Jun 20, 2021: 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

1st Reading – Job 38:1, 8-11

The Lord addressed Job out of the storm and said:
Who shut within doors the sea,
when it burst forth from the womb;
when I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling bands?
When I set limits for it
and fastened the bar of its door,
and said: Thus far shall you come but no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stilled!

The Book of Job is a debate over whether all suffering is a punishment for sin, versus the idea that an innocent person might suffer. At the time, people believed the former, whereas the author of Job believed the latter.

This is a controversial idea because it brings into question either God’s power or God’s love. Why would an all-powerful and all-loving God allow an innocent person to suffer?

To explore this issue, the author sets the stage with an innocent person suffering: Job. He then presents Job’s friends, all of whom argue the belief of the time, that Job must somehow deserve his suffering. God then intervenes, giving a perfect finish to the whole debate.

God does not directly answer the question of why an innocent person would suffer, but through asking questions of Job, God does make it abundantly clear that the mystery of suffering is not the only part of the order of God’s creation that is beyond human comprehension.

The Lord addressed Job out of the storm and said: 

Job has been engulfed in a storm. Just before this passage, he called out to God for an answer to the tremendous chaos and suffering he has been experiencing.

Job hears the voice of God answering from within the storm’s wind. Using questions, a pedagogical technique associated with the wisdom tradition, God leads Job into a deeper appreciation of certain aspects of God’s own self. These questions also enable Job to look beyond the natural world he knows and to consider the forces of nature in a new way.

This experience is a theophany, a self-revelation of God.

Who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands?

This question is rhetorical, as the answer can only be “God.”

In asking it, God is describing his own power over the primordial waters, a common symbol for chaos. The imagery is commanding. The unruly sea was born as from a womb, and was then confined behind closed doors. The clouds and darkness often accompany the stormy sea are merely coverings that were made by God. This proud primordial force is characterized as an infant in swaddling clothes. Clearly the sea is no match for God.

The underlying message is this: Who is Job to question the unnamable and most high?

When I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door, and said: Thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!

The God who shut in the sea, setting limits beyond which it could not go, was the very one who was speaking to Job.

Throughout this interrogation, there is one fundamental question: Who did it? Who is this creator? The creator himself is the very one who is posing the questions.

The principal insight being revealed to Job is that God is the creator of the world; regardless of the fury of the storm he was speaking from and the danger it might pose for Job, God still has control over the elements of the universe. The forces of nature are not themselves divine; they only function within the limits set for them by God.

Such insight would have filled Job with both confidence in God and courage in the face of threats to his safety.

By placing this reading in the Lectionary on the same Sunday as the gospel story with Jesus calming the seas, we see that this Old Testament passage is answering the question posed by the disciples, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” Mark, through his miracle story, and the church through the arrangement of these readings in the Lectionary, are teaching that Jesus is God.

2nd Reading – 2 Corinthians 5:14-17

Brothers and sisters:
The love of Christ impels us,
once we have come to the conviction that one died for all;
therefore, all have died.
He indeed died for all,
so that those who live might no longer live for themselves
but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh;
even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh,
yet now we know him so no longer.
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.

In today’s second reading, Paul insists that the love of Christ leaves us no choice: we must both accept the significant implications of faith in Jesus and preach this message to others.

Brothers and sisters: the love of Christ impels us,

Paul doesn’t specify whether this love of Christ refers to Christ’s love for humankind or our love for Christ. However, it doesn’t make much difference. By its nature, love is mutual. The affection of each party supposes and interfuses the other.

once we have come to the conviction that one died for all;

A reference to the conversion moment for the Christian, when one accepts that Christ died a redeeming death on behalf of all humankind.

therefore, all have died.

When Christ died, all humanity died potentially with him to sin and selfishness, as Paul further shows in the next verse.

He indeed died for all, 

Jesus not only stands in for humankind, he stands for them.

so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Paul plays with the idea “to live.” He maintains that those who live an ordinary life live it now in an extraordinary way — no longer for themselves, but for Christ.

Christ died for all, now all live for him.

Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh;

Christ’s death and resurrection have completely transformed the way we perceive both Christ and those who are joined to Christ. Our perspective is no longer limited to that of the material world; we can now see from a spiritual perspective.

even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer.

In his old life, Paul (Saul) had regarded Jesus as a renegade, someone who led people away from the true worship of God. His conversion gave him new eyes, a new way to see the reality beneath the surface.

He now understands Jesus from more than a human point of view; he understands from the point of view of faith. Elsewhere in his writings (1 Corinthians 1:17-3:3), Paul contrasts what Christ looks like according to the old criteria (weakness, powerlessness, folly, death) and according to the new (wisdom, power, life).

So whoever is in Christ is a new creation:

The reference to new creation calls Adam to mind. Just as Adam stood for all humanity and his sin was the sin of all, so Christ represents the entire race and his death is the death of all.

If this is the case, and Christ is truly the representative of all, then all are also raised to new life through the power of his resurrection.

the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.

Because of his new perception of Jesus — as the one who died, has been raised, and represents all others — Paul perceives those who have been joined to Christ as a new creation, transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus, the firstfruits of the new eschatological age that Christ inaugurated.

Life itself has taken on a completely new meaning, a meaning that didn’t exist prior to Jesus’ redemptive act. Now every action is motivated by the love of Christ: “the love of Christ impels us.”

Gospel – Mark 4:35-41

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples:
“Let us cross to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.
And other boats were with him.
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

Most of the miracles Jesus performs are either healings or exorcisms. Today’s gospel features a nature miracle. In telling it, Mark centers our attention on the identity of Jesus.

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples: “Let us cross to the other side.”

