12th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Water, Fear & the Power of God
12th Sunday Ordinary time year B, 6-21-15, Job 38:1-11,Ps 107:23-31, 2Cor 5:14-17, Mark 4: 35-41
If last week’s readings were about trees, hope, & the Kingdom of God, then today’s readings are about water, fear, & the Power of God. Our Psalm sets the stage for us. We’re reading Psalm 107, only some 40 verses long; please read it all later today. It starts like this: “Give thanks to the Lord who is good, whose love endures forever – Let that be the prayer of the Lord’s redeemed…those gathered from east and west, from north and south.” This is poetry and we need to look for some poetic symbols. Right off we have east, west, north and south, the four points of the compass. These are all the directions, just these four. You can combine them, of course, like NNE, but there are only 4 directions. 4 is the symbol of completeness.
Then the poet gives us four examples of people who are desperately afraid. What about the symbol of the compass? Well, that tells us that these four examples, with some variations and combinations, will be all the types of situations that cause fear. Our Psalmist labels them: 1) being lost in the desert without food or water, 2) imprisonment, 3) mortal illness, and 4) being in a violent storm at sea. Today we’ll talk about the first and last examples. In the first example, what did the people do who were lost in the desert, starving? “In their distress, they cried to the Lord, and He satisfied the thirsty, filled the hungry with good things.” “Filled the hungry with good things” – that sounds familiar – from the Magnificat! Perhaps this Psalm kept the Blessed Mother from fear in those moments when she felt lost or in the storms of life.
In the last example of our Psalm, we have professional deep-water sailors, traders, strong-spirited, and adventurous men, caught in the perfect storm at sea. They have a problem. They are powerless as they and their boat are tossed about – their sailing skills are worthless, fear overwhelms them, and their prayer to God is a despite plea to save their lives. The power of God calms the storm; God’s hand takes them to a peaceful, safe haven. They don’t just shrug and walk away either, but they proclaim God’s praises in front of the people and the leaders. They know they were rescued from certain death.
The best and brightest writers have spent a great deal of time and effort on the questions in the Book of Job. It is the story of a good man who suffers greatly and fears the future. Job has a lengthy discussion with his “friends” about whose fault it is. Of course, fixing the fault rarely if ever fixes the problem. There are 4 (that number again) sets of speeches that examine the situation from every possible direction. They are philosophical, preachy, passionate and pointed. Then a storm comes, and God speaks out of the storm, asking questions like, “Where were you when I founded the earth? Have you ever commanded the morning? Have you entered into the sources of the sea? Which is the way to the dwelling place of light? Does the rain have a father; who has begotten the drops of dew?”
In the end, Job can only say, “I have dealt with great things that I do not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know.” Job could have faith in God without understanding everything that happened. Fear no longer overcame Job.
We draw a simple conclusion: God is God, and we’re not God. “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts,” God tells us in Isaiah 55. That is why God can help us when our lives are in ruins, our plans and schemes and hopes shattered, when fear is all that we can find. That is why in Isaiah 41,God can say, “It is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.” Throughout the ages those words echo back to us, “Fear not.” You think the angels just made that up, “Fear Not”?
Now we are ready to talk about the Gospel. This scene directly follows the parable of the mustard seed, and is the center scene of this portion of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 3:20-6:6) First are the parables, then 4 (4 again) miracle stories where we see fear and faith juxtaposed. The apostles, of course include some skilled fishermen, knowledgeable about this lake. While Jesus slept, a violent squall came up and waves crashed over the boat, filling it with water. Everyone else we have read about today cries out to God. Who do the Apostles cry out to? Jesus, of course. Mark is telling us that Jesus is God. The apostles ask, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” We respond, “God.” Jesus tells the sea to “Be still.” Literally the word he uses means to “muzzle it”, just exactly as he had told the evil spirits in Mark 1:25 – just as a master would speak to a dog. Jesus is the master of all creation.
But Jesus has a habit of asking questions that seem to come out of nowhere. “Why were you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” “Faith” is not just belief that God exists. “Faith” means that we know our God is beside us, God dwells in “our boat”, and that God can and will act. How can we meet Jesus, spend the day with him, listen to his teaching, and still think that fear will help?
What about the violent squalls in your life? St. Augustine wrote this, “When you have to listen to abuse, you are buffeted by the wind; when your anger is roused, you are being tossed by the waves. When the winds blow and waves mount, when your boat is sinking and you are losing heart, when you are insulted, when you want get revenge instead of give forgiveness, wake Jesus to calm the storm and rebuke the sea.” Then remember that the wind and the sea obey Jesus, and we must do the same. Jesus commanded that we love each other; we must be still, and love.
St. Paul, in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians sums it all up: Once you have experienced faith and the love of Christ, once you have been rescued from helplessness and fear, you are different, you are a new being. Life has changed, your understanding has changed; you are free of fear and released from the smallness of your own life. Your life has become part of the eternal dimension of God.