Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Times (B), June 25, 2006
Readings: Job 38:1, 8-11; Ps 107:23-26, 28-31; 2 Cor 5:14-17; Mk 4:35-41
Who is this that even wind and sea obey him?
Today's gospel presents one of the most dramatic events in the life of Jesus—his calming of the power of a raging storm at sea, merely by his word. Those of us who know a bit about science and meteorology may be inclined to say this sort of thing just doesn’t happen. We might be willing to accept that Jesus has the power to change hearts through his love, even in ways that seem miraculous. But we scientific people find it hard to believe that Jesus changes the weather, much as we might like him to on a gloomy weekend like this.
It can help us understand today’s gospel passage if we notice that it comes at the end of chapter 4 of Mark, a chapter devoted to the presentation of a number of Jesus’s parables—stories that Jesus tells to help his followers understand what the “kingdom of God” will look like. He compares God’s reign to seeds producing abundant fruit, a lamp lighting up a whole house, a tiny mustard seed growing into a tall bush. I think we are meant to understand Jesus’s calming of the sea as a parable like this.
It can help to know that the raging sea is an Old Testament image for chaos. In the Genesis story, in the beginning the world was a formless, chaotic waste. God’s action at creation drew order out of this chaos. The swirling turmoil of the sea stands for what existed before our loving God created the good world and all the very good creatures within it. Thus the wind and waves of a storm often represent the powers of chaos, evil and death. To be in a fierce storm at sea, buffeted about by waves and in danger of drowning, was an experience of extreme terror. It is a kind of parable of our deepest fears, especially our fear of death.
Though the terror of bring threatened by the raging sea is far from the experience of many of us, it is certainly not unknown in our time. A few days ago, there was a story in the paper about how the aftermath of hurricane Katrina has brought an epidemic of depression to the people of New Orleans. Despite reconstruction, the city remains deeply scared by the storm. As a police officer put it: “You ride around and all you see is debris, debris, debris.” One woman said “I can’t drive around the city without crying.” It is not surprising that suicides are up.
In the boat with Jesus, the disciples experienced the terror of a storm like Katrina. Initially Jesus stays asleep in the bow. When the disciples wake him, he speaks to the chaos and turmoil with a simple but powerful word. At the creation, God spoke the word “Let there be light” and “there was light” in the darkness. In the same way Jesus addresses the chaos of the storm: “Quiet! Be still!” The result: “The wind ceased there was great calm.” The disciples are confused and amazed. It is no wonder that they ask “Who then is this, whom even wind and sea obey?”
The disciples do not yet have the full faith that Jesus’s resurrection will bring them. They don’t yet see that Jesus acts with the power of God over the ultimate chaos producer: death. Death is a kind of de-creation, in which God’s good creatures are returned to the chaos that existed before God’s word called them forth into the goodness of life. Perhaps that is why the debris still piled high in New Orleans leads many there into depression. But the gospel today tells us that Jesus has power over this chaos. He is still working to bring forth the goodness of life as God wants it to be. Though his work is not yet complete, we can trust the words of the responsorial Psalm “He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze, and the billows of the sea were stilled.”
Thus Jesus does what only God can do. Divine power is at work in him. Jesus is the presence and agent of God among us. The message of the gospel goes well beyond Jesus’s power over weather or wind. Jesus’s has power over whatever brings chaos, whatever brings death to our lives. In the second reading today, St. Paul tells us that Jesus has the power to make us a “new creation”—to bring life out of whatever form of chaos threatens us, whether it is a storm like Katrina, or problems in our marriage or family life, or the craziness of the wars of our world. The disciples only came to fully understand this when they experienced Jesus risen from the dead, and the full realization of this victory over death is still unfolding. But we can now give thanks for the presence of that power at the table of the Lord. Let’s pray that it will become more fully present in our lives and our worldDavid Hollenbach, S.J. St. Ignatius Church June 24 and 25, 2006