Today first reading is from the thirty-eighth chapter of the Book of Job. Through 37 chapters Job has been complaining about how God is treating him, and his so-called friends have been trying to convince him that he has done something wrong to incur the punishments he has experienced. Job knows that no such thing is true and he complains, he complains bitterly. Job is not patient. He keeps asking over and over again, “Why, why, why?”
People talk about the patience of Job. I don’t know where that idea came from. he is not patient, but he does have faith. Through all of it he does not lose his faith in God. So in chapter 38 God answers him. But it is not the kind of answer that Job expected.
God does not explain why this has happened nor does God make any excuses. Instead in one of the most beautiful and poetic passages of the Hebrew Scripture God recalls the wonders of creation.
And what then is Job’s response to God? A deeper faith. He says, “I have dealt with things that I do not understand, things too wonderful for me which I cannot know. I had heard of you by word of mouth but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.”
The Gospel of this Sunday is the calming of the storm. In the evening, after a day of intense work, Jesus got into a boat and told the apostles to go the other side. Exhausted, he fell asleep in the stern. Meanwhile, a great storm arose which threatened to destroy the boat. Frightened, the apostles woke Jesus, saying to him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” After rising, Jesus ordered the sea to be calm: “Peace! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was a great calm. Then he said to them: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
We are going to try to understand the messages addressed to us today in the readings and the Gospel.
The crossing of the Sea of Galilee indicates the journey of life. The sea could be my family, my community, my heart itself.
In small seas, as we know, great and unforeseen storms can be unleashed. Who has not known some of these storms, when all is darkened and the little boat of our life begins to fill with water on all sides, while God seems to be absent or asleep. An alarming diagnosis from the doctor, and all of a sudden we are at the height of the storm. What to do? What can we hold fast to and on what side must we lower the anchor? Jesus does not give us the magic recipe to escape all storms. He has not promised us that we will avoid all difficulties. He has promised us, however, the strength to surmount them if we ask him for it.
In the scriptures, the sea, the wind and the storm are often seen as forces of evil and chaos which only God can control. From the story of Jonah and the whale to today’s Gospel, the power of the sea appears as something to be feared because it cannot be controlled. But the storm at sea can also stand for the trials and tribulations which the righteous suffer, and from which only God can save them.
The victims of tsunamis and hurricanes could easily identify with those terrified disciples that Mark tells us about in the Gospel. I would not be surprised if Mark had our first reading in mind when he wrote this passage because there it tells us that God controls the waters and the waves, and Mark shows us Jesus doing the same. He then asks the disciples what they might have thought was a stupid question: Why were you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith? So in a sense the answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is perhaps that there is no answer, at least none that we can understand. And so God requires Job – and Jesus requires the disciples – to have greater faith. Maybe in times of trouble we can think of Jesus always present to us, although he might seem to be sleeping, but then awakening and saying to us as he said to the disciples, “Do you not yet have faith?”
Water, you know, is an ambiguous symbol. It can bring destruction as in tsunamis and hurricanes. But it can also bring life. Indeed it is necessary for life.
For most of us, it’s easy to delude ourselves into thinking we have a strong faith when everything in the world is calm and smooth. It’s only when the storm strikes that we discover what type of faith we have, or if we have any faith at all. Faith here means not so much a belief in God as a trust in God. In times of adversity, our strong faith may give way to fear and lack of safety.
Some people think that if God was with them, and if he really cared about them, then no storm would ever hit them. Life would be all plain sailing. So, when a storm does come, they immediately think that God has abandoned them.
The Gospel today is a clear example that the storm can hit even when you have Jesus in the boat with you. People of faith are not immune to life’s losses and burdens.
For some people, they only turn to God in times of danger and uncertainty, begging God to rescue them, making promises to change their lives in exchange for rescue. However, once the crisis is passed, they proceed to live as before. For such people, God is like a safety belt. In the darkness, God is their protector, but in the light they put God away, only to reconnect when fear or disaster strikes.
What real faith does is assure us that God is with us in the midst of the storm, and it is this conviction, that we are not alone, that enables us to get through the storm.
It’s hard to imagine that the disciples who had spent so much time with Jesus, who had listened to his teaching and had seen him healing and bringing people back from rejection by the community, from death to life would be terrified in his presence. Their faith failed them when they were overcome with fear such that they cried out,” Master, do you not care? We are going down!” They had now lost control. The outcome was out of their hands and as we know, not being in control, is an unpleasant experience. In the case of serious illness or an accident, we feel as if everything is falling apart. We are confused and powerless. These situations are both humbling and terrifying since they confront us with questions about our faith and our concern about whether God has abandoned us.
For the early Christians, this calming of the sea was a very relevant event. The boat represented the Church and the storm the persecutions unleashed by the evil powers that wanted to wreck it. Even though Jesus was in the boat with the apostles, the storm still struck.
Life can be compared to a journey. Though each of us has to sail our own boat, the life of the Christian is not meant to be a solo journey. Nor is it guaranteed to be a comfortable ride. We travel with our fellow Christians and so should be there to support one another when the going gets rough. But even with our fellow travelers, we know that when we are guided by faith there is no need to be in control, the master of the boat will always take control.