But today, as we were sharing our thoughts on the passage, some things struck me. In verse 26 we are told that when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. And continuing we read that immediately Jesus spoke to them saying, “Take heart, It is I, have no fear”. And then Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me to come to you on the water.”
I began to ask myself, as Matthew tells us, the disciples had first thought that they had seen a ghost, what was it in Jesus statement, ‘Take heart, it is I, have no fear’, that made Peter recognize him as the Lord. For Peter had called him ‘Lord’. It was then that my friend told me that it must have been his voice. And yes, it must have been! At once I remembered yesterday’s reading at Mass about the Good Shepherd. In John 10:2-4 we read, “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his VOICE, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his VOICE.” Remember that Peter had said, ‘Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you…’
From this encounter therefore, it is so with us, who follow Christ in this age. Can we truly recognize the voice of the shepherd whenever he calls to us? Especially in this age when there are so many voices that call out to us. Is it possible to us that we can recognize the voice of our dear shepherd amidst the noise, even when he does not have a face? Remember that when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they had concluded that it must have been a ghost. They couldn’t recognize him. This goes to show us too that Our Lord can come to us in the crowds as a faceless person, someone we would not even consider at first glance or even at a second glance to be the Lord, someone we may not even know, a ghost to our knowledge of Christ. But can we recognize the voice of Christ whenever he speaks to us from a ghost-face or from a faceless voice? From the tout on the street, from the poor man by the roadside, from someone who we naturally dislike?
In today’s reading from Acts chapter 11, we are told how Peter, a Jew, opened his heart to recognize the voice of the Lord, and the presence of the Lord, at work in the Gentile community. For though they were Gentiles, he could recognize Christ at work in their midst when the Spirit came upon them and he baptized them immediately. He also explains this to his fellow Jews and some of them are able to also appreciate the marvel of Christ in the midst of the Gentiles. Are we ready then to recognize Christ as He speaks to us through those whom we deem even unfit for Him?
How can we recognize our Lord’s voice? To naturally recognize someone’s voice without a face, against all odds, there must have been that special moment or a series of special moments when we come into an intimate encounter with that someone, that one whom we love. A moment of bonding where we get so familiar with the voice of the loved that even without seeing his or her face, we are able to recognize him or her when he calls. For the apostles on the lake, that moment had just occurred, though they did not fully understand it. It was St. Mark who relayed this to us when he writes his account of this same incident in Mark 6, in verse 51-52, we are told that the Apostles were astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. For earlier before Our Lord made them to go into the boat and cross to Bethsaida on the other side, Christ had multiplied the loaves. In other words, there was something about the miracle of the loaves that should have been for the apostles or at least taught them the intimacies of the Divine encounter. It is St. John in the sixth chapter of his gospel who explains to us in clear terms that Christ had intended to show them that in the breaking of the bread, in the loaves over which thanks had been given, which had been blessed and broken, they would encounter him. For in the breaking of the bread, Christ gives us himself, for he said, ‘I am the Bread’. The Eucharist therefore becomes for us that special moment of encounter when we commune with Christ, where we get so familiar with his voice that we are able to recognize this voice in the noise, amidst the crazy storms and the noisy winds, and amidst the difficulties in rowing our boat to the other side. And there in the Eucharist he says to us, “Take heart, it is I, have no fear.”