Job 38:1, 8-11
June 20-21, 2009 Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B
Back in April, Pope Benedict, in an address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, reiterated that reading and understanding Scripture takes intelligence and a good deal of work. While this is true in general, it is especially true when we are listening to a miracle story. If we are not careful we focus on the miracle and miss the message the story was meant to convey. Today's Gospel story is not about Jesus' ability to command the storm. The author of Mark's Gospel uses this and the two miracle stories that follow it to give his community encouragement in their faith. On the surface we can understand it as the author's way of establishing the divinity of Jesus. As we hear in the first reading from the book of Job, God is the only one who commands the wind and the sea, both of which are highly symbolic of chaos and evil. Since Jesus does what only God can do, Jesus must be divine. But remember, even though the disciples see this, throughout Mark's Gospel they continue to be fearful, and doubtful. This miracle story is not meant to understood as "proof" that Jesus is divine.
Going even deeper into the story, it is not just about establishing Jesus' divinity. When Jesus rebukes the terrified disciples, is he asking them if they have no faith in him? Or is he asking them why they have no faith in God as Jesus portrays by sleeping through the storm?
One of the most striking characteristics of Jesus through his whole life, up to the moment of death, is his faith in the Father based on a deep understanding that God is always present, and in the most fundamental sense, is the only one who is in control. Someone once said that anxiety is our judgement that God is not able to handle whatever it is that is going on in our world. Anxiety comes from the original sin of thinking that we need control or power because we can handle this situation or that better than even God, if we just had the chance.
A few weeks ago I was at a workshop on spirituality. In one of the exercises, they asked each of us to write down an affirmation that we could say at the start of each day to help us deepen that spirituality that day. I wrote down Psalm 95 as my affirmation and I would like to share my reflection on why. Everyone who has received the sacrament of holy orders and many religious as well have an obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the breviary, the Divine Office. The first prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours is called the Invitatory and it is normally Psalm 95. I often try to say it before I even get out of bed. The seasonal responsorial psalm we are signing this month is based on Psalm 95. In the translation used in the Liturgy of the Hours, it goes like this:
Come let us sing to the Lord and shout with joy to the Rock who made us.
Let us approach him with praise and thanksgiving, and sing joyful songs to the Lord.
The Lord is God, the mighty God, the great King over all the gods.
He holds in his hands the depths of the earth, the highest mountains as well.
He made the sea: it belongs to him, the dry land too, for it was formed by his hands.
Come then, let us bow down and worship, bending the knee before the Lord, our maker,
for he is our God and we are his people, the flock he shepherds.
Today listen to the voice of the Lord.
Do not grow stubborn as your fathers did in the wilderness
when at Meriba and Massah they challenged me and provoked me although they had seen all my works.
I said, "They are a people whose hearts go astray and they do not know my ways."
So I swore in my anger, "They shall not enter into my rest."
This is a very ancient song. We still hear a fairly primitive understanding of the God of Israel being the one god. All the other gods of the near east were just demoted to being part of Yahweh's court. And in the last line we hear a primitive way of understanding God that attributes bad things to God's doing.
The first part reminds me that we are in God's world and because of that we have cause for joy. We need to be thankful for all that God has given us and for God's being everywhere, even walking with us in our pain and suffering. God is God and I am not. As we heard today from the wonderful passage from Job where God responds to all of Job's friends and finally Job's attempt to understand how bad things can happen to good people, God basically tells them that they haven't a clue what they are talking about. Only God who has formed this creation and each of us can understand what is going on. God is shepherding us, caring for us and making sure we are protected from the wolves. My job is not to control things but to open myself to God's plan and God's direction. When I focus on trying to God's job I neglect what I do have control over: myself. Changing myself is the only thing that God does not have control over. I have to admit it is often easier to complain about what is God's job and in God's control than it is to change myself.
The second part reminds me that God's guidance and support are all around me but that I need to strip away all in me that blinds me to it. The cost for not being open to God's word today is that, like the Israelites, I will not enter into God's rest but suffer in the barrenness of the desert.
Letting go and letting God is not about doing nothing. It is what Jesus did. "Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather he emptied himself..." It means that I need to stop trying to force things to happen the way I think is best. It is about trusting even when society seems to be falling apart, the Church in Boston seems to be in disarray, St. Isidore's is struggling to keep afloat financially, when whatever crisis is happening in my life seems so crushing, that God is at the controls. As someone remarked when asked how they managed to keep a joyful, hopeful heart in the midst of tragedy, "If God had a better plan for me, I am sure that I would in it." God does care that we feel like we are perishing. In faith and trust we need to listen for God's voice telling us what our part is in his plan. And then working on the part that I have control over: changing myself.
If today we hear his voice, harden not our hearts.