With Jesus in the Boat, Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B), June 25, 2006

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford, MA
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
June 25, 2006
Job 38:1,8-11; 2Cor 5:14-17; Mk 4:35-41

1) Today’s Gospel about Jesus’ calming of the winds and the seas is much more than a demonstration of the Lord’s power over the forces of nature. He who with a word created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all they contain, with a word could calm them. And, as we see in the Gospel, he did.

2) Neither is today’s Gospel is a manifestation of the failure of the apostles to believe in this power of Jesus. They knew that he had the power, which is why they woke him up in the first place. In the days immediately preceding this miracle, they had already seen him cast out demons, cure Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and others who were ill, heal lepers, forgive the sins and paralysis of a crippled man, and straighten a man’s withered hand. There were no doubts about Jesus’ omnipotence.

3) The point of today’s Gospel is that, even though they knew Jesus had the power to calm the seas and the wind, they began to doubt whether he would do so. It is a display of their failure to believe in Jesus’ love for them. We see this in the question they asked as soon as they startled Jesus from what must have been a very deep and long-overdue sleep on an uncomfortable and rocky boat: “Master, do you not care that we are perishing?” Do you not care?! They had begun to doubt whether Jesus gave a hoot whether they drowned in the lake. They had begun to question whether he was indifferent to their plight. “Teacher, do you not care that we are about to die?”

4) Jesus’ whole life, of course, is an answer to that question. He did care that we were about to die and that was the reason why the Son of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, took our human nature and was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He cared enough that he spent himself to the point of exhaustion teaching, healing the sick and comforting the afflicted. He cared enough ultimately to take our place on death row, giving his life so that we might survive. Yes, he did care! Like Jonah, who was tossed into the sea in order to calm the ferocious storm of the sea, so Jesus tossed himself overboard to quell the tempests that were causing us to die. As he hurled himself into the abyss from the Cross, he calmed the storm of sin so that we might reach the eternal shore. He did care!

5) The problem was that the apostles doubted in his loving concern. In this the twelve were like the twelve tribes of Israel 1300 years before. After they had witnessed God’s hand in the ten plagues of Egypt, after they had seen him part the Red Sea, after they had seen pharoah’s horsemen and chariots perish in the sea, after they had witnessed Moses’ strike the rock to provide them water, after they had been fed miraculously with manna and then quails from heaven, after they had seen the thunder and lightening of Moses’ conversations with God on the top of Mt. Sinai, the Jews continued to doubt in God’s love for them. They obviously knew that God had the power — he had already shown them this power on all these occasions — but they doubted whether he would continue to use that power to help them. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt,” they complained to Moses, “that you have taken us away to die in the desert?” (Ex 14:11). Whenever anything got difficult, they grumbled. They doubted. They began to whether God’s solicitude had an expiration date. His past actions didn’t factor into their equation.

6) The same thing was happening with their descendents in the boat. They had witnessed Jesus’ power and his goodness on so many occasions, but they began to wonder whether his love — not his power — had a limit. They began to question whether he was indifferent to their plight. It was, simply put, a lack of faith in who he was, based on a failure to grasp the meaning of all he had done up until then. That’s why Jesus, as soon as he had awakened and calmed the seas and the wind, turned to his followers and said, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

7) The same lack of faith that happened to the Jews in the desert and to the apostles on the Sea of Galilee can happen to all of us. Generally, few of us question whether God has the power to work a miracle, but very often we begin to wonder whether he has the will. We, too, can begin to think that he is indifferent to our plight. When we’re assailed by the storms of sorrow, the downpours of doubt, the twisters of uncertainty, the hail of anxiety, and the blizzards of loneliness, we can start to imagine that he is having sweet dreams while we’re experiencing nightmares. We can start to reckon that he’s snoring while we’re screaming for help. This happens when we, like the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles, begin to forget all that the Lord has done for us up until now and what that shows about who he is and how loved we are by him. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “If God didn’t even spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, would he not give us everything else along with him? (Rom 8:32). If God the Father was willing to allow his Son to be brutally killed so that we might live, he is going to respond with love in every circumstance, by giving us what he knows we need. But we need to have faith in him and in the power of his love. The apostles were anxious in the boat because they were paying more attention to the waves and to the winds around them than to the presence of Jesus with in the boat. The same thing happens with us. We need to focus more on Christ than on our problems. This is the mark of a life of faith. Jesus turns to us in the midst of whatever hardship we are experiencing and says, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” To believe in him means not just to trust in his power, but to have faith in his goodness and love.

