Be a miracle maker, walk on the water

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, 

All blessings in the name of Jesus.

Jesus, the miracle maker, let him work great miracles in your life. 

Today’s readings are a timely reminder to our disturbing, challenging context.

Today is August 9, a dark date in the history of mankind. The date when human history changed forever. The date when man’s evil surpassed the evil of Lucifer. 

This is the day in the year 1945 when the second atom bomb was dropped on Japan. The bomb was dropped at 11:02 a.m., 1,650 feet above the city. The explosion unleashed the equivalent force of 22,000 tons of TNT. 

The hills that surrounded the city did a better job of containing the destructive force, but the number killed is estimated at anywhere between 60,000 and 80,000. The flesh melted, an apocalyptic rain fell on thousands, scorching their bodies with radium heat. 

Just an atom did that act of evil. Men knew how to unleash the energy of the atom — and kill his fellow men and women. 

From that day, superpowers are spending trillions of dollars in the war industry of mutual hatred and annihilation. The stormy seas of war and displacement of millions ferociously rock the boat of humanity till today. 

With nine countries armed with around 15,000 atomic bombs up to 53 times stronger than those dropped in the Second World War, the stakes are arguably higher. Apocalypse can occur any moment.

An invincible atom holds such monstrous power. 

And now millions are attacked NOT by an atom, but by something much smaller than an atom — the coronavirus. 

The invisible virus has become the invincible enemy of humanity.

In a tale of twisted irony, this tiny contagion has brought nuclear superpowers to their knees. In a devastating lesson to arrogant powers and inflated egos, this tiny virus is throwing an ominous warning: Either stand together as one human family or fall together and fade as a species.

Our fall as a species does not need the destructive power of tons of TNT. The tiny virus can bring us to the threshold of our doom.

Today’s readings prove to be antidotes to the visceral virus of the inhumanity of man against man, brother against brother. Cain against Abel, Pharisees against Jesus, Ancient Rome against Christianity, white against the blacks, one religion against another.

The readings throw a great challenge and warning to all of us: Return to humanity.  

The first reading is from the book the first Kings. The prophet Elijah was asked to go into a cave and wait for the arrival of the Lord. The gullible prophet, like the superpowers of today, was expecting a spectacle of power and glory at the arrival of the Lord. The scenes depicted in the Bible are so sadly reminiscent of the effects of the atom bomb: The Bible says “There came a mighty wind, so strong it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks!!!” It’s a verbatim description of when the atom bomb exploded on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  

But listen to the Bible: There the Lord was not in the mighty shattering wind.

Then came the earthquake. Like the one that came in the aftermath of the atom bomb. The bomb released monstrous energy equivalent to seven earthquakes. The Bible described Elijah quivering in the cave and was looking for the Lord in the earthquake.

The Bible is adamant: The Lord was not in the earthquake!

Then the story continues in the Bible and in the spectacle of the atom bomb. “After the earthquake came the fire.” The fire after the atom bomb of Hiroshima and Nagasaki burnt for weeks. Poor Elijah was looking for the mighty Lord in the searing dance of fire.

The Bible is unyielding: The Lord was not in the fire!

Then the Bible takes a U-turn, revealing a God “gentle and compassionate.” After the fire came the sound of a gentle breeze. There in the gentle breeze, Elijah, at last, savoured the soothing presence of God and in total gratitude, the Bible says. Elijah covered his face and went to experience the Lord.

Wading through the infectious lava of the coronavirus, we look back at history and desperately look for God in the 20th Century darkness when millions died in the war, millions became refugees, and when the world went mad with the atom bomb.  

A wounded  world was searching for God in various places:

  • He was not to be found in the diabolic storm of Hitler and his Nazism
  • He was not found in the earthquake of communist arrogance of Josef Stalin
  • He was not found in the fiery Mao whose policies killed millions in famine
  • He was not found in the wallowing celebrations of exploitation of the capitalistic countries, their arms industry scientists and cerebral cronies of corruption.

Amidst the suffocating darkness of hatred, death and mayhem of the twentieth century, God was to be found in the gentle breeze of the life and mission of men and women who stood against evil, as diminutive David stood against the monster Goliath.

The breeze of service to the most neglected by a frail nun, Mother Teresa
The gentle and soothing breeze of non-violence against the arrogance of imperialism and colonialism by the ‘half-naked’ Mahatma Gandhi
The gentle breeze of the resurrection of Jesus as the Liberator, through the charismatic preaching of a man of color: Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

Yes.  Today’s readings admirably make us reflect on the two apocalyptic threats to human existence:  The nuclear threat and the pandemic. Both threats expose all of us to the threat of minuscule powerful persons who decide who lives and who dies, who eats and who starves.  

Countries have invested more in arms than in health. There are more soldiers in every country in the business of killing. But there is less number of doctors and nurses even in poor countries: 18 million are affected and 700,000 have died. It is this plight that St Paul moans in the second reading from the letter from Romans: “My sorrow is great, my mental anguish endless.”

