Have you ever felt discouraged, like a cog in a machine, alone, not even sure if anyone recognizes the work that you do? St. Paul knows that feeling. In the First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 4, he uses the word “servant” to describe his role in the emerging Church. Today, that means something different than the original definition. The original Greek translation is “hyperetes”. In Paul’s time, this word meant someone who was a common oarsman on a ship. Someone who works hard, getting the boat where it needs to go, probably without recognition. St. Paul asks all of us to be ‘hyperetes’, to know we are not alone in our good work. To not get discouraged.
Of course, there has to be a captain. And we’d like to think that the captain, just like Captain Phillips, would be willing to trade their life for yours if danger arose. In short, St Paul is telling us that on the high seas, we are in good hands. We need to row, and depend on God to captain the ship. We need to work through tough times, because God is depending on us.
A few years ago, when I was on the path to becoming a deacon, I can remember being initially overwhelmed by the amount of work and study that was required. I had to keep reminding myself that I was, in a sense, in the boat. Every hour of homework, every hour of class, was like rowing. As hard as it was at times, my wife and I, we trusted our ‘Captain’, and the course that was set.
It’s not easy. What people or things have tried to pull you away from the oars? Who has told you that volunteering like that, day after day, on the benches with everyone else, is no way to spend your time? They have maybe tried to convince you that this Catholic ‘boat’ is for people who can’t think for themselves, or are blind to reality? Or, a pop culture atheist saying there is no one steering the ship? Or, that there are better ways to get ahead in this world, like lying and cheating, or slacking off. Let everyone else row. You can sit back, and enjoy the ride.
During the Olympics, I kept seeing an ad for the movie ‘Noah’ with Russell Crowe. And it got me thinking: is there anyone in the Bible who was more determined to build something, despite what others said? To mix examples here: He ignored the doubters, and keep rowing. We, too, have to remember to that God is steering our ship. We need to look up, and not down. It’s about the Eucharist; it’s about the Church. It’s not about the doubters.
Let me dig even deeper here: does anyone in your family think that Sunday Mass is not important? Like, maybe no one in your house wanted to get up this morning. But you didn’t jump ship. You decided to keep rowing. Maybe other people in your life jump ship when you talk about immigration. Maybe they jump ship when talk about giving money to the homeless. Or, when you talk about abortion.
When I was in college, some of the most dedicated athletes were the men and women on the crew team. And the most talented. And the strongest. The same here. The people in our boat have not jumped ship. Look around. They are the best. They are sitting right beside you, rowing as well.
So maybe that’s why our Gospel asks us today: if Jesus is the captain of the boat, why are you worried? If God is always by your side, why do you care what others say? Even when those wonderful plans you had for years – your retirement with your spouse, a surprise medical condition, the market bottoming out just as you were going to put your house on the market, watching a close friend drift away – even when none of those things turn out as you had hoped.
You need to look up, and not look down, no matter how you feel. St. Paul reminds us that we need to keep rowing, just like he did. There are others ‘on the oar’ with you. You can’t quit.
So, are you up for the challenge? Can you keep working, even when you feel the cold and the wind, miles from shore? Will you keep going, and help us all row home? Can we see the Spirit of God right beside us, even in the slow, monotonous rhythms of our daily lives? Can we be strong for Christ, now and forever?