Sunday, June 21, 2015

Year B Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Job 38:1.8-11; Ps 107:23-26.28-31; 2 Cor 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41

I think like a lot of people in this age when human beings have exerted such mastery over the earth, I spend a lot time trying to reduce God to my own measure, to make of God someone I can persuade and manipulate into doing what I want Him to do, especially for me and for those close to me. But God cannot be manipulated. God wills and seeks to bring about only what is good, what will, in the end, accomplish His divine purposes.

Our first reading, taken from the Book of Job, demonstrates what it means to revere God as God. This reading includes the first verse of chapter thirty-eight and then jumps to pull in verses 8-11. Chapter thirty-eight, the beginning of the culmination of the whole book, is when God finally deigns to respond to Job’s insistent and persistent demand that He answer for what He has done to Job. Remember, Job was good and just. So good and just was Job that God was bragging on him to Satan. Satan responded by basically asking God, “Who wouldn’t be good, just, and grateful if they were as blessed as Job?” Indeed, Job was a wealthy man, possessing much land and an abundance of livestock. He and his wife had ten children. Unlike in our own day, having many children in ancient Israel was seen as a great blessing from God. Parents who had many children were considered wealthy and blessed and not merely because they lived in an agricultural society. God then permitted Satan to do to Job whatever he wanted short of killing him.

In short order Job lost his land, his flocks, and, most painfully, all of his children were killed. If that were not enough, Job was afflicted from head to foot with boils, great, oozing, scabby sores. As a result of all this, his wife and his friends asked Job what he had done wrong to anger God to such an extent that these afflictions befell him. While Job refused to curse God, as his wife urged him to do, he was equally adamant about his innocence; he had done nothing to earn God’s wrath. Job covered himself in sack cloth and sat in the ashes of a fire, his head to the ground, awaiting God’s response. This story, which I have greatly compressed, is what goes on for the first thirty-seven chapters of the Book of Job. It is in chapter thirty-eight that God, who has been silent, finally answers.

In our reading God asks Job, Who made the sea? Who made the clouds? Who set the limits to sea, thus preserving dry land? In short, over the next several chapters, God helps Job to see that only God is God and that God cannot be reduced to our measure, lest we content ourselves with making an idol, a false god, and worshiping it.

This seems a fitting reading given what happened Wednesday evening at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, when 8 members of the church, along with their pastor, were violently attacked by a gunman while they gathered together to study the Bible. What happened is incomprehensibly evil. But what happened causes believers, like us, like Job, to ask some deep and searching questions.

In the wake of such events we ask, Where was God? Even while we may acknowledge that God, being all good, did not in any way cause this evil to happen, we ask, “Why didn’t God stop it from happening?” After all, what could be better, more meritorious, more pleasing to God than going to church for Bible study on a week night?

Thursday evening, as I was still pondering these things, I came across what I would call a provisional answer in a book on St Thomas Aquinas: “On Thomas's view, we pray in order to dispose ourselves so as to receive properly what God wills to give us. We pray, so to speak, to change, not God's will, but our own disposition” (Kerr, Thomas Aquinas: A Very Short Introduction 82). I call this answer provisional because it is very theoretical and abstract and so not only not very satisfying, but kind of scary.

A more satisfactory answer has to be more concrete, more reassuring. This why our Gospel for today gives us a much more satisfying answer than we find in Job or the writings of the Angelic Doctor, even while it is in in perfect harmony with what we read in our first reading. The basic message of our Gospel reading today is that God cares about us deeply, more than we care for ourselves. Jesus shows us we can trust God. The disciples ask Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus’ response, in which he stops the storm and calms the turbulent sea, shows that He cares deeply. After demonstrating His power over nature, He asks the disciples a very probing question: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”

Let’s face it, sometimes life is terrifying. It seems like Jesus is asleep, not paying attention, not caring about what happens to us. But if His passion and crucifixion show us anything, it is that He is with us in our suffering. If we trust Him, Jesus will lead us safely through life’s storms to the far shore, where we will dwell forever in the Father’s house.

On this Father’s Day let’s call to mind and keep in mind that by virtue of our Baptism, we are God’s children through Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Eucharist we see that the Lord is alive. He gives Himself to us so that we, in turn, can bring Him to others; make Him present wherever we are no matter where that might be or the circumstances we face.

The witness of the sole survivor of the attack in Charleston, along with surviving family members of those who were killed, show us what it means to fully trust Jesus. When facing the person who committed this unspeakable crime they forgave him. The sister of Depayne Middleton-Doctor, one of those who were killed Wednesday night, said to the man who freely confessed to murdering her sister and eight others in cold blood, “I acknowledge that I am very angry… But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family … is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul” (see "‘I forgive you.’ Relatives of Charleston church shooting victims address Dylann Roof").

God’s family is a love-built family. Our Lord taught us that violence begets violence. He came to give us something better than the lex talonis, which enjoins an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth. Jesus shows us how to break the cycle of violence. If you want the kingdom of God, then, like the members of Emmanuel AME Church, you must seek to make it a present reality.

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