Sunday, June 21, 2009

Riders on the Storm—A Reflection on the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Have you ever been caught outside in a bad storm like the disciples were? In the 8th or 9th grade my dad, my mom and I were returning from a trip to Cape Cod. We were about 15 or 30 miles from home when the sky grew strangely dark. We stopped at a McDonald’s to get some lunch, but I was to nervous to eat! OK, maybe a fry or two. As we drove home, the clouds turned a sickly green-black as large rain drops began to fall. Coming down the road to our house, we found a small tree across the road. My dad drove around to the other end of the road to our house only to see a large oak lying across the front of our house. As I went inside, I saw my brother and sister holding up a tarp to let the water pouring through a hole in our roof go out the front door. The oak that had fallen had driven the branch of another tree through the roof! That day in 1972 a tornado had come through our town.

In the gospel a violent storm comes up as the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee. As they are being swamped, Saint Mark tells us that Jesus was asleep in the stern. I imagine the disciples thought of today’s psalm that tells of another storm on the sea. I wonder if it really was another storm, or did the psalmist in his prayer prophesy of the storm the disciples found themselves in? The events are remarkably similar!

They wake Jesus up, accusing the only one that can save them of not caring that they are perishing. Sound familiar? Don’t we often accuse Jesus of not caring about our dire straights even as we ask him to save us from them? Jesus calms the storm, the immediate threat is over, but a much greater danger is still with the disciples and with us. Jesus asks all of us that most terrifying of questions, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”

Imagine Jesus looking you in the eyes and asking that question. Why are you terrified? Why are you terrified of losing your job? Why are you terrified of not being able to sell your house? Why are you terrified of falling ill? Why are you terrified of losing your savings? Why are you terrified of your marriage? Why are you terrified of wars and rumors of wars? Why are you terrified of your children losing the faith? Why are you terrified of swine flu? Why are you terrified of the Democrats? Why are you terrified of the Republicans? Why are you terrified of our schools? Why are you terrified of the Church? Why are you terrified of whatever causes you to think that Jesus is asleep and you’re on your own in the storm?

Now imagine Jesus saying to those terrors in your life “Quiet! Be still!” And there is “great calm.”

Notice that Jesus asked the disciples why they were terrified after he had calmed the storm. The danger was over. He doesn’t ask why they were terrified, but why they are terrified. What is Mark trying to teach us in this gospel?

Is it that Jesus can command and “even the wind and sea obey.” Job tells us that God controls the sea, shutting it within doors and setting limits on how far it can go. Jesus is the Lord of the forces of nature for he is their Creator. Yes, the wind and sea obey him.

I think St. Mark has a deeper truth in mind. The storm is over; there is great calm. Then Jesus asks them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Why? Not because they are still afraid of the storm. That’s over. They are afraid of Jesus! In his great power over nature, Jesus has calmed the storm. And what is their reaction? “Who is then is this that even the wind and sea obey?” Their terror over the storm is now terror over Jesus who stilled it. Jesus is now revealed before them as having power over the great chaotic forces of life and nature the storm and sea represent. They did not understand this about him. The Jesus that asks them why they are afraid is no longer just their teacher who was asleep and apparently unconcerned. He is Lord! He speaks and he is obeyed. This is what terrifies them. He is not who they thought he was, he is more. He is a stranger and his strangeness terrifies them.

Think of what terrifies you. You have prayed and prayed about it. Then Jesus speaks a word to you and whatever was causing your fear is gone. The problem may still be there, but your fear is replaced by a great calm. Jesus has stilled your storm in your life. Tell me, aren’t you a little in awe? You have witnessed God perform a miracle and you’re just OK with that? No big deal? I think if we thought for three seconds about what Jesus had just done for us, we would be as terrified as the disciples were: not in abject fear, but in wondrous awe of our Lord. He is not who we thought he was, he is more. He is a stranger and his strangeness terrifies us.

Yet, he invites us to receive him in the Eucharist. As we taste and see the goodness of the Lord in this Mass remember that the same Jesus who calms the storm is giving himself to you. Be not afraid, but receive him in reverence and awe.

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