Madrid, June 20, 2021. | XII Sunday in Ordinary Time
Book of Job 38:1.8-11; 2Corinthians 5:14-17; Saint Mark 4: 35-41.
Asking the right questions is a fine art. Parents, teachers and those who accompany people in a sensitive way know this.
When teaching a young student basic arithmetic, a teacher might ask, What is 2 + 2? The teacher does not ask this because he/she does not know the answer but because she wants to focus the student’s thinking on the problem at hand.
In today’s Gospel, in addition to the natural question of the apostles, Do you not care that we are perishing? there is a much more relevant question from Jesus, Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith? Which is echoed in a third question asked by the disciples themselves: Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?
With the most appropriate question, the most opportune at that moment, Christ gets the disciples to go deeper into the message he wants to transmit: Who is He and what is He capable of doing in our lives.
This way of addressing us is neither occasional nor infrequent. In the Garden of Eden, God asks Adam where he is and what he had done. In the crowd on the way to Jarius’s house, Jesus asks who touched Him (Mk 5: 30). Jesus’ questions arealways an opportunity for learning: Who do people say I am? (Mk 8: 27). He is a Teacher who uses questions to involve us, force us to think about ourselves, to uncover our true motivations and point us to the truth. He wants us to know.
Of course, we will rarely hear with our ears a divine question. But his way of questioning is through his continuous presence. He challenges our lives by standing beside us and making us compare our attitude and our intentions with his.
* At times, his presence in our neighbors provokes in us to respond with acts of charity and justice, because we see in the other person not only someone for whom we have compassion, but a true brother who has been given to us to help him navigate the storms that – visible or not – beset him/her.
* On other occasions, which hopefully would be permanent, it is about his presence in the heart and memory through the Spirit of the Gospel, which is much more demanding than any conclusion or reasoning that comes from myself.
* Finally, when I perceive his presence in my personal history, in the way he dismantles the dangers of passions and temptation, but especially in the way he forgives me every day, my poor and limited compassion is genuinely challenged.
All this explains why the most important question we need to answer is, How is it that you have no faith?
It is often said that people are only really known in extreme situations, in critical moments of difficulty. This happens to us even with ourselves. In storms we are able to look deep inside ourselves and discover what we are like and what we lack in order to be authentic disciples of Christ. This explains why Jesus took the moment of the storm on the lake to make his disciples recognize their lack of faith.
It is relatively easy and satisfying to put yourself to work for others, even to the point of exhaustion. There are some people, lovers of activity and relationships with others, for whom this is in itself a source of enjoyment. But when the ingratitude of the person we are helping appears, our attitude can change dangerously. Moreover, when those in the same boat with me show different sensitivities, observe different priorities and express some unexpected dissatisfaction with the way I act… that’s the benchmark. How I deal with that situation will reveal my true personality, my weaknesses and my best qualities.
When we are under pressure, when other people crowd in on us, when we feel unappreciated, when there are just too many demands, when there seems to be nothing for which to give thanks. It is at times like this that we particularly need to be aware of being fed by the Word and bread from heaven; to understand that it is often in our poverty and vulnerability that we find Christ closest to us.
This is certainly one of the objectives of the Purification that the Holy Spirit performs in us. It prepares us for a deeper union with the divine persons, once our pride and self-sufficiency are dissolved.
The story is told of a man who had little patience. He went to his Parish priest and said, Father, pray that God will give me patience! The priest said, Let’s bow our heads right now and bring your need to the Lord. Heavenly Father, send trials and difficulties into the life of this, you child, that he may have much tribulation. Before he could say another word, the man interrupted, But father, I need patience, not tribulation. The priest responded, I know, but God says this is the best way to learn it.
In Exodus 32:1-4 we see how Moses was gone so long that the people began to pressure Aaron to make gods who would go before them. So, for some time Aaron held. But eventually the pressure became too great and he gave in. Is not that how it goes? You do not just wake up and buckle under the first breath of pressure, you hold strong until you reach your breaking point.
