Homily for the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

Homily for the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

 Readings: Job 38:1,8-11; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41

Theme:  ‘Even though he sleeps, Christ is in the boat’ (Martin Luther)

One of the most memorable experiences of my three month’s sabbatical in the Holy Land, during the Spring of 2008 was a boat trip on the Sea (lake) of Galilee. I was struck particularly by the serenity of the lake and the beauty of the surrounding hills. However, as today’s gospel reading illustrates, the lake is not always serene. Lying approiximately 700 feet below sea level,  at end of the Jordan Rift Valley, it is prone to sudden, violent storms, when the north wind, blowing from mountains of Lebanon, rushes through the valley and gains momentum as it reaches the lake. In a matter of minutes the normally calm surface becomes a raging torrent that can easily swamp small boats, like the one used by Jesus and his disciples. 

The Lake of Galilee looms large in the ministry of Jesus. His first disciples were fishermen whose livelihood depended on the lake. Jesus began his preaching in the towns and villages around the lake, and he used Peter’s boat to address the people when the crowds became too large. We know that he crossed the lake many times. Today’s gospel begins with Jesus asking his disciples to ‘cross over to the other side’ (Mk 4: 35), that is, to the eastern shore of the lake. The words of Jesus remind us that ‘crossing over to the other side’ in a permanent requirement of Christian discipleship: crossing from fear and timidity to trust in the Lord; from a life closed in on oneself to a life in the service of others; from anger and resentment to forgiveness and reconciliation; from the security of the familiar to the risk of the unknown. These are crossings we all have to make, not once, but many times in our lives, if we really want to be disciples of Jesus. For the Church, ‘crossing to the other side’ means embracing and living its missionary calling and constantly moving on to new shores. Propelled by the Spirit, the bark of Peter must be ever ready to move away from its familiar and secure bases to embrace the challenges of new horizons.

As the disciples begin their journey, in obedience to Jesus’ command, the wind  suddenly turns into a gale, ‘and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped’ (Mk 4:37). And where was Jesus? Asleep in the stern with his head on a cushion. But not for long! The terrified disciples rudely wake him up, shouting, ‘Master, do you know care? We are going down!’ (Mk 4:38). Mark then tells us that Jesus woke up, rebuked the wind and the sea so that ‘all was calm again’ (Mk 4:39). And then he rebukes his disciples for their fear and lack of faith.

In recounting this gripping story, Mark was addressing the real fears and doubts of the Christian community in Rome. At the time he was writing (70AD), this small community was undergoing great tribulation, with the danger of civil war and persecution menacing them from all sides.  The members of the community felt powerless in this situation. It seemed as if God had forgotten them, that he was asleep. With this story Mark is reassuring them that, despite the storm going on around them, Jesus is still with them. In the words of Martin Luther,  ‘Even though he sleeps, Christ is in the boat’. And he is present as the Master of the wind and the sea.

The message of today’s gospel is that Jesus always accompanies us on our journey to God. He is on board, even if he seems to be asleep at times like the present, when we see so much chaos and disorder around the world. His presence is no insurance against our own fears and anxiety.  We fear the cost of commitment to Jesus and his Gospel of Love. We hesitate to let go of the lesser securities and place out trust completely in him. We quake in the face of rejection and opposition. We wonder where a wholehearted following of Jesus might lead us?  The saints who tried to follow Jesus closely didn’t have it easy.

I remember my Spiritual director advising me, during my Novitiate, to read the lives of the saints.  ‘You will find great encouragement, he said, in the example of their lives’, he said. Well, I did take his advice, only to find the lives of many of the saints were at least as frightening as they were inspiring.  Fortunately, I had a very good director at the time, and he helped me to cope with my fear. Fear, especially of what is new and unfamiliar, will in all probability be a constant companion in our journey through life.  However, our fears will not paralyse us if we are not afraid to acknowledge them and to ask the Lord, the Master of the wind and the sea, for the courage to continue the journey with him. I will end with a reflection from the pen of the American poet, Maya Angelu, entitled Faith Tested.

‘My faith is tested many times every day,
and more times than I care to confess,
I’m unable to keep the banner of faith aloft.
If a promise is not kept, or if a secret is betrayed,
or if I experience long-lasting pain,
I begin to doubt God and God’s love.
I fall into the chasm of disbelief and I cry out in despair.
But then the Spirit lifts me up again,
and once more I am secured in faith.
I don’t know how that happens,
save when I cry out earnestly I am answered immediately
and am returned to faithfulness.
I am once again filled with Spirit
and firmly planted on solid ground.’

Michael McCabe SMA

Click on the play button below to listen to an alternative homily from Fr Tom Casey SMA.

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