June 20; 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year B

12th OT2 20 21Let us cross over to the other side

Our story begins with an invitation from the Lord: “Let us cross over to the other side!” This shouldn’t be a problem at all if you are convinced that the grass is greener on the other side, or you possess an exploratory spirit and every adventure is a moment of serendipity. But I guess most of us are not wired this way. We would rather stick with the tried and tested. We are not sure if the other side would be rife with danger or the crossing may prove to be perilous too. The familiar, on the other hand, offers no surprises. This may be why change is often resisted, risks avoided and why we would often wait for others to take the initiative.
Today, our Lord is inviting His disciples to cross this barrier of water. The sea itself shouldn’t have been that formidable since a number of His Apostles were themselves seasoned fishermen. They should have been in their element. But there is more to this. The sea or lake of Galilee served as a natural boundary between its Western and Eastern shores. To its East, we have pagan territory, the land of unclean livestock and violent demoniacs. To the West, we have the predominantly, albeit nominally, Jewish territory. Strangely, this so-called Jewish territory was not immune to demonic activity. Demons do not discriminate between Jews and Gentiles, both are fair game for the diabolical. Although both populations shared much in common in terms of language and culture, the Jewish rules of ritual separation ensured that the religious boundaries were meticulously guarded to prevent any casual crossing.

But then our Lord issues this command to His disciples, “Let us cross over to the other side!” The comfortable status quo is challenged. The Church will not be limited by these human barriers nor will she be defined by any sectarian divisions. In response to Rudyard Kipling’s claim in his poem, “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” we Christians sing a very different tune as we proclaim that, “in Christ, there is no East or West.”

But the crossing would not be easy as demonstrated by the squall that overtook the party as they crossed the lake in their boat. The powerful storm at sea could be a symbol for the disciples’ resistance to cross over. It is so much easier to remain safely on the shore, on the familiar and comfortable side, rather than risk capsizing and drowning in the midst of crossing. We cling tenaciously to the known, and choose familiarity over risk. Just like the disciples, we cry out to God in fear and desperation: “Master, do you not care? We are going down!”

Perhaps, what is needed is a reality check from the Lord. Our Lord speaks these words with authority: “Quiet now! Be calm!” I’ve often wondered whether He was addressing the winds and the waves, which was unnecessary since He is Lord of the winds and the waves. But these words could easily have been addressed to His disciples in response to their childish and cowardly whining. Likewise, when we complain to God to save us, our Lord may be telling us, “Quiet now! Be calm!”, which is not only a rebuke but a consoling assurance that He is in charge. Our Lord is asking us: “Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?”

So, what could the turbulent waters in our lives look like? Here are some possibilities.

Change, and the fear of change and commitment may be a frequent storm for many. Clinging to our comfort zones, to what makes us feel cosy and secure may be the greatest obstacle to discipleship and following of Christ. When we fear stepping out or stepping up to a mission entrusted to us, we are practically telling the Lord, “It is too difficult! I’d rather remain on this side of the shore.” Many would choose safe anonymity over being in the blazing spotlight of leadership. When our Lord called on the first disciples, He was asking them to leave everything behind, to deny themselves and to take up their cross in imitation of Him. The gospel story would have turned out differently if the disciples had hesitated and chosen to hold on to their current security. There will be no Church. We will not be here.

Many fear the crossing because they fear failure, which is actually a fear of negative public opinion. When we are so conditioned by what others think of us, we do not have the courage to take risks. We will always choose the safe path, the path of least resistance and minimal difficulty. But our Lord routinely crossed barriers that made Him unpopular. Our Lord ate with the wrong people, talked to the wrong people, and often did the wrong things. He routinely upset the religious establishment by loving people that were off-limits. He did all these because He was guided by the Father’s will and His love for the people.

Finally, in an environment which is deeply polarised, it is almost impossible for persons on either side of the aisle to cross the divide. Enmity raises barriers which prevent crossing. It is so much easier for us to keep our enemies at a distance. But our Lord invites us, “Let us cross over to the other side!” He is inviting us to go beyond our pride – to reach across the aisle and offer forgiveness and seek reconciliation. Saint Augustine gave a similar interpretation of our gospel passage. He wrote: “when you are insulted, that is the wind. When you are angry, that is the waves. So, when the wind blows and the waves surge, the boat is in danger, your heart in jeopardy, your heart is tossed to and fro. On being insulted, you long to retaliate. But revenge brings another kind of misfortune - shipwreck. Why? Because Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten Christ. Rouse Him, then remember Christ, let Christ awake within you, give heed to Him.” So, if you wish to overcome the barriers of hostility, you need to awaken Christ within you.

As much as it seems safe to remain in our secure comfort zone and do nothing, this will not lead to salvation. If we wish to follow the Lord, we must be willing to “cross over to the other side.” The true antidote to enmity and the fear of earthly dangers, inconveniences and public humiliation is the fear of the Lord, the reverent awe of a God who is master of the winds and the waves, and every storm in our lives. “He who fears the Lord is never alarmed, never afraid” (Sirach 34:14). The crossing from this side to the other side may seem impossible. But with Christ in the boat, we know that the journey will be possible. The “others” from the other shore are waiting for you to cross over. The “other” could be a stranger or an enemy or your worst fear. And though we may be wary of the reception we will get or the risks that we would have to face, our Lord persists with His invitation: “Let us cross over to the other side!” Let us trust Him. Let us follow Him. Let us take the first step in faith in heeding His call.