What has happened to this earth, which God created and ‘found everything good?’ (Gen 1:31)

Today’s Gospel throws an illuminating  light on this issue:

The scene is another storm — another confusion and fear of the disciple.

Today’s Gospel directly follows last week’s account of Jesus feeding a crowd of more than 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. For the sake of the crowds, Jesus had postponed his time of solitude. 

This week, the Gospel says, now, at last, Jesus finds some time for quiet and prayer. He sends his disciples ahead of him by boat, dismisses the crowds, and then withdraws to the mountain to pray. 

Yes, Jesus prays to his father. He needs the time to be with the Father — to thank Him, to be refreshed, to come to know His Father even more fully.

When Jesus was praying, the disciples do not farewell. They struggle to weather the wind and waves, making little progress in their journey. We are reminded of a previous story in Chapter 8 of Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus calms the seas. This time, however, Jesus does not calm the seas, and the disciples do not express fear until they see Jesus walking toward them on the water. In this story, it is not the storm that is feared but the sight of Jesus before them, whom they mistake for a ghost.

COVID has brought such a situation. We are in the boat of uncertainty. We feel the Lord is away. Some feel he has abandoned us. Some unscrupulous preachers even preach that God is punishing us through COVID. But if we look at the disciples in the boat, without Jesus, they are struggling with a violent sea and they had no way to escape.

Even the Savior is mistaken as a Ghost. A threat.

As the world is tossed around in the sea of COVID uncertainty, every other person suddenly looks like a ghost. Everyone can infect me; everyone’s presence is a threat to my welfare. Run away from humanity. It is sick. It is a mortal threat.

Jesus message rises above that suffocating sea of despair:

Courage! It is I! Do Not be afraid.

COVID has confused our sensibilities. We are frightened and even while Jesus is approaching us, our shattered and scared minds cry out “It is a ghost!” To those of us lost our loved ones, or have them in lonely quarantine or serving those affected as front-line health workers, the soothing voice Jesus wafts over the stormy seas of the  pandemic:

Courage! It is I! Do Not be afraid.

This pandemic has brought too many ghosts. For those with money, the poor and the vulnerable become the ‘Ghost’ to the white people the black people who seek justice become the ‘ghost’ to rich countries with power and wealth, the poor countries become a ‘ghost’. 

To all those who are tossed by the hatred of the other, those who demonize others, Jesus assures them: Courage! It is I!  Do not be afraid: During these uncertain times, I was hungry, you gave me food, I was sick you tended me, I was naked you dressed me, I was abandoned you took me in, I was in quarantine and you worried about me, I was worried and you reached out with compassion.   

Whenever you have done that to the least of my brothers and sisters you have found me and exclaimed: It is the Lord! Your eyes are opened and see every man and woman as “Truly you are the son and daughter of God.” That is the epiphany during these dark days.

Today’s readings encourage all of us to become the miracle workers and walk on waters. Yes, miracle workers! Gandhi once said we all can become miracle makers “by moving from what we ARE doing towards what we CAN do.”

Many of us can do many things but are satisfied with the minimum what we ARE doing. A miracle happens when we move from the minimum towards doing all the good we CAN do in our lives. When we move from the perpetual state of hatred of others as enemies towards looking at everyone as my brother and sister miracle happens. When we move from the state of being in perpetual selfishness towards a state of sharing,  as the disciples were motivated during the multiplication of loaves, we become miracle workers.

There are dark days, true. We are in the same boat, as the Pope said during his consoling sermons during the COVID ravaged Lent season. Like the disciples in the same boat, we are tossed around.  But Christ arrives in the form of our brothers and sisters. An insecure world sees only a ‘Ghost.’  

But we can walk on the water. Buoyed by inflated compassion, reconciliation and justice we can walk on the waters of concern and reach out to the wounded humanity. We can cross any lethal seas of despair when we remember the words from the Song of Songs:

Love is Stronger than Death. (Song of Songs 8:6)

We have faced as human family two major threats in the last two centuries: the splitting of the atoms that brought atom bombs and the resurgence of the virus. Millions have perished. 

This Sunday reading comforts us: Together we can win if we can return to our original vocation of ‘love one another as I loved you’. Amidst all these challenges, Jesus will appear. All threats will change into the consoling message: Courage! It is I! Yes. COVID will go away and we will emerge stronger as a human family because it is the Lord who is walking towards us.  

Let us realize that what we felt threatened has  ultimately turned out to be  the presence of Jesus and acclaim together:

Truly You are the Son of God.  Heal us!

Stay blessed. 

This is the homily of Cardinal Charles Maung Bo., Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar.

First Reading 1 Kings 19:9a,11-13a “The Lord appears to Elijah in a whisper.”

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 85:9-14  “The Lord is the source of salvation.”

Second Reading Romans 9:1-5  “Paul speaks of the blessings that have come to the Israelites.”

Gospel Reading Matthew 14:22-33  “Jesus walks on water, and the disciples acknowledge him as the Son of God.”