What Real Power Looks Like

User’s Guide to Sunday, Aug. 13

Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee
Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee (photo: Rembrandt/public domain)

Sunday, Aug. 13, is the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). Mass Readings: 1 Kings 19:9, 11-13; Psalm 85:9-14; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

Today’s readings show us what absolute power really looks like. We are used to seeing powerful human beings, and they are, too often, tyrants who throw their weight around. When power is truly absolute — when it is omnipotent — it is simple, quiet and complete. There is no reason for real power to assert itself: It is unavoidable.

Jesus shows what this power is like in the Gospel. Look at the difference between him and the disciples. After miraculously feeding the people, he sends his disciples in a boat across the sea and quietly goes to pray. When a storm rises up, he calmly comes to the rescue. The water doesn’t stop him; he walks on it. The disciples’ panic doesn’t stop him. His power is absolute. Meanwhile, the apostles on the boat in the storm see him coming and are terrified. “It is a ghost!” they shout. They need him to prove himself: “Lord if it is you, command me to come across the water!” says Peter. Then, as the waves overcome his faith, he cries out: “Lord, save me!”

How different they are from Elijah. In the first reading, Elijah, too, has left a crowd behind — an angry crowd that wanted to kill him. He is told the Lord will pass by, and he withstands an earthquake and a fire as he waits. He knows the difference between nature’s power and God’s: God’s is greater. He created it and set its rules. It is entirely subject to him — a storm, an earthquake and a fire are nothing compared to God’s whisper.

But as the Psalm points out, his power is even greater than that: God has power over the unseen world, as well. “Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss,” says the Psalm today. “Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.” As the Catechism puts it, “In God, power, essence, will, intellect, wisdom and justice are all identical” (271). The contradictions that apply to everything else don’t apply to God.

There is only one place that God is powerless in today’s readings: in the face of human freedom. When Peter is walking across the water to him, Jesus can’t make him trust him. Peter has the freedom to fear the storm more than he trusts God. And in the second reading, Paul is frustrated because he can’t make his beloved Jewish people see God. They have the freedom to reject the All-Powerful One, the Master of Nature and Super-Nature, their Creator and King.

We face the same choices in our lives: Embrace his love, or reject it. Believe in his power, or get swallowed by life’s storms. And at every Mass, the miracle on the altar partakes in the quiet power of our omnipotent God.

Tom Hoopes is writer

in residence at

Benedictine College

and author of The Fatima Family Handbook.