1 Corinthians 3:9-17: Matthew 14:22-34
What is the true foundation of our life? In what or in whom do we place our trust? Where do we look for the fulfillment of the desires of our hearts? How we answer these questions reveals a great deal about who we are. We live in a time and place, however, that discourages us from acquiring the mindfulness necessary to attend to such ultimate matters. In the wealthiest society the world has ever known and with technological conveniences beyond what previous generations even imagined, we have become slaves to comfort, convenience, and illusions of individuality in ways that pit us against one another and make us weak before our passions. We have come to believe that anything or anyone standing in the way of fulfilling our sovereign will merits condemnation, hatred, and even violence. Like Adam and Eve, we have accepted the lie that fulfilling our self-centered desires is the path to freedom, when it is actually the highway to captivity and despair. Those created in the divine image and likeness will never find joy by grounding themselves in anything or anyone other than God.
Today’s gospel lesson provides a vivid example of what happens when we give ourselves fully to such unsubstantial realities. St. Peter began to sink like a stone in a raging sea when he turned his focus from entrusting himself to the Lord to being overcome with fear about where he stood in relation to the wind and the waves. By his own nature and ability, there was no way that Peter could have avoided drowning, but he called out “Lord, save me!” That is precisely what the Savior did by reaching out to Peter and rescuing him as He said, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” The stress of the storm revealed the weakness of Peter’s faith, which is not surprising because he had gotten himself into this dangerous situation by putting Christ to the test, saying “Lord, if it is You, bid me come to You on the water.” By his lack of humble trust, Peter literally got himself in well over his head. He had learned the hard way that he had no other foundation, no other basis or hope for his life, than Jesus Christ. If left to his own devices, he would have sunk like a stone as he descended to the darkness of a watery grave.
That is a destination completely different from the one to which our Lord calls us. The God-Man came to transfigure us in holiness with His gracious divine energies as the distinct persons He created us to become. The Savior called His disciples to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) He cited the Psalms: “You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High.” (Psalm 82:6; Jn. 10:34) While we remain human beings by nature, Christ enables us to become like Him by our personal participation in His grace. That is why theosis is an eternal process, for God’s holiness is truly infinite. This is obviously not a calling that confirms our proud insistence that we are isolated individuals looking for fulfillment on our own terms, but one that challenges us to become persons united in love with the Lord and with one another as members of His Body, the Church.
As we continue to celebrate the Dormition of the Theotokos, let us look to her as the perfect example of what it means for us to become “God’s fellow workers…God’s field, God’s building.” By her free obedience, she became His living temple in a unique way by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Savior took His physical body from hers. The Theotokos truly became the body of Christ when she contained the Son of God in her womb. She had no illusions about her own power or prominence in that time and place. We remember and celebrate her because of how she grounded her identity fully upon Christ when she risked everything by saying “yes” to the unbelievable calling to become the Virgin Mother of the Son of God. Unlike Peter, however, she never took her eyes off the Lord and entrusted her life to Him throughout decades of struggles that we cannot even imagine. As the first to receive Christ into her life, she became the first to follow Her Son into the heavenly reign upon the end of her earthly life. Let us look to her as the most radiant example of what happens when a human person, subject to the temptations that beset us all, refuses to be distracted from entrusting her life completely to God. She used the great challenges that she faced to commend herself fully to Him. He was and is the foundation of her life, which is why we must become more like her if we are to be transfigured in holiness as the people the Lord created us to become in His image and likeness. He did not breathe life into us so that we could sink like stones under the weight of our sins. No, He wants us to shine with Him in heavenly glory, even as we live and breathe upon the earth. The only question is whether we will make Him the foundation of our lives and refuse, simply refuse, to be distracted by the wind and the waves from doing so.
The contrast between humanity left to our own devices in this world of corruption and the Savior’s fulfillment of our human nature is more stark than the difference between night and day. It is the difference been life and death, between participating in the radiant glory of God and sinking to the bottom of a dark sea of sin. Our Lord has conquered death, Hades, and the tomb in His glorious resurrection on the third day. His divine glory has flooded even the darkest abyss, even the most tragic and painful pits of despair into which we can fall. He has liberated us from slavery to the fear of death as the God-Man Who shares His restoration of the human person in the divine image and likeness with weak, fearful, anxious people like us. When we reach out to Him with faith from the depths of our hearts, as Peter did when he began to sink, we open our darkened selves to His light and present our diseased souls for His healing. Instead of being captive to our self-centered desires and the proud illusions fueled by the corruptions of our culture, we must orient ourselves to the Kingdom of a Lord Who reigns through His Cross and empty tomb. That certainly does not mean that all our problems will disappear or that we will get all that we want in this life on our own terms. It does not mean that at all, as the lives of the saints so clearly demonstrate. It does mean, however, that even our most difficult and painful struggles present opportunities to grow in making Christ the very foundation of our life as we find liberation from slavery to our passions and become more like Him in holiness.
No scheme of cultural progress or restoration can accomplish that, and neither can any kind of therapy that does not pursue the purity of heart necessary to see God. (Matt. 5:8) The darkness roots deeply within us all, both personally and collectively, and nothing but the brilliant glory of the Lord can overcome it. Whether we know it or not, we inevitably sink like stones into the abyss whenever we make anything or anyone else the foundation of our lives. All good things have their place in God’s creation and we should despise none of them. But we will not become truly human unless we ground every dimension of our life on the foundation of the Savior. Like the Theotokos, we “are God’s fellow workers…God’s field, God’s building.” As St. Paul teaches, “we are God’s temple and… God’s Spirit dwells in you.” Christ has made us members of His own Body, the Church. The foundation of our life, of our identity, and of our hope is in Him, not in illusions about the importance of our own individuality or the uniqueness of any group to which we belong. Let us follow the example of the Theotokos in grounding ourselves so fully on the Lord that even our deepest struggles become points of entrance to the heavenly kingdom. Like St. Peter, let us come to our senses and turn our attention to the Savior as we call out for His mercy. The only other option is to sink like a stone under the weight of our own passions.