My Confusion & Fear of Walking on Water

Readings for 19th Sunday in ordinary time: I KINGS 19: 9A, 11-13A; PSALMS 85: 9-14; ROMANS 9: 1-5; MATTHEW 14: 22-23

In today’s Gospel, we hear Matthew’s iconic account of Yeshua walking on water – and of his invitation to Peter to follow the Master’s example.

The story is relevant to our times filled as they are with turbulence, polarization, and uncertainty. Those were the disturbing characteristics of Yeshua’s time as well – and of Matthew’s early church. In both contexts, there was turbulence everywhere. But despite it all, the early followers of Yeshua were asked to do the impossible – to walk on water themselves.

Before I get to what that might mean, here’s a reminder of how our own tempestuous times mirror those of Yeshua and Matthew.

My Own Confusion

If the truth be told, I must admit that I hardly know what to think anymore. The polarizing spirit of the day has me pretty upset. I can barely listen to the news each day.  And the mere images of the politicians I have come to despise cause my stomach to churn. I can’t stand to hear their voices – or those of their ever-harsher critics. And besides that, I see no alternatives. (How much better is Joe Biden than Donald Trump?)

However, the immediate cause of my upset and confusion is the video I posted here last week – an interview by Jason Dean of Sacha Stone, the founder of the International Tribunal for Natural Justice. It generated a lot of controversy when it appeared on OpEdNews on Thursday.

Subsequently, a whole ZOOM meeting of the site’s editors, contributors, and readers had everyone arguing about the interview’s truth claims. Is the coronavirus a pandemic or a “plandemic?” Does wearing a facemask make sense? There was wide disagreement during the call.

Those questions and emotions generated by the video were rooted in the polarizing figure of Sacha Stone himself. He’s charismatic, articulate, extremely outspoken, and given, I fear, to hyperbole. On the one hand, he is deeply spiritual and reflective of the best of the mystical traditions shared by all the world’s great faiths. His passionate concern about and energetic action against the trafficking of children for pedophilic purposes is unmistakable and genuine.  

On the other hand, he somewhat off-puttingly fills his discourse with references to evil, Satanic cults, the deep state, and to ruling class rituals devoted to drinking the blood of fear-adrenalized two and three-year-olds.  

Obviously, then Stone himself is controversial. He illustrated, I said, the difficulty of classifying people today on the basis of the traditional categories of “left” and “right,” liberal and conservative.

For instance, he is a supporter of President Trump. But he has long despised, he says, all politicians as liars and sell-outs to the rich 1% that govern our nation through the lawmakers they have long since bought and sold. Nonetheless, Stone sees Trump as one of the two modern-era U.S. presidents of true human worth. The other one? John F. Kennedy.

In all of this, Stone finds prominent support in a former CIA operative, Robert David Steele. Steele was described by one OEN ZOOM call participant who knows Steele well, has corresponded with him, and has interviewed him formally as “a brilliant guy.” In fact, as an elite insider, Steele not only backs Stone’s claims about cults and blood, he serves as Commissioner and Chief Counsel on Stone’s International Tribunal for Natural Justice. Steele says 22,000 children are disappeared each day for purposes of pedophilia and employment in those blood rituals.  

Is all of that disturbing and confusing enough for you? It’s almost more than I can bear. It has my head spinning with questions I thought resolved long ago about Trump, his portrayal in the media, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Even more seriously, it makes me wonder if our world is indeed controlled by sexual perverts who seem (in Stone’s words) “soulless” and as if they were aliens from another planet.

My only hope is that despite Steele’s endorsement, Stone’s claims about trafficked children are false or exaggerated. Failing that, my hope is that the truth of Stone’s accusations will all unmistakably come to light in the context of the explosive tip-of-the-iceberg saga of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. Such revelation has world revolutionary potential.

Yeshua’s & Matthew’s Confusion

In the context of this Sunday homily, my thoughts about national and personal upset and about revolutionary solutions return me to the social and political circumstances of Yeshua’s own day and of the Gospel writer, Matthew some fifty years later. Both contexts were no less turbulent than our own. As a matter of fact, they were even more so.

