Sunday, June 19 1988 Twelfth Sunday of the Year Readings: Job 38.1 8-11 2 Corinthians 5. 14-17 Mark 4. 35-41 FOR the Hebrew the sea was an element of great mystery, to be treated with respect, reserve and awe. Never themselves a seagoing people, they had an uncertainty about the sea, even a fear of it. The Palestinian coast, with its strong prevailing winds, is a difficult one for navigation. Even the Sea of Galilee, the lake so well-known to the fishermen disciples, is treacherous and unpredictable in its moods, inclined to sudden storms. There was a darker reason for distrusting the sea. It was associated with the primeval monster of Chaos. Unlike the Babylonian myths encountered in the exile, the Hebrew stories of creation in Genesis lay stress on the unique power of God to create all things out of nothing. Yet they understood this power as controlling the deeps of Chaos and bringing them into order.
This is the picture in the first reading when the Lord God speaks to Job "from the heart of the tempest" telling him of this mysterious control over the sea and its bounds. That power further extends to the mystery of suffering, to all the daily and unexplainable aspects of life which are faced in the drama of Job. In the end it is in God that he "takes arms against a sea of troubles", placing his fingers to his lips, silent before God's majesty. Here, as in so many places in the Old Testament, sea and storm provide the setting for a theophany, a revelation of God's victorious power over the forces of darkness, disorder and evil.
In contrast, the gospel episode begins in an ordinary, everyday manner. Evening has come. Jesus invites His disciples to leave the crowd, take their boat and seek the quiet and stillness on the other side of the lake. He Himself is tired from all his labours, asleep in the stern, "his head on the cushion" one of those vivid details with which Mark's gospel abounds. But suddenly they run into a storm and waves leap over
the side of the boat until it is almost swamped. In their panic they wake Jesus. They are surprised that He is asleep through it all, that He is unaware of their danger. "Master do you not care? We are going down!"
With calm dignity and that authority we have come to recognise in the gospel, Jesus gives an answer to their cries such as they could never have anticipated. He rebukes the wind and says to the sea, "Quiet now! Be calm!" He addresses the elements as living forces, just as He exercised authority over the demons that possessed all those sick and suffering people who were brought to Him on land. There is an immediate response to His authority "God said . . . and so it was" in creation. "And the wind dropped, and all was calm again". Gently but firmly He questions the fear and lack of faith of His disciples. Implicit in these questions is the fact that they need not fear if He is with them, even if He is sleeping. A greater fact is emerging, and the response of the disciples shows that it is stirring in their minds and hearts: "Who can this be? Even the wind and sea obey Him".
No doubt they were not ready yet to do more than let a question arise out of their sense of wonder. When the Lord had risen from the dead and the Holy Spirit had come down upon them, then they would understand the meaning of this episode, and who He truly was, with them in the boat, stilling and hushing the storm. Down the ages this episode has strengthened the faith of the Church in time of trouble, the Church so often likened to a boat in rough seas. Our Lord continues to invite us to reflect on the circumstances of our lives in the light of this story: "Do not fret or fear. I am with you. Not least when you are troubled with waves and storms and I seem to be sleeping. Confide in my loving care of you, my new creation".
Anthony Nye SJ