What’s going on in our gospel today? What are the disciples trying to do? Clearly the disciples feared for their safety. They would have been panicking. And their fear was probably well-founded. After all, many of them were fishermen and they would have known these waters well. Probably they knew what such storms were like. Still today, that lake is famous for its sudden dangerous storms. In fact, the disciples probably knew others who had perished in similar circumstances. So, they were afraid, panicking and with good reason. But what do they do next?
They would have been trying to save the situation, all the while seeing Jesus sleeping. They were desperately trying to keep the boat afloat, and there he is asleep. Mark even seems to rub it in by saying he was asleep on a cushion. Mark seems to be emphasising the difference in situation between Jesus and his disciples. I think we can imagine a certain amount of frustration growing within the disciples. And eventually it all boils over.
So, the disciples wake him up and accuse him of not caring. And what is Jesus’s response: to accuse them of a lack of faith. What does Jesus’s response mean in the circumstances? What does faith look like when the boat is sinking?
Perhaps one way to think about it is along the following lines. If they as seasoned fisherman cannot do anything, what do they expect him to do? If they know he is God, why are they worrying? There seems to be a desire for Jesus somehow to share in their suffering. They ask, whether he cares or not? But if they thought for a second, they know he does. The instinct then seems to drag him into the panic. Perhaps they want him to feel the same fear.
Perhaps then the question of faith is a question of perspective. Do I see God in relation to me, or do I see me in relation to God? Do I judge God according to the world or the world according to God? Where do I begin?
The same thing happens in our first reading. Our first reading comes from the end of the book of Job. Job has suffered greatly. Everything has been taken from him, precisely to test his faith. His so-called friends have turned on him and trotted out the bad theology that bad things only happen to bad people, a just desserts theology, kind of like karma. And Job has had enough. Not only does he know he is innocent, he does not understand why he is suffering and so he calls on God in two ways. He demands that God reveal his innocence. But he also challenges God’s decision to give him a life of misery.
Our first reading is an extract from God’s answer. Well, answer might be the wrong word. Even though the book of Job is probably the longest and most eloquent treatment of innocent suffering in the Old Testament, and this is in fact God’s longest speech in the Bible, nevertheless God does not answer Job directly. In fact, God rebukes Job much like Jesus rebukes the disciples in our gospel today. Who is Job to judge God? How can Job understand God’s ways? Again, it seems like God is challenging Job’s perspective.
This is worth thinking about in our own lives. Do we treat God as God? When it comes to prayer, do we only pray on our own terms? If we get distracted, if God seems silent, if we do not get the answer we were looking for, do we persist in prayer? Do we keep coming back to God in prayer simply because God is God?
When it comes to our moral life, if we do not understand a certain teaching, or if we really struggle to live it, do we act as though God and the Church have got it wrong? Or do we keep struggling to live it simply because God is God?
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom made a great point when he wrote on this gospel. He wrote that we often get our relationship with God round the wrong way. When we are in trouble, when things overwhelm us, we are tempted to drag God into the misery, when in fact we should be looking at Jesus asleep in peace and begging him to give us some of his peace. That is: instead of lives being dictated by chaos, we should first start with God’s word of love and peace. We should seek to be saved not that others should join us in trouble.
This is something we should think hard about. The whirlwind or tempest in our first reading, that storm in our gospel. This sense of chaos, this sense of unpredictability seems present in our neighbourhood. A few people in different circumstances have mentioned to me a certain tension in the air. Talk of people feeling heightened. Of people acting out, or reacting poorly, struggling to maintain a sense of order. Especially from the last lockdown.
Our neighbours need God’s peace. They need us to be ambassadors of hope, they need our parishes to be places of refuge. Let’s pray then that we cultivate God’s peace in our own lives through constant turning to God in prayer, so that we can share God’s peace with our brothers and sisters.