8 ) There are many possible applications of the lessons we learn from today’s Gospel, but I’d like to focus on one storm that is buffeting us in order to examine whether or not we are responding with faith. In today’s bulletin, Bishop Coleman has written a letter about the next phase of the pastoral planning process, which will lead, inevitably, to the closing of some churches in our diocese because of a shortage of priests and a shortage of Catholics coming to Mass and supporting the Church. When many hear the projections that in fifteen years we’ll only have fifty priests for what are now ninety-five parishes, and that several churches are going to have to close, many respond not with faith but with pessimism. They start to say with gloom that the Church is dying. They point to the strong waves of attacks on the institutional Church by some forces in Hollywood and in the media, or in the legislature, or in popular culture and think that it’s time to throw up the white flag and admit that we’ve been beaten. They cite the increasingly strong winds howling against the barque of Peter by those in favor of things hostile to God’s plans, like same-sex marriage or abortion, and, because they’re got weak backbones, start to bend and break in the wind. And after they see the problems inside the boat due to recent scandals, they are convinced that the barque is about to capsize. That the game is almost over. And that we’ve lost. They are forgetting one thing, however: Jesus is still in the boat.

9) It is one thing when these bleak predictions come from those outside the Church. We can expect that, because those outside the Church are just looking at the numbers and the numbers are trending toward a future less glorious and faithful than the past. But more often than not, these morose prognostications come from within the Church, from those who should be looking at the situation with eyes of faith. People within the Church should remember that the same Lord who inspired people just like us to build Churches like this one is NOT ASLEEP. They should not forget that the One who encouraged our ancestors here in this parish to spread the faith, to build a Catholic school, to do so many glorious things for God and evangelize our city, IS NOT DEAD. He’s alive. He’s all powerful. He’s madly in love with us. And he turns to us, in the midst of the uncertainty about the future of the Church in our diocese and says, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

10) Jesus wants us to respond to the present inclement spiritual weather with faith in him. He wants us to live a life of trusting communion with him that will banish any fears or anxieties we have. One consequence of this type of faith is to join him in the boat by coming to Mass — and not just weekly because we have to, but whenever we can, because we want to. Another sign of this type of living faith is to help him row the boat, just like the apostles did, rather than think we can just come along as sight-seers on a cruise. One of the reasons why the waves are rocking the boat of the Church in our area so much is because it’s hard to keep the boat pointing in the right direction when there are really only a few people taking up oars or lifting the sails. He wants us all to recognize that we’re not passengers; we’re crew. A third consequence of faith is that we have to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus in the boat and focused with him on the distant shore, rather than be distracted by the various winds and waves which are packaged under the title of “entertainment.” Recent surveys have shown that the average American spends about six hours a day watching television and but a few minutes a day, if any at all, praying. That’s the reason why so many people are drowning in problems and anxiety, because all they see is the waves, not Christ. It’s also one of the reasons why in our area the progression of the Church, Peter’s boat with Christ in it, seems at a standstill or to be getting pushed backward, because more people are getting formed by the boob-tube than by the Bible.

11) The problem confronting the Church in our area is not that Jesus has been asleep, but that we have been asleep. It’s not that Jesus is doing nothing, but that we’ve been doing so little. Now is the time for us to reawaken from our slumber and with him start to fill the boat, the new Noah’s ark, with all those people whom Jesus wants with us to disembark on at the eternal port of heaven.

12) Jesus does care whenever we’re in trouble. In his last words before he ascended into heaven, when he gave us the mission to sail through the whole world, proclaiming the Gospel, to baptizing and celebrating the sacraments, and putting the word of God into practice, he told us “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” — that same authority that he used to quell the storm. Then he reminded us of his presence with us in this ship: “Know that I am with you always until the end of time.” Jesus remains with us, and he remains with us in a special way here in this Church. The early Christians, as soon as they started to build churches, used to call the body of the Church the “nave,” from the Latin word navis for “ship.” Here, just like 2,000 years ago, Jesus is in the boat, quiet, seemingly asleep. But he wishes to do more for us today than he did even for his disciples on the sea of Galilee. He will awaken not only to speak a word to calm the seas around us, but from the inside he will feed us to calm the storms within us. As we prepare to receive him now, we ask him to take away our fears and to increase our faith, so that we may rejoice in the gift of his presence here in this nave of the Church, believe in his power, trust in his love, and with carry out the rescue mission as his spiritual coast guard all the way until we land at the eternal dock.