Through storms of life, we have opportunities for change, understanding
By: By Shawn Reeves
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time/June 21
Job 38:1,8-11; Psalm 107:23-24,25-26,28-29,30-31; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41
My middle son had always loved thunderstorms. Even within that year in which one transitions from “infant” to “toddler,” he would climb upon the couch, eyes poised to see lightning, and gleefully whisper to me, “Thunder!” So you can imagine my surprise some time later when, during a thunderstorm, he clutched me tightly, quivering, and whispered, “Could you hold me?” No matter our courage, no matter our defiance against what we cannot control, it is human to be frightened before the unknown, before powers that oppress us.
Storms charge us with emotion because we attach so much meaning to those events, so much fear of loss or harm. For others, like farmers, there may also be hope — hope for languishing crops to recover, hope for a good season when all seemed dire. Storms are a natural symbol we unwittingly respond to, because after every storm something is different, something has changed. Storms are transformative.
Our readings this Sunday are nothing other than a litany of storms, a preoccupation with the gales of life. From the voice of God proclaiming to Job out of the storm, to the Lord silencing a storm in Psalm 107, to Jesus calming the storm in the Gospel, the violence of weather and the Lord’s mastery over them are a central theme this Sunday. But what is it that each of these squalls has altered?
A PURPOSE FOR EVERYTHING
Confusion and frustration about an apparent contradiction are also human experiences we find ourselves in, and Job is no different. By berating his “companions” who insist that God has rightly consigned him to misery for his sinfulness, Job resists the temptation to “curse God and die” as his wife advised (Job 2:9) and, instead, simply desires to understand, to have the Lord explain to him the meaning of his suffering and stand in solidarity with him.
And so it is that after many chapters of Job’s associates chiding him and saying God has abandoned him to suffering for good reason, we find ourselves at today’s reading. God breaks in, interrupts the conversation with a storm, and amid that storm reveals his purposes to Job. After his plea, “Oh, that I had one to hear my case . . . let the Almighty answer me” (Job 31:35), Job finally hears God’s voice within the turbulence of a storm and discovers the wisdom of his design: God orders all things with purpose and abandons nothing, even if it seems so.
Similarly, a storm befalls the apostles in our Gospel, and at its end something has changed, something is different in their understanding and perception of the Lord.
To this point in Mark’s Gospel, the apostles have seen Jesus cast out demons, cure Peter’s mother-in-law, restore a paralytic to health, and heal a man’s withered hand. Yet, when the storm arises, fear overwhelms them. Prophets before Jesus had healed withered hands (1 Kings 13:4-6), cured people of serious illness (2 Kings 5:1-14), and even raised the dead to life (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:18-37). But the calming of the storm incites in the apostle the perception of something radically different about Jesus. While others before him had produced similar healings, they are left after the storm wondering, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
The Psalmist declares, “They cried to the Lord in their distress; from their straits he rescued them, He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze, and the billows of the sea were stilled.” And in the words of Jesus — “Be still” — the Psalm is manifested before them. They have experienced this Psalm directly, and their perception of Jesus is altogether altered. Through the storm they discover in Jesus not only one who heals like a prophet but who commands the tirades of nature itself, who speaks with the power of the divine, who even wind and sea cower before and obey.
The storm has passed, and something within them has changed. Fear has given way to hope, and a storm is made the instrument of God’s purposes.
SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family are members of St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul.