12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 21st June 2015

"Tossed by the storms of life"


Scripture Reading – Mark 4:35-41

With the coming of evening, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us cross over to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind they took him, just as he was, in the boat; and there were other boats with him. Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep. They woke him and said to him, ‘Master, do you not care? We are going down!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!’ And the wind dropped, and all was calm again. Then he said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?’ They were filled with awe and said to one another, ‘Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.’

REFLECTION

Today’s first reading and Gospel both speak to us of God’s power over the storms of life, symbolised by the sea. The first reading presents the theme in a beautifully poetic description of God creating and controlling this element that the Jews so feared. The gospel shows that Jesus possessed this same divine power, a message that would not be lost on the community for whom Mark wrote.

It was a community in transition, rocked by internal divisions, between Jewish converts who still saw themselves as members of the Jewish faith, and non-Jewish converts who saw the Way of Jesus as a completely new way of living and relating with God. They were also under attack from the ruling Roman authorities, who persecuted them and had already executed many, including such key figures as Peter and Paul.
Where was God in all this? Where was Jesus, who had said he would be with them to the end of time? Was Jesus really the Risen Lord they had been taught to believe in? If so, why was he not doing something for them now?

Does it all sound a bit familiar? Do we sometimes wonder where God is today? Why he is not coming to the aid of his Church? To our aid as we struggle with the storms of life?

It is against this background that Mark, in today’s gospel reading, tells the story of the storm on the sea of Galilee. In it, Peter’s boat sets out, operated by the disciples, while Jesus sleeps peacefully on a cushion at the back. Suddenly a violent storm arises. At first, the disciples try to handle it alone, but it becomes too much for them. At last, they call on Jesus, but not to beg him for help. Rather, they accuse him of not caring: “Do you not care that we are sinking?”

How does Jesus respond? First, he commands the wind and the sea and there is a great calm. Then he turns to the disciples, whose fear has turned to awe at his power over the elements, and he asks them, “Why were you so afraid? Did you not know I was here with you? Don’t you know I will never abandon you?”

As we face the storms that threaten our Church community and our personal lives, Jesus is saying to us too, “I am with you, no matter what happens. At times, it may seem as if I am asleep, but I will never forget you or abandon you. Often I will come to you through the people who walk the road of life with you: your family, friends, local community. You too can be my hands, my voice for others, because I have no hands now but yours. Are you ready to trust me in the storms of your life? Are you willing to lend me your hands to help those around you who face the storms of life?

INTRODUCTION TO LECTIO DIVINA

After a long discourse in parables (4, 1-34), Mark’s Gospel has a section composed of four miracles (4.35 to 5.43). These are intended to make readers ask the question: Who is this man, who says and does such things? The first miracle story stresses in particular the difficulty the disciples had in believing in him, even though they witnessed his prodigies (4, 41). While Jesus was asleep in the boat they were fearful for their lives, but even when the storm abated they were still afraid and lacking in faith. Jesus wanted to arouse faith in those who follow him.
It is a real challenge for us, today, as we are troubled by the apparent sleepiness of our God, while around us we see so many things going wrong. In times of trouble, yesterday and today, the disciples find it hard to remember the good times, and the beautiful experiences of joy they have had with Jesus. Who has not felt distressed, not so much on account of some disaster but on seeing Jesus apparently asleep, even though we make so much effort to follow him? Will he continue to doze while we are in trouble? After all, the person who follows Jesus today still needs faith, overwhelmed by the difficulties of the world we live in.

LECTIO DIVINA

I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

The Gospel reminds us of one of the most amazing miracles performed by Jesus. The account is short. The action is fast and there is very little detail. Jesus had spoken to a great number of people on the shore of the lake, and the disciples were among them (4: 1-2). Now, unexpectedly, Jesus tells the disciples to cross the lake while night was falling. Perhaps he wanted to get away from the crowd, but some of them followed him in other boats on a lake that was always liable to spring a surprise with a sudden storm. Fishermen in the area had experienced many dangerous storms on the Sea of Galilee. The disciples on the boat with Jesus could not understand his reaction: he slept quietly while the boat was filling with water. It is of little benefit to have a Master who sits sleeping while his disciples are in fear for their lives. Their spontaneous reaction is one of bewilderment – do their lives really matter to him?

Without answering the disciples’ question, or showing any concern for their legitimate distress, he sat there in a boat that was pitching wildly. He commanded the wind and the sea with authority, as if it were a man possessed by the devil. He spoke only once and the wind died down and the sea was calmed. Then he turned to his disciples. And we are surprised that the fear of the disciples, although understandable in the situation, was interpreted by Jesus as a lack of faith. Being in the boat with him, they should not have feared for their lives. But even though he continued to sleep, none of his disciples would have perished … if only they had faith.

The story ends sadly. The word of Jesus and the calming of the sea are not enough for them to overcome the terror they felt. But in fact they are still overwhelmed by fear, and are wondering who this man is whom the wind and sea obey, even though they were his followers.

II. Meditate:  apply what the text says to life

The gospel account does not insist on other amazing aspects that cause so much wonder, because they are not part of our daily experience, and do not fit in with our ordinary schemes. But we would be wrong to dwell on them. It was not the intention of the narrator to draw our attention to the unusual or extraordinary.

For those who believe in Jesus it is not difficult to admit that he worked miracles. The signs worked by Jesus were not rare actions intended to impress by being beyond the boundaries of reason and the expectations of those who were around him. Rather, they were clear signs of the closeness of a merciful God, and incontrovertible signs of his willingness to intervene when everything else failed.