That is the point of pressure. Not how to make it go away, but how to handle it. Moses did not rush off to do something. He responded by first praying. He talked to God about the situation. Though we know that prayer is the right first thing to do, that is not always our first impulse. Under pressure we want to “do something”, we want to fix it, we rise up, fight back or whatever it takes to make the pressure go away. That is simply too human, too mundane. Living with the tension of pressure is not anyone’s natural choice, but it is often the right choice if we do it in dialogue with God, asking not “how to free ourselves from the burden”, but “how this situation can be fruitful for the kingdom of heaven”. Although Jesus asked the disciples in the storm, Where is your faith? at least they turned to him, despite their doubts: Do you not care that we are perishing? That is the beginning, the embryo of the Spirit of the Gospel: Resolving the conflicts of the passions by having recourse to the person of Christ.
Stress tries to put me in charge of all the affairs of my life, but faith and hope put me a position of confidence that my God shall supply all that I need, even to the point of providing above and beyond all that I could ask or think.
All of us have to go through the storms of life. we have to handle our own spiritual struggles as we deal with life’s challenges, whether at family, work, community or in our personal growth. But, first of all, we must take into account some of the characteristics of the storms in our lives that are worthy of the name and that cause us stress.
Firstly, we have to remember that often storms are unpredictable, as was the case with the disciples in today’s Gospel. Quite often, we are not prepared for it. Every day, there will be challenging situations to grapple with and quite often we are surprised by the force, the moment, the origin or the area of our life where the storm occurs.
Secondly, no matter how experienced we are, we might not be able to handle the storms. Most of us can handle professional matters well but we fail miserably when it comes to our personal matters, especially in relationships. That is why top professionals who are very successful in their careers are the greatest failures in their personal and family life.
Thirdly, some storms in life cannot be explained away. This was the case of Job in the first reading. He was struggling through the belief in his days that sinners were punished, and therefore if one suffered, it was because of some personal sin he/she has committed. But Job was a holy and just man. He was confused at the justice or apparent injustice of God. Indeed, many of us see evil people doing well in life and the good suffer. The consequence is anger and disappointment at the lack of justice in God. The enigma of evil cannot be explained by reasoning, otherwise Jesus would have clarified it.
Fourthly, in our storms we often feel that God does not care. He seems to be asleep. That was how the disciples felt. Master, do you not care? We are going down! Do you not care? This is the question utmost in our minds when we are struggling in life.
That was the problem for Martha in the kitchen at Bethany. She felt that Mary did not care, Jesus did not care, and that caused her to feel that no one cared. She was bearing up under a load of self imposed stress. Her labor was not nearly as heavy as her feeling of dealing with the stress without help. If He does not care, then we take things into our own hands. If we cannot rely on God, then we better rely on ourselves. Why should we bother with such a God who does not care about our lives anyway? In particular, people of good will and who give their lives generously, wonder why God allows others, the people they love, to suffer so much.
Even if we cannot understand the evil, stress and anguish we suffer, there is an indicator that it certainly has a meaning, an unsuspected value: Jesus suffered before us.With the poor he has experienced poverty, with the excluded, rejection and marginalization; with the disappointed he has shared incomprehension and tears; with the betrayed the bitterness of being alone and abandoned, with the oppressed he has endured injustice and with the condemned to death he experienced shock and fear.
We are often unaware of His presence in the worst moments of our lives. As happened to Christ on the Cross, the people around us also do not believe that God is interested in helping us in these situations.
Job was challenging God with all his questions. But instead of answering his questions, the Lord answered by asking him instead. He said: Who pent up the sea behind closed doors when it leapt tumultuous out of the womb, when I wrapped it in a robe of mist and made black clouds its swaddling bands; when I marked the bounds it was not to cross and made it fast with a bolted gate?
Now God is asking us questions. because He wants us to be a testimony of His love and mercy. He is asking us why we are afraid. He is asking us why we are in love with the world. He is asking us if we really love Him. He is asking us if we will abide in Him. He is asking us if we will welcome His gift of salvation.
So long as we know He is with us, we can ride the storms of life. In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8: 37-39).