Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 20)

The readings for today’s liturgy urge us to rely on the Lord in times of trouble or distress.

Storms in nature are used to illustrate God’s ability to rescue his faithful from danger. God is the one who created the world in all its beauty and wonder. Storms are part of that creation. They are amazing things to watch – from a distance. There is something wonderful in seeing sheets of rain coming down on a field. If we add in the thought of how necessary water is for life, it becomes even more amazing and we recognize a blessing.

Yet we also know that storms can be dangerous at times, especially if we are in the middle of one and have no shelter or protection. The situation does not take away from the grandeur of the storm, but it begs deliverance from the troublesome effects. In the readings today, God is seen as the one who saves those who call to him in distress.

The first reading is a passage from the Book of Job. The story of Job deals with the sufferings of the innocent — in this case, Job, who loses everything and endures tremendous pain and misery. Friends arrive to comfort him, but the four end up in an extended discussion on the question of suffering.

Various reasons are explored, and the friends try to convince Job that he must have sinned and that suffering is a consequence. Job maintains his innocence (which is affirmed in the beginning of the book as a starting point), and blames God for the situation.

One line of thought goes something like this – since God created the world, he controls it; therefore, he is responsible for his (Job’s) misery. Job argues that his view of God is changing, since no just God would send these forces upon him.

Finally, God intervenes, and this is where the first reading for today’s liturgy picks up. Instead of directly answering the questions Job raises, God confronts him for thinking he can “figure out” God. He speaks “out of the storm,” asking Job a series of rhetorical questions (see Job 38:1-42:6 for the fuller account):“Who shut within doors the sea; when it burst forth from the womb? When I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness it swaddling bands?”

The point is that God is the creator. He is the one who made the world. No one was there when he did this, least of all Job. In the end, the question of the “why” of suffering remains unresolved.

God rebukes Job’s friends for their trying to explain suffering by accusing Job of sin, rather than comforting him and giving him support. God removes the plight of Job and provides him with great prosperity, much more than he had before the sufferings began, and extols Job before his friends for his faithfulness.

One possible lesson from the story is that man doesn’t always have the answers: some things are beyond us to “figure out.” God remains faithful and it is to him we can call upon for deliverance.

The Gospel passage comes from Mark. The passage is one of a series of accounts that witness to Jesus’ authority. Jesus represents or “stands in” for the Father.

One example is his preaching. People are amazed that Jesus preaches “with authority” and “not like the scribes” (1:22). Jesus’ “word” has power just as the Father’s “word.” Think back to the creation accounts – God speaks and then it happens.

The numerous healings, whether in and of themselves or in several cases where they are associated with forgiveness, further manifest Jesus’ authority as that of God.

Another example is that Jesus has authority over the Law. Recall the Law was given by God to Moses as a representation of the covenant. Jesus cures on the sabbath. The sabbath regulations stem both from the creation accounts and later are stipulated in the law (the third commandment). In the end Jesus says: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).

The passage today is the familiar one of Jesus’ calming the storm. The time is evening, so the sun is going down and it is getting dark. Jesus and the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee. This body of water is notorious for violent storms coming quickly and unexpectedly. Such is the case in this passage.

There is an interesting contrast between Jesus and the disciples with regard to the crossing. Jesus is sound asleep when the storm comes upon them. The disciples are awake or quickly awaken by the rocking, rain and noise. Jesus has to be awakened by them. They are in distress and panic, but Jesus is calm and resolved. The disciples’ words are full of fear, whereas Jesus’ words are confident and direct: “Quiet, be still!”

As in those other accounts, his word has effect: “The wind ceased and there was great calm” (4:39). Here God the Father through his Son delivers the disciples from the storm. Jesus has the authority to save, and does so.

Jesus is perplexed by the disciples’ reaction and asks: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” (4:40) His question leads us to consider our response to situations of suffering or distress or tribulations which arise in life. While there is a certain natural reaction to try to eliminate or solve the situation by ourselves, Jesus’ question leads us to consider an additional step. The question to the disciples, as well as the interaction of God with Job, lead us to consider the role of faith in our lives. Many times faith is tried in difficult situations. Yet those encounters can at the same time can provide an opportunity for faith to be strengthened.

Humility is one of the virtues that can help bolster our faith which sometimes sees us through the storms. Sometimes it might raise us above the storms and still other times it might even eliminate the storm. Jesus’ question is a call to faith in him. In one sense, this is the answer to the question of the storms in life, not so much “why?” but “how to we deal with them?”

Jesus’ calming of the sea is a witness to God’s saving love. The disciples are distressed and in danger, and Jesus delivers them. Ultimately Jesus will take on the ultimate storm through his passion and death. He takes to himself human suffering in its extreme. In this, he gives us a witness to God’s love – that God is willing to suffer for and with human beings.

Jesus’ faithfulness to the Father is manifest throughout. And in the end, his resurrection is not only his deliverance from death but that of all humanity. God not only sees us through the storms in life, He leads us through them.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.