9th Sunday of Matthew
1 Corinthians 3:9-17
In today’s Epistle reading, St Paul reminds us of the tremendous gift and privilege that has been given to us as baptised members of Christ’s Holy Church. The Spirit of God now dwells within us, and Christ has become the foundation on which we build our lives, a foundation that cannot be shaken or taken away. However, while we should rejoice in that fact, we must not become complacent. Although the foundation is there, and we have been given all we need to build upon it, what we choose to build remains up to us. The foundation might be unshakable, but what good is that to us if we build upon it a house of cards that will come tumbling down at the slightest gust of wind? And it is not just a question of effort, but of whether that effort is well spent (building a house of cards is difficult and time consuming precisely because of how unstable it is!). As the Psalmist says, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Ps. 127:1). In order for the house to stand, we have to be God’s co-labourers (Theou synergoi), and the story told in today’s Gospel reading is a perfect illustration of precisely this notion of synergy with God.
Christ, the eternal Word of God made flesh, is seen walking on the water. St Peter calls out to him and says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”. Peter steps out of the boat onto the sea, and begins to walk. At that moment, his foundation was not the water under his feet, which could not have supported him, but rather his faith in Christ. When we are joined to Christ we become, as the same Apostle says in his second epistle, “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and this is what allowed Peter at that moment to do what the Lord had done and walk on the water. We saw this also last Thursday when we celebrated the Transfiguration of the Lord, and Peter and the other two Apostles saw Jesus on Mount Tabor shining with the uncreated light. The Fathers tell us that it was not Christ who was transfigured at that moment, but rather the eyes of the Apostles which were opened to see Jesus as he truly is; they were granted some form of participation in his divine energies.
However, although this possibility of participation is a gift freely given, it requires this same cooperation, the synergy that Paul mentions. The Lord did not withdraw from Peter, he did not take back the gift given to him. Rather it was Peter who took his eyes off the Lord, saw the storm, became afraid and lost faith. He stepped off the Rock, which is Christ, and back into the sea and thus immediately began to sink.
The foundation has been laid, the tools are at our disposal, but as for what we build and whether we make use of those tools, the choice is ours. As we work to build our lives, do we keep our gaze fixed on Christ and with him build things that will last into eternity, or do we turn aside to focus on the storm and build something that will only last as long as the temporary concerns and troubles of this life? More importantly, when we do go wrong, do we cry “Lord, help me”, as did Peter, or do we choose to drown in our self-reliance?
Fr Kristian Akselberg