Yeshua, of course, lived under Roman occupation. As a good Jew, he surely hated that. The four Gospels are filled with indications of his antipathy towards Rome. However, as a reformer of Judaism, the Master was even more upset about the collaboration between Rome and the Temple Establishment’s scribes and priests. In his estimation, they were even worse sell-outs than our own presidents, congresspeople, judges, media, police, and military.

I’m sure that Yeshua along with his inner circle and his poor and oppressed audiences hardly knew what to think.

The same was true for Matthew’s audience. More than fifty years after Yeshua’s death, tensions with Rome had exploded just as Yeshua had predicted they would. In the year 70, Rome had finally punished Jerusalem’s Jews for their insubordination. In fact, the genocidal Romans had attacked and brutally destroyed the Holy City of Jerusalem, killed more than a million of its inhabitants (including the entire leadership of the emergent Christian community) and razed its temple to the ground. Fifteen or 20 years later, when Matthew wrote his Gospel, his community was still reeling from that defining act of devastation.

It’s in that context that Matthew spins his iconic story of Yeshua walking on water.

The story goes that following Yeshua’s feeding of the 5000 (last week’s Gospel focus), Yeshua forces the apostles to get into their boat and row to the other side. [The text says, “Yeshua made (emphasis added) the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side.” Perhaps these experienced fishermen (as opposed to the land lubber, Yeshua) saw a storm was coming and were reluctant to set sail despite Yeshua’s urgings.] In any case, a storm does come up and the apostles fear they are all about to drown. You can imagine their cries for help.

Then they see a figure walking on the water in the midst of high threatening waves. At first, they think it’s a ghost. Then they realize that it’s Yeshua. He’s walking on the raging waters.

Peter, ever the impetuous leader of the apostles, doubts what he sees. So, he says “Prove to me that it’s you, Yeshua; let me walk on the waves just as you’re doing.” Yeshua says, “Join me then over here then.” So, Peter gets out of the boat and, like his teacher actually walks on water for a few steps.

Then, despite the evidence, he begins to doubt. And as he does so, he starts sinking below the water line. “Save me, Lord!” he cries out again. Yeshua stretches out his hand and saves Peter. Then he asks, “Where’s your faith? Why is it so weak? Why did you doubt?”

Of course, this whole story (like last week’s “Loaves and Fishes”) is one of the dramatic parables Matthew composed. If we get caught up in wondering whether we’re expected to believe that someone actually walked on water, we’ll miss the point of this powerful tale. It’s about Yeshua’s followers doing the unexpected and irrational in the midst of the seriously threatening crises life forces upon us.

You see, Matthew’s Jewish audience shared the belief du jour that the sea was inhabited by dangerous monsters – Leviathan being the most fearful. And courageously walking on water was a dramatic way of expressing what Matthew’s community believed about Jesus, viz. that he embodied the courage and power to do the completely unexpected in the midst of crisis and subdue the most threatening forces imaginable – even the most lethal they could think of, the Roman Empire.

Yeshua’s invitation to Peter communicates the truth that all of us have the power to confront monsters if we’ll just find the courage to leave safety concerns behind even in the most threatening conditions, to confront life’s monsters, and join Yeshua in the midst of its upheavals.

Problem is: we easily lose faith and courage. As a result, we’re overcome by life’s surging waves and by the monsters we imagine are lurking underneath.

Conclusion

So, what does it mean to confront today’s angry waters and invisible monsters. What are we to believe before those who tell us that everything’s fake, there is no truth, and that the world is run by leviathan beasts hiding below the waves boiling all around us? What are we to think for instance, when the police and military we were taught to trust, betray us utterly? What do we make of the fact that there are no leaders we can follow – when we fear that talking heads, pundits, and even the spiritually astute are only sowing confusion, spin, falsehood and doubt? What’s entailed in stretching out our hand towards our Great Teacher inviting us to walk on water and ignore the threatening confusion and fear engendered by our uncertain times dwarfed by those he himself and his followers endured?

Frankly, I’m not sure. As I said, I remain more confused than ever.

