|The 12th Sunday in Ordinary
Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26
Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20
1 John 4:11-16
So as to be more available to the graces of these readings today, imagine the Apostles bailing their boat as fast as they can, wind blowing, waves spanking their backsides and Jesus apparently sleeping through it all. They keep pointing at Jesus and indicating to each other that somebody ought to wake him up as a last resort. “How can he sleep through something like this?” one asks as a wave intensifies his question.
Get your best argument against God out as you begin to celebrate the Eucharist. Not everything in life is smooth sailing, as you well know. Fare-weather friends tend to bail out when storms arise and those who stay faithful seem to experience rough times. Faith is not a ticket to Lah-Lah Land. Jesus came to offer us more life and we pray so that we can receive it and love it.
We pray for the grace of faith for the hard times now and to come. Our belief in God invites us to persevere when escaping or denying seem better ways to live. We pray to stay in the boats to which we have committed ourselves and that includes those with whom we have joined in faith and love.
There are various amounts of Job in each of us. Our belief in a loving God gets tested when our expectations, hopes and dreams fall to pieces. Poor Job, in our First Reading, has lost almost everything, family and fortune included. He wants to keep believing, but he assumes that he must have done something wrong in God’s view, so he wants to know what he has done.
He has three friends who question him and then give him some “Spiritual Direction” of sorts. For several chapters, proceeding what we hear today, Elihu, one of these three, is pouring it on old Job pretty heavily, but nothing consoles him. What we hear is God’s taking over as a Defense Lawyer might. What we hear is the beginning of a “court scene” in which all kinds of evidence will be presented. Eventually Job will be convicted of his own “straw-headedness” and return to his being just one human person who is invited to trust God’s love, even when it seems more like punishment.
Mark concludes this fourth chapter of parables with a sea story. Wind, waves, darkness and fright make up the rising tension of this drama. The Apostles turn to Jesus who is sleeping and behold, when he wakes up and calms the seas and their fears, the Apostles marvel at this person who even the wind and sea obey.
The questions asked by the Lord of Job begin with whether Job was around when God set the boundaries for the wild ocean. Obviously the Lord did this and Job has no answer in rebuttal. Jesus asks a similar question of the drenched and shaking Apostles, “Why are you so terrified. Why are you lacking in faith?” Their response is as silent as the calmed sea. Their embarrassment and astonishment combine to render their fears and doubts, mute.
The parables which form the heart of this chapter are concerned with little things such as seeds that grow and produce. Mark pictures Jesus speaking in such parables so that the readers and listeners to his account would have to have faith to understand them and his message. The Apostles seem to grasp their meaning and so they head out to sea, “with-faith,” that is, “confidently.” The real question is about what happens when the storms of life come pounding in upon those who believe.
There are some options to this human dilemma. One can jump over the side of course. One can sit Job-like and pout. One can curse the wind and water. One can turn to Jesus as well. None of these will make the storm go away. Turning to Jesus, in fact, forces us to stay put, right in the midst of it all. What does die down is the pouting and cursing and quittering which is so much a part of our human make up. Faith does not remove fears and doubts; it frees us to live with them more gracefully and profitably. In our “show-me-first” cultures, our human pride of intellect demands clarity, security and answers. “Why!” “Why me?” Our minds throw themselves at the doors of human and divine mysteries and demand opening, entrance, dialogue and resolution. Faith does not say, “Don’t knock,” but urges us to wait, watch and receive.
My father and I ascended a long rock-strewn incline leading up to Dun Aeengus, a prehistoric boulder fortress on Inishmore, an island off the west coast of Ireland. Upon arriving, we heard what we thought was thunder or dynamite. It was the sound of the North Atlantic waves, century after century, trying to remove this obstacle and push it towards the Galway shore. Those waves, fisting their anger at being interrupted from their seeming domination of the sea, were humbled, driven back, but only to rail again. Those proud waves were, and still are, diminished by their inability to solve their eternal problem.
The community for which Mark writes this Gospel is young and struggling with the implications of believing in Jesus. They are being battered themselves by the waves of persecution. The parables within this chapter are about how small faith begins, like little seeds which are scattered and planted. Faith grows into larger fruitful displays if they have time and the graces of sun and rain.
Where is our faith? Why are we frightened? Our faith is in God; our fears are in ourselves. We as humans are not totally anything else but humans. We would like to be totally trusting in Jesus, even when he appears to be sleeping on the job. In praying this passage, you might ponder at what point would you have awakened Jesus. Some would not have allowed him any sleep and others may have allowed him to sleep until the seas’s waters bubbling around his ears startled him into action. Our faith is never constant or predictable. What is predictable is that the crises of our lives are praying, not fleeing points. Jesus will not make the rain and wind stop when they get too much for us. Things do not always turn out according to our human ways. Arrogance, pride, demands are humbled at the foot of the cliffs of the mysterious God. Yet, this God loves us and that is what we believe in and wait for.
"To one who has faith no explanation is necessary; to one
who has no faith, no explanation is possible." St. Thomas A
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