Sunday, June 21, 2009

Homily for 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
12th Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 21, 2009 Year B
Mark 4: 35-41
St. Michael, Greenwich
St. Timothy, Banksville

“He asked them, ‘Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?’” (Mark 4: 40).

The story of the apostles in the boat with Jesus during the storm reminds me of the fellow who was trapped on his roof during a big flood. Before long, a National Guard truck came by, almost swimming thru the deep water in the street. The soldiers called for him to come down. “Nope,” he said. “Jesus is going to take care of me.”

The water rose higher, reaching the eaves of the house. A boat with Red Cross volunteers came along, and they invited the man to get in. “Nope,” he said. “Jesus is going to take care of me.”

The water rose further, leaving the man straddling the peak of his roof. A guy came along in a canoe and eased his way over to the house. He urged the man to come with him, for the river was still rising. “Nope,” the man said. “Jesus is going to take care of me.”

The water continued to rise. And the fellow was swept from his roof and drowned.

He arrived at the Pearly Gates, where Jesus was waiting for him. Now the man was pretty upset, and he lit into Jesus. “Where were you when I needed you?” he shouted. “Didn’t you care?”

“Now, wait a minute,” Jesus said. “I sent you the National Guard. I sent you the Red Cross. I sent you a canoe. What were you waiting for?”

Sometimes we just don’t recognize how Jesus comes to us, how he’s present to us, how he’s guiding our lives. We can be just as oblivious as the 12 apostles or the fictitious fellow on the roof.

Certainly we’d all like to have our lives fully under control, to be safe at all times, or at least to understand all that happens to us.

To some limited extent, things are under our control. In the last couple of weeks, air disasters have been much in the news. We don’t know much yet about the Air France tragedy off Brazil. We do know a lot about the flight called “the miracle on the Hudson” and the Colgan Air flight that ended so horribly near Buffalo last winter.

The Continental plane that ditched in the Hudson could just as easily have had a horrible end. I don’t know whether Capt. Sullenberger or his copilot prayed, but they certainly followed their training, didn’t panic, and made the right decisions. We do know that some of the passengers prayed, if not before their splash landing, immediately after. We thank God for the happy outcome.

The evidence from the Buffalo flight indicates a tired, ill-trained, and inattentive pilot and copilot who apparently made the wrong decision to rectify their loss of air speed. We don’t know whether they prayed, but in the face of all that, it would truly have taken a miracle of divine intervention to save them. May all who perished rest in peace.

Mark’s story of Jesus and the apostles in trouble on the lake spoke in one fashion to 1st-century Christians facing persecution—not a natural storm but one of terrible human origin, one from which they must have prayed for deliverance: “Master, don’t you care that we’re perishing?” (4:38). Surely they did their best to deserve God’s blessings, and surely they tried to present themselves well to their pagan neighbors. In the 1st century Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles seem, at least in part, to have been attempts to explain Jesus and Christianity to the pagan public; and in the 2d century St. Justin the Martyr, among others, did the same. People did what they could—like Capt. Sullenberger—and then trusted themselves to their Savior.

Our concerns are different. We may ask how was God present at Auschwitz or in Rwanda or during Katrina. We may ask why God doesn’t seem to care about our dying parent, our child with an incurable illness. Why does God allow crooks to prosper while the economy tanks?

Our 1st reading today was from the 38th chapter of Job. For most of the preceding 37 chapters, Job has been demanding that God explain all the misfortunes that have befallen him. We know from having read chapters 1 and 2 that Satan has inflicted them as a test of Job’s integrity, but of course he doesn’t know that. Meanwhile, Job’s friends have been at his side, and they’re blaming him, telling him to examine his conscience and admit his sins—he must deserve everything that’s happened to him. And his wife, who presumably knows how uprightly he has lived, advises him just to curse God, denounce God, who seems to be unfaithful to Job.

That wifely approach is the approach of many modern people, as you know, who say that a good God could never have permitted Auschwitz, Katrina, or my personal unmerited tragedies.

Obviously this isn’t a new issue. The Book of Job is at least 2,500 years old, and no doubt people asked much earlier than that why the innocent suffer. No doubt people asked, like the apostles, “Don’t you care that we’re perishing?” Where is God’s justice? Where is our safety, our salvation (in all the Romance languages, that’s the same word: salus, salute, salut, etc.).

Our reading from Job 38 was chosen for its description of the might of the sea, in symmetry with the events in the gospel reading. It’s part of a long passage wherein God assures Job that he’s master of the entire universe, and Job’s just one small part of that universe. Job hasn’t got a clue about how he fits into the entirety of God’s doings, God’s concerns. When Job admits his ignorance and submits to God’s wisdom, God heals him and restores him to his previous wealth and happiness. In other words, he finds salvation, as understood in the Old Testament, by placing all his trust in God.

And that complete trust is also what Jesus demands of the apostles in the boat: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”; what he demanded of persecuted Christians in the 1st century; what he demands of Christians in every age in the face of any difficulty, any danger.

If we call God the Creator and Lord of the universe—and really mean it, really believe—we can certainly wonder what he’s up to, why he allows evil to flourish. But in the end we can only confess that we don’t know what he’s doing or why. It’s not a satisfying answer, to be sure.

If we call Jesus our Lord and Savior—which puts us a few steps beyond the apostles in Mark’s 4th chapter—we can only trust that he’s mightier than all the storms of the world, all its evil, stronger even than death, stronger even than my own personal sins and all the harm they do to me and to others. Why be terrified? He’s in charge. That was the repeated message of John Paul the Great, you remember, from the moment of his election: “Don’t be afraid”: trust in Jesus.

Do you remember the Bible song that was popular in the ’70s? (I wish I could sing it for you, but you don’t deserve that punishment:)
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who stilled the water.
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who calmed the sea.
Put your hand in the hand of the man
From Galilee.

I may not like or understand how he answers my prayers for help, for deliverance, because I don’t understand much about God’s ways. I can only try to cooperate with those ways, do my little part right, like Capt. Sullenberger, and then trust Jesus to pull me thru.

For the New Testament believer, “pulling me thru” means thru all of life’s storms and finally thru death—not around death, not without death, but thru death. For we all have to perish, as did Jesus himself. The only escape from the grave, the only deliverance from the final peril, the only safety and salvation, is in the hands of the One who rose from the grave and who assures us that he will raise up all who believe in him. “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come” (Creed).

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