However, I do think that walking on water today means desperately grasping Yeshua’s hand in the sense of getting back to the basics of our Great Master’s message about the Kingdom of God. That’s the anchor for many of us. He told us that despite all appearances to the contrary – despite the engulfing waves:

  • We humans are not truly in charge. Life Itself is working things out in an evolutionary pattern that is beyond any of our thought categories (Matthew 6:25).
  • A New Era is in the process of birthing – a new heaven and a new earth is about to dawn (Matthew 3:2, 4:17; Mark 1:15).
  • In that order, empires of all kinds (including our own) are doomed (See the entire Book of Revelation).
  • The new heaven and earth are destined for everyone – not merely for the 1% (Luke 4: 14-22).
  • In fact, the present reality will be turned upside down. Those now considered “first” will be last (Matthew 20:16).
  • The dawning Kingdom will prioritize the needs of widows, orphans, immigrants, the poor and the oppressed.
  • It will be governed by a politics of love (not fear or hate).
  • There, the identity of those now despised (the poor, hungry, thirsty, houseless, naked and imprisoned) will be revealed as embodying Yeshua himself (Matthew 25: 40-45).

Embracing those truths promises to save us from being overwhelmed and drowned. No matter what the “informed” or “experts” might say, living by those convictions represents what it means to walk on water in these uncertain times.

A Courageous Pope Francis Knows about Walking on Water: He Calls Us to Do the Same

Francis & Trump

Readings for 19th Sunday in ordinary time: I KGS 19: 9A, 11-13A; PS 85: 9-14; ROM 9: 1-5; MT 14: 22-23

In today’s Gospel, we hear Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on water – and of his invitation to Peter to follow the Master’s example. The story is relevant to Pope Francis who believes he is Peter’s successor.

The walking-on-water episode is also relevant to Catholics in general trying to figure out how to comport ourselves in this age of Donald Trump with its renewed threats of nuclear war. Should we risk criticizing the president in the name of our faith, or not? The pope’s example says we should. Speak out, it says, against pre-emptive war, narrow fundamentalism, racism, rejection of immigrants, and environmental destruction. And don’t worry: it won’t kill you. Not speaking out may.

Just last month, the pope gave that message, showing, once again, his willingness to step out of his boat and follow Jesus’ symbolic example of fearlessly confronting the monstrous threats facing our world.

In case you missed it, I’m referring to Francis’ apparent endorsement of sentiments expressed in a controversial article that appeared last month in La Civiltà Cattolica – the Vatican’s quasi-official weekly publication. The article boldly criticized American Catholics who accommodate the Gospel to Trumpism.

More specifically, the Vatican weekly accused U.S. Catholic ultraconservatives of making an alliance of “hate” with evangelical Christians in their backing of President Trump. In doing so, the article warned, they have strayed dangerously into the turbulent waters of political polarization in the United States. According to the Civiltà Cattolica writers, the conservatives’ worldview and literal understanding of the Bible is “not too far apart’’ from that of jihadists.

The Pope’s apparent endorsement of the article showed once again his willingness to confront Monsters like Donald Trump himself along with Steven Bannon, and their Catholic supporters like Paul Ryan, Cardinal Raymond Burke, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, and Cardinal Gerhard Muller, the German conservative appointed by Benedict XVI (and recently fired by Francis) as the church’s chief judge of doctrinal orthodoxy.

The suggestion here is that the Pope’s courageous stands over the course of his papacy represent his acceptance of Jesus’ invitation to “walk on water” – to follow the example of Jesus in confronting fearful demons that life inevitably forces us to face.

To see the connection, first consider today’s Gospel reading.

The story goes that following Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 (last week’s Gospel focus), Jesus forces the apostles to get into their boat and row to the other side. [The text says, “Jesus made (emphasis added) the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side.” Perhaps these experienced fishermen (as opposed to the land lubber, Jesus) saw a storm was coming and were reluctant to set sail despite Jesus’ urgings.]

In any case, a storm does come up and the apostles fear they are all about to drown. You can imagine their cries for help.

Then they see a figure walking on the water in the midst of high threatening waves. At first they think it’s a ghost. Then they realize that it’s Jesus. He’s walking on the raging waters.

Peter, ever the impetuous leader of the apostles, doubts what he sees. So he says, “Prove to me that it’s you, Jesus; let me walk on the waves just as you’re doing.” Jesus says, “Join me then over here.” So Peter gets out of the boat and, like Jesus actually walks on water for a few steps.

