Theme: Even the storm obeys!
The fact that vast water masses comprise two-thirds of the earth’s surface makes them appear mysterious and amazing. In common minds, the lakes and the like have been associated with the powers of evil, ruin and chaos. For whatever reason, oceans have always inspired ambivalent feelings of fear, fascination, awe and anxiety. According to Hebrew cosmogony, the sea was one of the basic elements from which everything was formed. In the beginning, God separated the seas from land cf. Genesis 1:9-10 and formed a three-story universe: the earth, the heavens above the earth and the waters beneath the earth cf. Exodus 20:4. It is from this background that Job and the apostles marvel at the infinite power of God.
First reading: Job 38:1, 8–11
Thanks to Jacques Cousteau and other explorers of the vast watery depths, the oceans of the earth have begun to yield some of their centuries-old mysteries. But for the book of Job, the sea was still a force that struck the human heart with fear and dread. While the date of the book of Job remains a matter of scholarly debate; though some suggest the seventh century BC. Using the ancient and popular legend as his literary vehicle, Job explored one of life’s thorniest issues, attempting, albeit unsuccessfully, to arrive at an answer to the question: Why do the good and the innocent suffer? Job was portrayed as a wealthy sheikh, blessed with an abundance of this world’s riches. With God’s permission, Job was tested with the loss of everything except his life; his wealth, lands, possessions, prestige and even his health and friends were taken from him. As the story of Job unfolds, the intention becomes increasingly evident.
Through the lively and often vehement exchanges between Job and his friends, the ancient voice refuted the conventional morality that interpreted suffering as a punishment for sin. As each of his friends implored Job to search his heart to discover some hidden or forgotten sin or to find the cause for his pain from the sins of his parents! wife! children! Job refused each suggestion with the insistence that none had sinned. He equally refused the conclusion that sin of any other person was to blame for his tragedy. Finally, but after the best efforts of traditional human wisdom exhausted, God enters into the exchange, speaking to Job and to all others who suffer “out of the whirlwind” Job 38:1. It is from this part of the dialogue that today’s first reading stands out. It is also at this point that Job delivers what has been praised as a literary masterpiece without parallel; with question after question, the absolute power and sovereignty of God and that of Job is firmly established.
As we read this magnificent speech we are compelled by its power to allow the questions asked of Job to confront us as well. Where were you when I founded the earth? Were you there when the morning stars sung in chorus? Who shut within doors the sea? Have you ever commanded the morning be? Who is the father of the rain? cf. Job 38: 8. In the end, like Job, we remain breathless, aware that “you, O Lord, can do all things and no purpose of yours can be hindered. I’ve been dealing with things beyond my understanding, things too wonderful for me” Job 42:1-2. To be at peace, like Job we must surrender the reality of human suffering to God’s hands and learn to trust that he alone capably of directing our destiny.
Second reading: 2Corinthians 5:14–17
The moment Paul encountered Christ, his world turned upside down. In this new found relationship he was privileged to see God’s hidden treasures of joy. In answer to those who doubted the authenticity of this, Paul professed that the risen Lord was so ‘visible’ that no one could dare falsify him. From this encounter Paul asserts the underlying motivation for all he did and said because his faith in God had become real while his love for the risen Lord had matured on the road to Damascus. Paul insists that Christ died for us so that; “those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him” 2Corinthians 5: 15. This is crucial because 1-Christ did not die for a select few. 2-Christ’s death calls for radical change. 3-Christ’s death requires response. Paul’s favorite phrase is ‘in Christ’. Being and living in Christ necessitates a new life-style based on values and ethical principles that provoke motivation, good attitude and commitment.
While the first reading and gospel focus on the natural power of the earth’s waters, Paul’s words remind us of the supernatural power of another ‘watery’ event, that of Christian baptism. By our passage through the waters of baptism, each of us dies with Christ, to ourselves and to sin. As believers we have to make our way through the uncharted sea of life following the one who has gone before us. With Christ we are encouraged to move forward away from the old toward the new order; washed in the saving waters of baptism thus becoming a new creation.
Gospel: Mark 4:35–41
Of the many images which have aided Christians in understanding and expressing the reality of Church, the ark of Peter remains the most enduring. The idea of Church as boat is probably rooted in texts like the one in today’s gospel and in Luke 5:3 wherein Jesus is featured as teaching the crowds and commissioning the disciples to become fishers of people. Also St. John’s resurrection narratives factor the risen Lord meeting his disciples who had spent the night fishing, but unsuccessfully; at Jesus’ instruction they cast their nets from their boat once more and brought in a great haul of fish, one of every known species cf. John 21:1-14. Through this experience the disciples learnt that the boat of Peter would be source of salvation for all.
In addition to this lesson in ecclesiology, today’s gospel also offers Christological insight. Jesus commands the stormy sea to be quiet and calm manifesting a power which was thought to be God’s sole prerogative. While the disciples were moved to ask, “Who can this be that the wind and sea obey him?” Mark 4:41, Mark’s audience become aware that the power at work in Jesus was from God. Indeed, we are led to conclude what the Roman centurion would later proclaim, “Truly, this man was the Son of God” Mark 15:39. Like God who tamed the primordial waters cf. Psalms 65:8 and calmed the forces of the sea cf. Job 38:1-11, Jesus had power over the sea and all that it signified.
Today’s gospel includes yet another lesson for us, a catechetical one. Notice that when the squall blew up and terrorized the disciples, Jesus was sound asleep. The disciples’ fear soon translated into resentment. . . Doesn’t it matter to you that we are going to drown? Karl Rahner in his book The Great Church year, once observed that the good disciples in the boat of the Church today are similarly nervous and excited. The storm of human history continues to threaten and frighten making the boat weak. But, because the boat also carries Jesus, it keeps on going. The boat of Peter travels onward; it does not sink, no matter how much of its cargo is tossed overboard or how many of its passengers disembark. The storm will continue, amid shouting and sleeping, until the voyage through history is completed. The disciples experience of being awake and in danger while their Master ‘sleeps’ reflects the post-Easter situation of the Church. The early Christians felt abandoned and left to fend for themselves in an increasingly hostile and dangerous environment, but to our surprise, Jesus in never absent.
Today’s gospel is meant to strengthen our resolve to persevere in the faith and in the service of the gospel despite the storms. We the believers of today must make our own the courage of Christ. Of course he could sleep in the boat; his full and trusting confidence in God afforded him an implacable peace and security. Our lesson for peace and survival lies in the questions he asked, ‘why are you so terrified? Why are you lacking in faith? Faith in Jesus’ abiding and sustaining presence keeps fear at bay and enables us to go about our business navigating through the storms of life while being fishers of people for the sake of the reign of God.
No matter what challenges we may face, we need to be assured that with God on our side we are victorious; what is expected of us is to surrender into a new creation. Even when the storms of life seem overwhelming, Jesus is forever in control.
Fr. Paulino Mondo