Christians are often accused of being naive deluded individuals who still believe in miracles, as if our faith in Christ consisted only in believing in the impossible, in waiting for the unpredictable or in doing extraordinary things. Today, when it seems that everything can be explained, and even planned, there is no time for miracles. The fact is that people think there is a miracle only when something unusual occurs, something completely abnormal and inexplicable.

This is not the understanding of miracle of a Christian who believes in Christ. Everyday life and the unexpected can both be seen as miraculous experiences, as long as we believe in the closeness of God. People who know they are in the presence of God, living within reach of his hand and in the shadow of his heart, can enjoy wonderful experiences and real miracles, even when, as in today’s Gospel, they have the feeling of living in a storm unable to do anything but pray to a God, who may well appear to be asleep.

Like the disciples on the boat that day, we also in our day know that Jesus is near us in our time of trouble and that, even though he may appear to be asleep, he shares our fate and stays there close to us. Or does it maybe happen to us, as in the case of the disciples, that in the presence of what is happening or what we fear might happen we have the impression that God will continue to be at least half asleep? We need to overcome the bewilderment that assails us in the face of his apparent indifference, or lack of tact or foresight? How do we forgive him for falling asleep while we are about to be overwhelmed by a storm?

Jesus’ falling asleep in the boat and the absence of God in today’s world, are they not a ruse, a kind of trick played on us by God? The more we feel threatened, or the less we feel helped by God, the more we regret it and the more likely we are to turn to God. His apparent indifference towards us will lead us to express our anguish with greater force and urgency, and his being fast sleep will lead us to shout out of our desperate fear of losing. When we reach this desperate state we become even more convinced that we are in grave need. Our difficulty and his indifference will cause us also to cry in prayer, as the disciples did. Why then do we not make greater effort in our prayer, if necessary, until we reach the stage when we longer feel we are lost or at risk of being lost?

Anyone who has never had the experience of being abandoned will have little reason to go in search of Jesus, and will not know what to say him when he finds him. Only those who feel lost without him, will know that they are safe when they find him, even if he is still asleep. It is a strange way of acting but it is the way Jesus treats his disciples. For the disciples of Jesus the deep and bitter experience of their own limitations may be the path they have to travel to come to where the Lord is hiding. Our faults, our inability to save our own lives, can help us understand how much we need God even just to go on living. It is to make us aware of this that Jesus stays close to us, in the same boat, but sound asleep. I wonder if perhaps he is not pretending to be deaf to our call simply to make us cry out with greater fervour and to search for him with greater diligence.

If the first disciples were expert at anything, it was surely life on the sea, for they were fishermen by trade. They had survived many other storms on the lake. On this occasion they decided to have recourse to Jesus. However, he did not seem very concerned about the fact that they might all sink to the bottom. It does not take much imagination to identify the storms in which we ourselves, Christians of today, are in danger of being shipwrecked. A few minutes should be enough for us to identify them at personal, family and community level. Although rarely in history have we had access to so many things, we still do not feel safe. We are able to live our personal faith in a climate of complete freedom, but is it not true that we all feel a bit abandoned by God? And now that our world thinks it can do without God, how is that that we who believe do not feel the need of him?

If there is anything we can learn from today’s Gospel it is the daring of the disciples. They did not have much faith, they were not very courageous, but they dared to waken their Master. Today we believers could be a bit more daring. We could call on God a bit oftener and moan a bit less about our situation. Instead of complaining we should pray. Instead of feeling lost we should be more concerned about going in search of God. We ought to waken God when he seems to be asleep. We should dare to turn to him and shout, if he seems to ignore our whispering. If we are to be saved, we need to raise our voices above the noise of the storm. We must not allow him to overlook our troubles and misfortunes. To pray to God in this way, even if we are afraid and our faith is weak, it is not necessary that we be very good. It is enough that we are in danger and feeling alone.

Jesus awakened by the cries stilled the sea and rebuked the disciples. But they were now safe. What did it matter to them the reproach of Jesus in the face of a storm won? They could be of little faith, but they were still men, they had survived; and they could ask who it was, really, their teacher, a man who was obeyed by wind and water. Without knowing too much, not knowing everything about him, they dared to ask him for a miracle; and when they had obtained were amazed by what they had dared to call strongly to Jesus and Jesus had given them. Their life in danger had caused them to seek the Lord who was sleeping and now their life saved them induced to question the Lord who had awakened. So we, the disciples.

At least if today we were so! Because today we, rather than lose his composure, not agitating too, not … disrespect, we dare not lift her voice to God, nor cry out our impotence, or give voice to our fears. To not miss a courtesy to him, even more than we speak to him in a low voice when we speak out loud because we feel so far away from us, so little concerned about our things, our lives, both asleep. What hope, if not need a lot of faith, but you just need to try a lot of fear? We have a God who can do every storm of life a miracle, make any danger of a prodigy. Just be aware of how much we need him to survive day after day; and we tell them: a voice or in silence.

PRAYER FOR TRUST

O Christ Jesus,
when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness,
give us the sense of Your presence, Your love, and Your strength.
Help us to have perfect trust in Your protecting love and strengthening power,
so that nothing may frighten or worry us,
for, living close to You,
we shall see Your hand,
Your purpose,
Your will through all things.

(By St. Ignatius of Loyola, 1491-1556)