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JUNE 21, 2009: TWELFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Job 38:1,8-11
II Corinthians 5:14-17
Mark 4:35-41

Those who’ve heard about Job’s “patience” from the letter of James but have never cracked the book which bears his name have a lot to learn about this famous individual. Patience certainly isn’t in the fore of this unfortunate person’s quest to discover why Yahweh is treating him so unjustly.

Though four of Job’s friends address his predicament by offering contemporary theological explanations for it, he doesn’t buy into any of them. Since Yahweh’s creating Job’s pain, only Yahweh can explain Job’s pain. Yet when God finally arrives on the scene, there’s still no suitable explanation. Yahweh simply reminds this suffering person that he’s not Yahweh by rattling off a series of rhetorical questions, forcing Job to admit his limited human powers and reason are no match for the almighty creator.

Today’s passage is classic: Yahweh addresses Job out of the storm and demands to know, “Who shut within doors the sea, when it burst out of the womb . . . ?“ Whoever it was, it wasn’t Job.

Yahweh gives no satisfaction. After his divine audience, Job walks away realizing the gulf between God and us is so vast we can’t expect to have answers for certain questions, especially the one that most bothers us: why does evil encompass our lives?

The authors of the Christian Scriptures don’t share Job’s experience of helplessness before God. In today’s gospel pericope, for instance, we hear an early church belief that God calms the storms in our lives instead of causing them.

Many Marcan scholars contend this narrative originally was just a “nature miracle” story: an account demonstrating Jesus’ power over the world around him. But at some point someone added a few phrases, making the miracle more personal. One of the additions appears to be the words, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Something was happening in the community to tempt Jesus’ followers to doubt that he actually cared about them. That’s also why, after the storm is calmed, the community added Jesus’ questions, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”

I was working at a local Catholic hospital during the summer of 1961, preparing to leave for Rome to begin my theology studies. One day an elderly Franciscan friend handed me a gift: a funeral home calendar print of today’s gospel scene, framed in a reclaimed X-ray negative, meticulously outlined in red boondoggle. As she pressed it into my hands, she said, “Just as Jesus calmed the storm at sea for his disciples, he’ll also calm the storms in your life while you’re in Rome.” This simple, faith- filled religious woman perfectly understood Mark’s message.

There’s just one little problem: today’s second reading. As Job realized how different he was from Yahweh, so Paul understands how different the risen Jesus is from everything and everyone else we encounter. He/she is no longer “according to the flesh;” we’re dealing with a “new creation.” We have no mental box that perfectly encloses him/her. If Paul stopped there it wouldn’t be so bad. But he goes on to mention, “Whoever is in Christ is (also) a new creation: the old things have passed away’ behold, new things have come.” We who have faith in Jesus are just as unique as Jesus.

Were Sister Baptist giving me that same picture today, I’m certain she’d be asking, “What are you doing to help calm the storms in other peoples’ lives?”