12th Sunday B – Who Can This Be?
My first glimpse of the Sea of Galilee was unforgettable. It was in the spring of 1968. Opening up ahead of us was an expanse of pale blue water sitting in a bowl of biscuit coloured mountainous highlands. Again, almost thirty years later, I found it hard to take my eyes away from such a lovely scene that Jesus would have gazed upon so long ago. The locals told us that a sudden wind coming down from the western hills can race across the water, recoil off the mountains to the east, then come back and whip up that calm and tranquil sea into an angry murderous tempest. Pope Francis, almost fifty years later, would remind us that “Jesus was able to invite others to be attentive to the beauty that there is in the world because he himself was in constant touch with nature, lending it an attention full of fondness and wonder. As he made his way throughout the land, he often stopped to contemplate the beauty sown by his Father, and invited his disciples to perceive a divine message in things” – Laudato Si, 97.
When Jesus matter-of-factly invited his disciples one evening to cross that same spread of water with him, little did they know that a monster storm would waylay them in the night. Pope Francis’ comment about perceiving ‘a divine message in things’ might make us wonder if the incident was included by Mark as an allegory about the difficulties the first Christians had holding on to their faith after the Resurrection. We latter-day followers have our doubts about the Resurrection and about Jesus’ promise to be with us always. Like the disciples in the boat that night we wonder and struggle to know if the Lord really cares about us, especially when we feel we are going under. Like the man in Mark’s gospel who asked Jesus to heal his son of a violent spirit, we find ourselves saying “Lord, I do have faith; help the little faith I have” – Mark 9: 14ff. At one level our faith can be intact; and yet at another it can feel very weak, almost gone.
Serious believers often go through periods of serious doubt. “Hello? Are you there, Lord?” Nothing! Dealing with doubt and a sense of absence is part of spiritual growth. Prayer and living the faith can feel miserable, dreary, and undesirable. We think we are wasting our time as we wonder where is God, if there is a God. Like the disciples in the storm tossed boat, we are not in charge. God runs the relationship; we don’t. Prayer is dialogue, not monologue. God is not acceptable in much of the western world today. People are routinely turned down for consideration – for jobs, promotion, position, respect – if it emerges the applicant is ‘religious.’ We live in a world which says, like the fool in the 14th psalm, “There is no God.” A footnote in my Bible calls this utterance ‘a fool’s folly of fecklessness.’ The faith of many has been dissolved and brought to nought by our cultural fool’s folly of fecklessness.
Eventually the disciples roused Jesus who had been sleeping. He promptly rebuked the wind and told the sea to calm down. “Who can this be, they wondered, even the wind and the sea obey him?” The words of Psalm 41 come to mind, Deep is calling to deep in the roar of waters; your torrents and your waves swept over me. These words of the frightened and discouraged psalmist in exile dramatize his lost and alienated situation as he finds himself in the chaotic waters of a world which appears to be without the Lord’s powerful presence. It’s an image of today’s world. Meanwhile out on the stormy night sea with waves sweeping over them, the terrified disciples wake up to the reality of a higher power in their midst, someone more awesome than the raging wind and sea, someone greater than themselves. “Who can this be” they wonder?
Lord, the sea is so wide and my boat is so small. Be with me.
Fr. QQ – 06/16/2021