Then, despite the evidence, he begins to doubt. And as he does so, he starts sinking below the water line. “Save me, Lord!” he cries out again. Jesus stretches out his hand and saves Peter. Then he asks, “Where’s your faith? Why is it so weak? Why did you doubt?”

Of course, this whole story (like last week’s “Loaves and Fishes”) is one of the dramatic parables Matthew composed. If we get caught up in wondering whether we’re expected to believe that someone actually walked on water, we’ll miss the point of this powerful metaphor. It’s about Jesus’ followers doing the unexpected and irrational in the midst of the seriously threatening crises life forces upon us.

You see, Matthew’s Jewish audience shared the belief du jour that the sea was inhabited by dangerous monsters – Leviathan being the most fearful. And courageously walking on water was a poetic way of expressing what Matthew’s community believed about Jesus, viz. that he embodied the courage and power to do the completely unexpected in the midst of crisis and subdue the most threatening forces imaginable – even the most lethal they could think of, the Roman Empire.

Jesus’ invitation to Peter communicates the truth that all of us have the power to confront monsters if we’ll just find the courage to leave safety concerns behind even in the most threatening conditions, to confront life’s monsters, and join Jesus in the midst of its upheavals.

Problem is: we easily lose faith and courage. As a result, we’re overcome by life’s surging waves and by the monsters we imagine are lurking underneath.

And that brings me back to Pope Francis and the stands he has taken against the secular orthodoxy of the day that accommodates itself to an emerging neo-fascism. Since the outset of his papacy, he has demonstrated unusual courage attempting to join Jesus on the world’s dangerous waves in contradiction to expectations established by his predecessors. Remember:

  • Unlike other popes, he’s adopted a comparatively simple, unpretentious lifestyle.
  • He’s lost no opportunity to condemn neo-liberalism, growing income inequality, and capitalism itself.
  • His apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel” (largely unheeded) called for radical change in the church, and implicitly endorsed the liberation theology his two immediate predecessors had tried to kill.
  • More specifically, he adopted liberation theology’s “preferential option for the poor” as the leitmotif of his papacy.
  • In that spirit, his famous “Who am I to judge” gave hope to the LGBTQ community.
  • In 2014, his Vatican Peace Vigil helped head off President Obama’s plans to bomb Syria.
  • The following year, he addressed the U.S. Congress where he forthrightly called for an end to capital punishment, and urged divestment from the arms industry, whose profits he described as “soaked in blood.”
  • On that same occasion, he called his audience to imitate fierce critics of capitalism and United States policy, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.
  • He helped shape and gave unequivocal endorsement to the Paris Climate Accords (recently repudiated by Mr. Trump) by publishing his radical eco-encyclical, Laudato Si’, also in 2015. It arguably remains the most important public document of the 21st  century.
  • His contextual approach to family issues (pre-marital sex, abortion, sexual orientation, same sex marriage, divorce . . .) recognized the sovereignty of individual conscience. In Amoris Laetitia, he admits that moral choices in family and other matters are inevitably conditioned by age, maturity, degree of moral development, economic necessity, and, yes, ignorance and religious misinformation. As a result, no one is anyone else’s judge.

True, his papacy has daringly left safe harbor and courageously sailed into the storm. Francis clearly sees Jesus as his role model in the face of today’s unprecedented winds and waves. Indeed, Francis has gotten out of the boat to trample underfoot the beasts and monsters roiling the seas all around us.

The question is, will we follow him? The monsters we fear can be intimidating:

  • The pro-war mainstream media
  • Those politicians and churchmen I mentioned earlier
  • The relatives, neighbors, friends, and fellow parishioners who might think us too political
  • Our own attachment to our petty reputations and self-conceptions
  • The militarized police at demonstrations
  • The emerging right wing, “brown shirt” thugs who might threaten our political expression

As the crisis this week over North Korea shows, this is no time for followers of Jesus to be silent, to remain in safety inside gated communities, behind our computers, TVs, sports fanaticism, and other entertainment addictions. This is the time for us to follow the example of Jesus and Pope Francis.

Today’s dramatic parable calls us to get out of the boat and confront the demons who keep us silent and compliant.