Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (2015)
By Fr. Leroy Clementich, CSC
I happen to be writing this reflection during a week in late April when the New York Times tells us that thousands of people from the coast of Libya are trying to cross the stormy waters of the Mediterranean sea in order to find refuge on the European continent. Over fifteen hundred people have already lost their lives in a futile attempt to find safe refuge somewhere. Many of these people are Muslims so I should imagine they must have been pleading with the God of their ancestors (Allah) to save them from peril. Alas, it does not often come about as they might have hoped. Of course, I am sure it is true of many of us whether or not we happen to espouse a certain faith. In the dark night of peril we spontaneously appeal to our God for deliverance. It seems to us that we have no other option than this.
Interestingly, however, such prayer or pleading does not flow so freely when the waters of life are calm. At those times we often feel fully in control of our lives, so what need is there to intercede with our God, or so it may seem?
So, the question that rises out of two of our scripture lessons today is this: How does our faith in God faire in the face of the mystery of peril or worldly danger? Our first answer comes from the classic Book of Job, a man who had once been wealthy beyond measure, not a care in the world. At a certain point in time, however, the tables of fortune sudden fall in upon him: he loses property, family and fame in that order. In that perilous situation three of Job’s friends, theologians all, come to him and try to explain that these disasters fell upon him because of some hidden fault in his life. God, who obviously is just, is simply responding to his careless faith and his assumption that his possessions protect him from punishment.
“Ah, not so,” says Job. “I have always been a just person. I have thanked my God for these many advantages. It is a great mystery to me why these should now be taken from me. God gives and God takes away, blessed be God”
The lesson lies in Job’s deep faith: whether in good times or bad, he believed that there must be a reason why life happens as it does, whether for good or ill. God does not reward for goodness nor punish for selfishness. God is God whether in fortune or in peril.
The lesson from Mark’s gospel makes a similar point. Again, it is a story of a storm at sea and the disciples are in dread fear of their lives. It is at this point that Jesus comes on the scene walking over the waves. He asks the disciples whether they have no faith and then calms their fears and stills the waves washing over the boat.
So, in both instances we have a human response to a situation of peril. In the first story Job simply says: I have no idea why things in this life happen. They just happen; it’s a great unfathomable mystery. God knows and that’s all that counts.
In the gospel story, Jesus simply asks the disciples whether their faith only comes to the surface when the waves start to threaten their lives? Have they no sense that God cares for his people in all of life’s situations, whether calm or turbulent. Once again, Job’s words come to mind: “God gives and God takes away, blessed be God.”
Returning once again to the perilous journeys the people from Libya are making to find safety and, indeed, the many other disasters that occur around the world almost everyday: it must be said that these disasters do not occur because God has some mysterious intent in mind. There is no saying why such events take place; this is simply the way the variables of our universe happen. There is no point in trying to discover whether God has some malevolent intent. On this planet there seems to be a constant rising and falling, a death and resurrection. That’s simply the way it is. Amidst the rising and falling in this world, however, we must believe the words of Job hold true: “God gives and God takes away. Blessed be God.”
The scriptures: Job 38: 1, 8-11 • 2 Corinthians 5: 14-17 • Mark 4: 35-41
USCCB Bible Daily Readings: Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time