• Ez 2:2-5
• Psa 123:1-2, 2, 3-4
• 2 Cor 12:7-10
• Mk 4:35-41
Death, disease, demons and the deep. What do they have in common? Yes, they all begin with the same letter. However, it’s not the beginning, but the end, that is significant, for each of these is meant to end the life of man (or, in the case of death, to be the end).
Scripture is filled with stories of grim confrontations with cold seas, terminal disease, demonic oppression and possession, and, of course, death itself. These enemies, along with the continual assaults of foreign invaders, were ever present in the lives of the chosen people of Israel. Would there ever be deliverance from these ills and evils? How best to respond to the difficulties and dangers of life? Where was God in the midst of man’s trials? Job, Solomon, the psalmists and many others grappled with these daunting questions.
Mark the Evangelist provides the answer. Today’s reading is the start of a section (Mk 4:35-5:43) describing how Jesus confronts and conquers each of these four foes. The point of each of these narratives is to reveal both the power and divinity of Jesus Christ. “Throughout his public life,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “he demonstrated his divine sovereignty by works of power over nature, illnesses, demons, death and sin” (par 447).
Today’s Gospel reading recounts how Jesus calmed the storm while he and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee.Violent storms were common on that body of water because of how the wind funneled down the steep hills surrounding it. Even as the terrified disciples — several of them experienced fishermen — fought to keep the boat afloat, Jesus slept. In the words of the Psalmist, “In peace I shall both lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me secure” (Ps 4:9).
The one who had created the world and then divided the waters and the land (Gen 1:1-10) was fully aware and in control of the situation. Yet the disciples, much like the Israelites being chased by Pharaoh’s swift horse and chariots (Ex 14:10-12), cried out in fear and despair to the Lord. The sea, for them, was more than a mere body of water; it represented chaos and the presence of evil. God alone was able to control, contain and subdue it, as today’s reading from Job relates: “Who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb.”
Christ’s rebuke of the raging waters was given with the same language as his rebuke of evil spirits (see Mk 1:25). Not only is he Lord over nature, he is Lord over supernatural powers and beings. After giving two sharp commands to wind and sea — “Quiet! Be still!” — he uttered two penetrating questions to the disciples: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” He was pushing and testing them, opening up their querulous, quivering hearts to the truth about who he was and what he was able to accomplish.
The early Church and the Fathers saw this dramatic event as a profound metaphor for the Christian life. The boat, of course, represents the Church, fighting to stay afloat in the dark waters of human history, oppressed by the Roman Empire and beset by persecution.
Many centuries have passed, but the crashing waves and fierce winds are ever present, physical and spiritual disease is all around us, and the chaotic forces of evil are still at work. Reflect, then, on the words and advice of Origen, who wrote the following:
“For as many as are in the little ship of faith are sailing with the Lord; as many as are in the bark of the holy church will voyage with the Lord across this wave-tossed life; though the Lord himself may sleep in holy quiet, he is but watching your patience and endurance: looking forward to the repentance, and to the conversion of those who have sinned. Come then to him eagerly, instant in prayer.”
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the June 10, 2009, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)
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