June 21, 2015 –– 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Job 38:1, 8–11 / Psalm 107 / 2 Corinthians 5:14–17 / Mark 4:35–41
The Storms of Life
This is classic Bible story. As a child I sang a song about Jesus commanding the storm to stop. Long before the day of video we had “flannel graph” illustrations to visualize each stage of the story. There are eyewitness details to establish the setting: other boats, the exact time, how the boat was filling with water, how Jesus was asleep in the stern on a cushion, the honesty of the disciples' terror…. But this is not mere Bible story for children; this story is given to encourage faith in Jesus.
It starts with a common occurrence for Jesus and his disciples. Getting into a boat on this lake was, for them, like me getting in my car to drive from E-town to Mechanicsburg––not without possible danger, but still something that is done routinely. This time, though, a storm hit. It was a sudden and furious squall, and so bad that even these experienced fishermen were afraid. We know the story: Jesus was asleep, they awakened him, he told the storm to be still, and it did.
Now if life for Christians always followed this paradigm, we wouldn't have any problems. But life is not always like this, even for people who believe. "Storms" still come into ours lives––cancer, miscarriage, violent deaths, traffic accidents, the loss of income, natural disasters…. It is threatening even to watch the daily news. There is plenty in our world to cause fear, and there is not always immediate deliverance when we cry out. So what does this story really mean?
We read this story of Jesus and the storm and wonder why, if God loves us, the power of Jesus doesn't intervene every time. We want God to fix the here and now instead of, what seems to us, playing a game of hide-and-seek. Is he with us in the storm or not? How does the world of Bible stories intersect with the realities of life in our world?
This takes us to the heart of faith. Faith is not merely believing in the miraculous. Faith is easy when there is an unmistakable miracle. Faith calls us to trust in the presence of Jesus when it seems nothing is going right. Jesus wanted the disciples to understand that even the storm did not matter if he was with them. He chose, on that occasion, to still the storm to prove his point, but obviously he did not keep the storm from coming.
Still, we want know: If Jesus can still the storm, then why doesn't he do it every time? It's the age old question: if God is all powerful and all loving, then how can such awful things continue to exist in the world? How can we be expected not to be afraid when it's so easy for us to be hurt?
We know only what God has revealed to us. We know that we have been given an ability to choose. We know that choosing disobedience to God has opened the whole universe to chaos (Romans 8:20). Hard and horrible things happen. This is the nature of our present world.
Yet God has also revealed himself as coming into this hard world to be with us. Think about this: If God were to stop all bad things, it would change the nature of our response to him. It would not be faith directing our responses but rather his intervening (and dominating) presence. We would not choose to love God, but rather be overwhelmed by him. If God acts to prevent the consequences of choice, the true gift of choice is withdrawn. The very Passion of Christ would not exist in a world where God always delivers from fear and suffering.
God does not give temporal deliverance every time. When God became one of us in Christ, he never promised us an easy time or said that Christians would be always be spared the horrifying things. In the life of the early church, when persecution threatened to overwhelm its very existence, the disciples had to learn a different way that Jesus was with them in the “storm”. In early Christian art the Church was depicted as a boat on a perilous sea. In fact, when Mark was writing this Gospel, the lions in Rome were already looking forward to their first taste of raw Christian. The Jesus who stopped the storm that day for his disciples also said: Take up your cross and follow me. Mark's point in this story is that when Jesus is with us, we do not have to be ultimately afraid.
This is the true nature of Christian Faith. What Jesus affirmed to the disciples that day on the boat was that he was with them. In times of fear, Jesus invites us to have faith and to believe that storms do not last forever and they do not have the last word. Jesus is bigger than our “storms”, and when we invite him into our lives he is with us.