The Prelate’s Sermon, Sunday, February 6
Today, on the fourth Sunday following the Nativity and the Theophany of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Gospel reading is from Saint John 6:15-21. The Evangelist narrates that “when Jesus realized that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” In the evening, the disciples take a boat to cross the sea toward Capernaum, and lo! After sailing a few miles, they face a terrible storm in the dark of the night. Their fear increases when they notice a luminous silhouette heading toward them, and eventually amid the storm and fear they hear the voice of their Master, “I am, do not be afraid.” They want to take Him in the boat, but immediately the boat reaches the shore.
This is a fascinating passage where we find precious lessons to nourish our spiritual life. I would like to share the following thoughts:
- The first part of this narration takes place right after the amazing miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. What a spontaneous response, in witnessing a solid fact! Out of nowhere, when somebody can feed thousands of people, surely, he is worthy to be a king and a leader because he can secure the essentials of not only a family or a community but even a nation. Anyone would highly welcome this kind of reward, but it was not so with this unusual Wonderworker who was more interested in bringing fundamental change to life rather than honor for Himself.
- Our Lord by realizing that this unanimous good wish in essence was a temptation to deviate from His sacred mission of Redemption, manages to escape from the multitudes, and withdraws to the mountains by Himself. There is a twofold message from this action:
- In our lives we may be showered by glamorous offers. What is our response? The book of the Proverbs instructs us that “sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end, it is the way to death” (Prov 16:25). The dazzling offer may seem like a once in a lifetime opportunity, a blessing in the short term, but in the long run it may cause us to make a lot of sacrifices to yield values we have cherished for a long time. To surrender or not to surrender to this kind of temptation is a real dilemma which people from different walks of life regularly confront. To have the right answer, we have to follow in the footsteps of the One who has crossed this path consciously and vigorously.
- By withdrawing to the mountains, Christ teaches us that in order not to lose our way in the precious mission, which is often beset unworthily by worldly cobblestones, we should turn to the source of our identity, the Almighty God. As human beings, if it is normal to consult with trustworthy friends or professionals, how much more meaningful is the advice of our loving and caring heavenly Father? We read in the book of Exodus that whenever Moses went into the tent of meeting, the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend (Ex 33:11). Through His example, Jesus told us that at any minor or major juncture of our lives, before making a final decision, we should humbly distance ourselves from the world and withdraw to the mountains into the tent of the meeting where we may speak face to face with God and learn Divine wisdom to make the right choice.
- We have two passages in the Gospels narrating the identical topic with slight differences: today’s reading and in the Gospel of Saint Matthew 14:22-32. The common essential point in both scenarios is that Jesus, amid the storm and fear, pacifies the stormy hearts of the Disciples by saying, “I am, do not be afraid.” As in light there is no darkness, likewise God is Peace, par excellence, and whoever is with God lives in peace, for as Saint John says, “and the darkness did not overcome it,” (Jn 1:5); thus, anyone who walks with God, is free from fear.
- Identifying Himself as “I am” is the most powerful statement that centuries ago Moses was privileged to hear facing the burning bush (Ex. 3.14). The Almighty God’s cardinal characteristic in contrast with all pagan gods, is that He is the Living God, the source of Life and all Creation. In His awesome presence celestials and earthlings enjoy the most splendid reward of Life, Joy, Beauty and all bliss which surpass our understanding (Phil 4:7).
- It is true that there is no significant miracle recorded in this passage as mentioned in Matthew; moreover, the boat safely arrives at the shore; here also we get positive food for our spiritual growth.
- The impact of the Master’s voice was instant. Regardless of any material miracle’s absence, the greatest miracle is that as soon as the Apostles realized that the Lord was with them, they felt safe. As children in danger feel themselves safer with their parents, or soldiers on a heavy battlefield when they hear the voice of their commander girdle themselves and continue their struggle, likewise the Disciples’ fear yielded to assurance.
- As the boat immediately reached the land, with Jesus, our Savior, following each and every turbulence, personal or collective, we always embark at the safe harbor, and we salute life.
Let us all humbly present our supplications with the Armenian hymnologist, and say,
The sea of my life constantly tosses me, Ծով կենցաղոյս հանապազ զիս ալեկոծէ․
The enemy raises stormy waves upon me. Մրրկեալ ալիք թշնամին ինձ յարուցանէ
O Good Captain be the refuge of my soul. Նաւապետ բարի, լեր անձին իմոյ ապաւէն։
With this teaching derived from the Holy Scriptures and our church fathers, let us all who have been taught that the sea is a symbol of our own lives, sometimes full of gentle breezes and at other times threatened by tempests and storms, always welcome the “I AM”, “who is a God nearby, and not a God far off”, as the Prophet Jeremiah says (Jer 23.23), and who comes to help us and direct the boat of our lives to reach the harbor of peace. and praise the All-Holy Trinity. Amen.