A Reflection by Fr. Kingsley for the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B).
Job 38:1, 8-11 – 2 Corinthians 5:14-17 – Mark 4:35-41.
Dear brothers and sisters, imagine finding yourself miles out at sea in a small boat and being caught in a sudden violent squall. Perhaps you can relate to a similar real-life experience like that. We all know a bit about waves, though, don’t we? Depending on the weather conditions, waves can be small and gentle, and waves can be huge and rough – and they can change in a heartbeat. Such is the power of a raging, stormy sea that it is awe-inspiring and terrifying to the point of becoming overwhelming. Whether or not you have found yourself vulnerable at sea, each one of us has experienced overwhelming fear at some time in life. In that sense, each one of us can appreciate how fearful and helpless the apostles felt when they found themselves at the mercy of the waves and the wind, and perceived themselves to be in imminent danger of losing their lives.
In their desperation, they turned to Jesus, who was asleep in the boat. He seemed either to be unaware of the danger they were facing, or to be indifferent to it. Through the noise and turmoil of the storm, I can imagine them having to raise their voices and shouting Master, do you not care? We are going down! (v.38) at Jesus in their attempts to wake Him up (cf. Ps 44:23f). When pondering this question, ‘do you not care?’, it’s not out of order to ask whether Jesus really was asleep. Did He really not notice what was happening around Him?
Psalm 121:4 answers that question: “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep”. Jesus is God. He is right there with His apostles in the eye of the storm, and because He is God. He will calm every storm if only we will ask Him. In the 1st reading, the Lord put Job in his place by reminding him that He is the Creator and sustainer of the universe, and that He wields power over every force, both natural and human. It follows that He has power over every storm, whether it be natural or human or spiritual. The Lord Himself, who is ever-watchful and all-powerful, was physically in that little boat with His disciples. That being the case, there was no need for them to fear the power of the squall. But the reality was that they were afraid. They didn’t yet know for certain Who He Is: not until Mk 8:29 does Peter acclaim Him as the Christ. Up until now, according to Mark, they have witnessed Him manifesting His power over disease and demons, and now they witness Him manifesting His power over nature. Only God can do that, which is why Jesus accompanied the calming of the storm with the questions why are you so frightened?’ and how is it that you have no faith? (v.40).
It’s easy to make the connection between the storm at sea and the storms, trials and sufferings of our own lives. Troubles, disappointments and misfortunes come our way from time to time and test our faith severely. Although we may not readily admit it, we may feel disappointed in God when setbacks bring sadness and anxiety into our homes. Sometimes it happens that even when we have done our utmost to ensure that something turns out right, it doesn’t necessarily work out as well as we hoped. Sometimes it happens that even when we pray for a particular storm in our lives to ease, it just doesn’t. Sometimes we dare to get cross with God and speak to Him in a faithless manner because we mistakenly feel He doesn’t care about our plight. Feelings like that are human, and understandably so, but feelings can be unreliable unless the brain is engaged. It is then that we are no different from the apostles, who turned on Jesus and accused Him of not caring what was happening to them.
Sometimes the storms of life alert us to the presence of God in our lives and make us keenly conscious of it. That is what happened to the disciples in today’s Gospel reading; and now, as He did back then, He responds to our pleas to calm the storm. Sometimes, amidst our troubles, our faith in Him falters or is even shaken to its foundations, but we can have absolute confidence that He always speaks to us, exhorting us to keep the faith. He continually reminds us of what He can do and what He does do, because He is always in control. God cares about us! He loves us so much and He doesn’t want to lose us. His words today are reminding us that He knows about everything including every storm of every kind, every sickness and pain, every plan, dream and aspiration, every job opportunity and career ambition… in fact, everything that keeps us worried, anxious and fearful about the present and the future when we should be calmly placing our trust in Him.
Having faith in God’s presence and benevolence, however, should make us aware that He sees the bigger picture of life including every reality, while we see just a glimpse of life based upon our personal experience. The world is full of storms that everyone faces from different perspectives. There are mysteries in nature beyond our ability to solve. Suffering is one of those. But we need to bear in the forefront of our minds that God is there with us in every storm that afflicts us and tests our faith, including those that entail some form of suffering. Remember that God did not take away suffering and death, even from His own Son. Why not? Because His Son became incarnate, was born, suffered and died specifically in order to rise and overcome sin and death for us. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us. He died for us, and we are to live for Him. Furthermore, when we are inspired by faith that God is in control, we see God with us in the storms we endure, saying to them, Quiet now! Be calm! (v.39).
John Newton experienced his initial conversion to Christ after the ship he was in, bound for England, was caught in a howling storm off the coast of Donegal. He promised God that if he survived, he would give his life to Christ. He survived, converted to Christ, eventually became an Anglican minister, and wrote hymns including ‘Amazing Grace’. Think of the Amazing Grace of God who accompanies each one of us through every storm.
May I encourage you to put yourself into the hands of God the Father, to submit your intellect and will to Christ, and to invite the gracious Holy Spirit to guide you in all things. Live the new life in Christ which casts out the shadows of fear and shines penetrating light on every uncertainty. Place your whole trust in God, pray to Him at all times about every situation in which you find yourself, and ask Him continually to strengthen your faith and help you through the physical, mental and spiritual storms of this life. Amen. God bless you.