more powerful than all the forces of nature.

This divine revelation is further confirmed by Jesus’ own words, “Ego eimi.” (It is I) He identified himself to his disciples by the same name God identified himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai (I am who am).

The gospel message is clear: Jesus is God with us (Emmanuel) who alone can save us (Jesus). He is greater than the pandemic or any force or power that be. He alone can give us the assurance that with him nothing can harm us.

All he asks is our faith. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Peter could walk on the water as long as his gaze was fixed on Jesus. When he let go of Jesus and put his attention on the wind, he began to sink.

What is faith? Faith is not only believing in the power of God but surrendering oneself to his power. Remember the story about the tightrope artist who walked on a high wire fastened between two towers? The people on the ground cheered him for his brave act. The artist asked, “Do you believe I can repeat the act while pushing a wheelbarrow with my son on board?” They shouted yes, and he did it. Again, he asked, “Do you believe I can repeat the act with someone else in the wheelbarrow?” Once again, they shouted yes. He then asked, “Can anyone volunteer and be my passenger?” No answer.

To fix our gaze on Jesus is to put our total trust in him. When we put our trust on anyone or anything other than Jesus, (like money, power, influence…) we sink. United with Jesus, we share in his divine power and are enabled to walk over the waters of failure, sin, hatred, fear and even this pandemic.

And so, going back to our original question: what is God telling us with this pandemic? I think he wants us to put our life and our world in order, in the original order where he is God and there is no other. For too long, we have substituted him for lesser gods, and so we now find ourselves sinking into the chaos of our own making.

Our gospel story ends with the disciples doing homage to Jesus and proclaiming, “Truly you are the Son of God.”*

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