Saturday, July 22, 2006

Year B 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Job 38,1.8-11; Ps 107,23-31; 2 Cor 5,14-17; Mk 4,35-41

Images of raging waters and turbulent seas are found frequently throughout the Old Testament. We need only recall the stories of creation, the great flood, and the exodus to see this. Among the cultures of the ancient Near East the stormy sea symbolized the forces of chaos in the world. In the wakes of the Indian Ocean tsunami and last summer’s hurricanes, we know that even in our own day the sea’s untamable waves are beyond human control. It was over the invincible power of the waters that the psalmists and prophets exalted God’s omnipotence. We find an example of this in today’s psalm in which the LORD raises “up a storm wind” only to rescue the mariners by turning it into “a gentle breeze.” In the story of creation, the unrivaled sovereignty of God is on display when God creates the earth and causes his spirit to sweep “over the face of the waters” bringing forth life. His power over the chaos of the seas is elsewhere on display in Genesis when God, to use Job’s words from our first reading, “shuts in the sea with doors” (Jb 38,8) by separating the waters from the dry land (Gen 1,1.6-7). Though fearsome and often menacing, the roaring seas pose no threat to God, who is their creator and master.

The storm represents far more than a retelling of what occurred on a particular night over 2,000 years ago. The storm is both a terrifying natural event and a metaphor for the overwhelming difficulties that we experience collectively and individually on our voyage to true discipleship. In both cases Jesus is in our midst urging us to greater faith, to greater trust, to further abandon ourselves to God. Yet, just like the disciples in the boat, many of us have yet to discover through our own experience that Jesus is the one “whom even wind and sea obey” (Mk 4,41). In the psalm the sailors, beset by a storm and being tossed up to the heaven and sinking to the depths, cry out to the LORD in their distress (Ps 107,26-28).

Most of us, at one point or another in our lives, perhaps at multiple times, have uttered urgent words to God, like those shouted by the disciples in the boat: Lord, “do you not care that [I am] perishing,” suffering, failing, grieving, or hurting? It is a pious platitude merely to say that Jesus is with us in the midst of life’s storms. Or, that he is especially near to us when we are hurting, suffering, and downtrodden. Nonetheless, both these statements are true. But the only way to make them real is through experience. It is certainly not enough to believe the truthfulness of these pious propositions; we must know the person who asks us to put all our trust in him in order to know whether he is, in fact, trustworthy. In order to trust Jesus Christ consistently we must pray to him so that we come to know him. We must also get to know some of his friends, our brothers and sisters in faith, both those we sit surrounded by here today in church, as well as those who have gone before us. Having saints for companions and intercessors is an indispensable means of knowing our Lord better, as are daily prayer and scripture study. It is only through prayer, scripture study, Eucharistic fellowship, and constantly entrusting ourselves to his loving care through concrete acts that we really come to know our Savior. It is only by knowing him intimately that we come to know just how he works in all the various circumstances of our lives.

In addition to this good news, it is also comforting to know that there is a limit to suffering, our own suffering and that of the whole world. The set limit to which God decrees “Thus far shall you come but no farther” (Jb 38,11), is Divine Mercy. The boundary of this limit, the door behind which the sea of evil and suffering are damned, is the Cross. “Brothers and sisters,” St. Paul writes to us no less than to the Corinthian Christians of the first century, “The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all . . . so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5,15). Living for others means dying to ourselves. In order to live for others, we must love them. Loving another means making ourselves vulnerable, subjecting ourselves to rejection and disappointment, it means relinquishing control without ceasing to care. Conversely, it is the failure to love God and our neighbor, as Christ taught us, that causes human evil in the world.

In reflecting on our readings today, it must be remarked that is through water that God deigns to save us. The Rite of Baptism speaks powerfully of this sacramental reality when, during the rite, the minister blesses the water of the font saying:

“At the very dawn of creation your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness.

“The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of baptism, that
make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness.

“Through the waters of the Red Sea you led Israel out of slavery, to be an image
of God’s holy people, set free from sin by baptism.

“We ask you, Father, with your Son to send the Holy Spirit upon the water of this
font. May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with him
to newness of life” (Rite of Baptism for Children, pg 36-7).

In his graciousness, made most manifest in and through the sacraments, God washes away our sin and restores us to his favor. Through Christ he releases us from the prison of our selfishness to the freedom of loving others. It is on this voyage of liberation that Jesus Christ gives us passage and beckons us, as he did his disciples, “Let us cross to the other side” (Mk 4,35). On our way Jesus calms the stormy waters of life, which are for us a wellspring of holiness. My dear brothers and sisters it is God working through our struggles, trials, and failures that we die to ourselves, bury what is dead, and rise to new life. Having already been redeemed, it is through this on-going process that we are sanctified, that is, made holy. This is how we become new creations in Christ, that is, beloved sons and daughters of our Father in heaven who awaits our arrival home on the far shore. Like those rescued from the abyss in our psalm, or the relieved disciples in the boat, may we rejoice when our Savior brings us to our “desired haven” (Ps 107,30).

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