My grandmother had running sores on both her legs. Today a doctor would diagnose her with “venous stasis ulcers.” But she used the words God spoke through Jeremiah, for she lived those words: “no healing for you.” I remember my grandmother in the kitchen, the more painful of her legs propped up on a wooden stool, spared that day from bearing weight. Her only relief came in the pools at Hot Springs, New Mexico, where she rested and watched papery skin grow over the sores. Once back home and at work, her skin would break open, as she put it, “weeping.” I suspect Jeremiah had seen, or experienced, running sores. I suspect he knew how “pain without relief” can cause the ill to believe, “there is none to plead your cause.”
The Gospel describes the disciples trapped on a boat in a storm. They are not ill, but they know the helplessness of the ill. What human can control the waves? Who is there to plead the cause of those tossed in the churning sea? Nature rages against them; Jesus walks into nature’s rage toward them. He beckons Peter to join him and Peter walks into the deep. When fear overcomes his trust and he begins to sink, Peter cries, “Lord, save me!” It is Jesus who reaches out and rescues the drowning man.
Our fragility is laid bare in these readings, and it is disquieting. We are a people who look to cure every illness and control every storm. Yet as the past two and a half years have taught us: there are illnesses we can only bear and grieve. We swim each day in the waters of baptism, waters more often choppy than still. Both the prophet and the evangelist know what we are learning, that there are wounds God alone can heal; there are seas so rough God alone can save us. Our helplessness can break open a way for us to seek the God who is always seeking us, break open a way for us to take the hand that is forever reaching for our own.