Jesus and his disciples are on the western (Jewish) shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was preaching from a boat to a crowd seated on the shore (Mark 4:1-2).

It isn’t clear why Jesus decides to cross the lake, which is eight miles wide at its widest point,  to the eastern (Gentile) side, but this is the first of many such sea voyages in Mark’s gospel. Some commentators see Jesus as intentionally bridging this boundary between the two sides, noting that he performs similar powerful works on each side of the lake, bringing his message and its benefits to both Jew and non-Jew.

Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.

They departed in the boat from which he had been preaching, making no special preparation. They did not land first to obtain provisions. It would have been inconvenient to go ashore in the midst of the crowd.

And other boats were with him.

There is no further mention of these boats or their occupants.

A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. 

Sudden, tornado-like windstorms are not an uncommon occurrence on the Sea of Galilee.

It is not by accident that the powers of chaotic water are harnessed in this nature miracle. In several ancient Near Eastern myths (e.g., Enuma Elish), the powers of chaos are portrayed as personified monsters of the deep. A careful look at the first creation account in Genesis reveals vestiges of this kind of thinking. There we see that it was out of the watery abyss that God drew order (Genesis 1:2).

Chaotic waters also play an important role in the Exodus tradition, where God split the waters of the sea so that the people might cross over to safety (Exodus 14-15). Traces of God’s victory over chaotic waters are also found in other places in the Bible (Psalms 74:13-14, 89:9-10, 104:6-7).

Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.

More precisely, he was asleep on the helmsman’s seat on the high afterdeck, where he would have been protected from the splash of the waves. Jesus would have been weary from his long work addressing the great multitude. Crossing the lake offered him a few moments of rest.

In the Old Testament, untroubled sleep is a sign of trust in the power and protection of God (Proverbs 3:32-34; Psalms 3:5, 4:8; Job 11:18-19).

They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Notice that Mark does not tell us that the disciples woke Jesus in order to ask him to calm the storm. They do not ask him to do what they may well assume is completely beyond his or anyone else’s power. Rather, they appear to have awakened Jesus simply to share their anxiety, or to make sure that Jesus is at least awake when they sink.

Regardless, the question is both impatient and irreverent.

He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm.

Jesus rebukes the powers of the storm by mere words. Although this is clearly a nature miracle, it resembles the exorcism he performed in Mark 1:25, when he rebuked a demon similarly.

This account is an implicit statement about Jesus’ divine power since God alone can control the sea [Psalm 74:13-14; 89:9 (89:10 in the New American Bible)].

“When He disperses its waves, Habakkuk’s words are fulfilled, where he speaks of the Lord ‘scattering the waters in His passage’ [Habakkuk 3:10 (in the Septuagint form)]. When at His rebuke the sea is calmed, Nahum’s prophesy is fulfilled: ‘He rebukes the sea and leaves it dry.’” [Tertullian (between 207-212 AD), Against Marcion, 4,20]

Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”

The Greek adjective used here for “terrified” (deiloi) suggests not simply fear, but also cowardice.

This question brings out a certain dramatic irony because the question is understood differently by the characters within the story (the disciples) than by the readers of Mark’s gospel:

  • The disciples would have understood Jesus’ question as asking them if they lack faith in God the Father. Jesus was able to sleep securely during the storm because he had faith that the Father’s will would be accomplished in them. There was no reason to be terrified.
  • The readers, on the other hand, with their post-resurrection knowledge of Jesus’ identity, hear the question as asking if the disciples lack faith in Jesus. The disciples have witnessed Jesus casting out demons and healing the sick, so they have some understanding of his power. However, this is the first time Jesus performed a miracle over nature itself, something only God could do. They do not yet understand that Jesus is divine.

They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

This is not an idle query, but the fundamental question raised by the ministry of Jesus. The force of his teaching and the miraculous character of his deeds were undeniable — what was questioned was the origin of the power that he exercised. This was doubly an issue because Jesus did not invoke the power of God before he spoke or acted; he simply spoke or acted and left to those around him to decide about him for themselves.

As for the disciples, their religious tradition would have provided the answer to their question: this is the Creator-God, the one who alone can triumph over the chaotic water. They are beginning to recognize exactly who Jesus is, if only faintly.

Connections and Themes

  • The parallels between the first reading and the gospel are clear. Job questioned God, demanding reasons for why his life was challenging. Throughout Job’s sufferings, God has been silent, seemingly absent or uninterested. The disciples did the same with Jesus, who was asleep and seemingly uninterested: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” In both cases, an answer is finally received, and in both cases, the questioners are chided: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
  • Faith isn’t a guarantee that we won’t suffer, but it is a promise that God will be with us. How do we acquire the kind of faith God expected from Job and Jesus expected from the disciples? Paul has the answer in the second reading: the transformative love of Christ. This love is the object of our faith; it completely changes our hearts and minds. We no longer judge by human standards. We no longer live for ourselves; we no longer view life the way we did before.
  • Through the love of Christ, we even see ourselves differently. We perceive ourselves neither as superhuman individuals who are far superior to the rest of humankind nor as wretched human beings who do not deserve to be treated well. Instead, we recognize that, like Job, we sometimes think we are capable of more than we really are. Yet God lovingly takes us by the hand and leads us to new insight. Or like the apostles, we are often terrified by what we must face in life, yet Jesus calms our fears and protects us from what might overwhelm us.
  • Both Job and the disciples gained new insight about God and his role in their lives. He is not a distant deity, and our lives are not irrelevant. God is with us amidst the sufferings and chaos of life, whether we perceive him or not. And everything is under God’s control, whether we recognize this or not. All we need to do — in fact, all we can do — is trust in him, this loving God who cares if even a sparrow falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29).

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