When the coronavirus left the shores of China, nations were fast to close their borders. Laws were enacted, and people were even forcefully quarantined. First, the elderly people, then stores closed their doors, and later, schools and other public buildings were locked down. And when that was not enough, everyone became suspicious of everybody. But the stricter the laws were made, the stronger the pandemic became. And shortly, the world came to learn one painful lesson: we are also vulnerable.
In this 12th Sunday sermon, many preachers must have spent their time explaining how Jesus calmed the sea. I can imagine how more charismatic ones must have insisted on Jesus doing the same even as they were preaching. For these preachers, any Lord who could quiet a raging sea can, of course, speak to your financial situation. He can as well tell that you sickness to submit to his voice, etc. Unfortunately, though God can do all that, it might be very tempting to reduce the readings of this Sunday to such a magical God experience.
In the first reading, we heard God reminding Job that he is the master of the universe. The reading was a faith-lifting passage but must be understood in its original context. Job, we all know, or at least are supposed to know, was never a particular individual. He is the image of humanity in its total greatness, vulnerability, and fragility. Job, like many of us, got rich through honest effort. Like many of us, he remained faithful to God. Yet, he has his children and wealth wiped away. And though it wasn’t God who did it, he was not unaware of Job’s predicaments. In today’s reading, he responds to Job, quiet, be calm, you are also fragile and vulnerable. Your faith doesn’t excuse you from facing the human experience of happiness, wealth, health, sickness, loss of properties, children, etc. But be still, for though you face some hardships now, it will eventually be over.
In the second reading, Paul, writing to the people of Corinthians, takes them to another level of human existence.
“Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come,” (2 Cor. 17).
Here Paul does neither promise them better job opportunities nor a problem-free existence. He reminds them that as a new creation; they are called to see their existence in the light of Christ’s resurrection. This is, unfortunately, contrary to how Christianity is portrayed today. For Paul, suffering (hardship, sicknesses, poverty, etc.) in this life is nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18). According to him, Christians should be still for, in this very life, we are all great, fragile, and vulnerable.
And finally, the Gospel of Mark ought to be situated in its context too. Mark wrote probably while the war that saw the destruction of the second temple of Jerusalem was still ongoing. These gentile Christians were faced with the problem of believing in a God who allows the pagan Rome not only to subdue the chosen nation but also to destroy the Holy Temple. How can the temple where God dwells be destroyed (again)? Where is God in this situation? Is he sleeping while the sea raged?
The author of the Gospel of Mark answers, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
. Quiet, be still, you are fragile and vulnerable, but even the raging sea obeys Christ.