Emotions drive the lives of many of us. Sometimes they are of great benefit. At other times, they are troublesome. In today’s biblical readings, we see both sides of emotions displayed for our benefit.
The first reading from Acts is a post-resurrection incident. We note emotions at work in the story. An argument broke out between linguistic groupings in the growing church: the Greek-speaking and the Hebrew-speaking Jews, both converts to the Christian way. There was likely more emotion involved in this dispute than anything intellectual. It had something to do with the widows of each group being equally treated at the table.
We note that this happened in the halcyon days of the Christian community, still basking in the warmth and joy of the resurrection of the Lord. And it really didn’t pivot around a faith or theological issue. It was a pretty human affair (we have prison riots in our day over food quality and distribution). But we note how amicably it was settled, obviously in an atmosphere of prayer. This is not to say that a bit of maneuvering didn’t occur amid the dispute. The Apostles were quick to work their way out of this issue by proposing a new group to take charge of situations like this-what we today would call the deacons. This left the apostles free to preach (and escape the household arguments), while it initiated a new and very helpful type of leadership within the church. This illustrates the working arrangement between faith and human elements in the lives of believers.
The gospel too puts on display the inroads of raw emotion in our lives. The emotion in this instance was fear-the apostles’ fear of being swamped in their boat as they attempted rowing across the lake amid a fierce storm.
Now, of course, this was a pre-resurrection event, unlike that described above, and it was a different kind of emotion. But just as we are liable to argue among ourselves, so are we vulnerable to our fears, of one kind or another. In this instance, it was a significant fear: that of drowning. But once again a spiritual element appeared on the scene in the person of Jesus suddenly appearing before the struggling apostles, and He was walking on the water. On first sighting Him, their fear was actually heightened, increasing from that of drowning to that of encountering a ghost. But the combination of His presence and His calming word: "It is I. Do not be afraid", dispelled their fear.
Emotions propel our lives. As we hear in the scriptures today, they are the occasion for moving more deeply into our faith. So long as they continue to do that for us, they are a blessing, not a liability.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.