Reflections for June are by Bishop Robert Kurtz, Bishop of Hamilton in Bermuda
In his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey relates a story about how he was traveling on the New York subway early on a Sunday morning. He was in the car alone, reading his newspaper peacefully, when a father and three young children entered the subway car. The father sat by himself, but the children began running up and down the car, and making quite a bit of noise. Covey found himself thinking that this man was not a very good father, for clearly he had no control over his children and seemed oblivious to how they were behaving. Covey had barely finished this thought, when one of the children slipped and fell into him, ripping part of his newspaper. At this point, Covey lost control and yelled out, “Why can’t you control your children?” The father looked up, and began to apologize profusely. He approach Covey and said, “I am very sorry. I am just overwhelmed right now. I was with my wife all night in the hospital and she died. I just went to pick up the kids and they don’t know about her death yet. I just don’t know what to do.” Covey relates that he, of course, felt like a jerk. He saw something, but not clearly. Things appeared to be “one way,” but they were in fact “another way.” Although he thought he was seeing clearly, he was seeing blindly.
All three of our readings today challenge us to see differently. Job, a good and righteous man has had terrible things happen to him. He thinks that he has every right to challenge God to provide an explanation for the suffering that he is enduring. Paul notes that it is important for us to come to the realization “that one died for all, therefore all have died.” Unpacking this statement, Paul realizes that the love of Christ changes how we see everything. The disciples in Mark’s gospel lack faith, not clearly seeing who Jesus is and what Jesus is capable of doing in their lives.
Our first reading is from the Book of Job, a book that deals with the question of evil and suffering. People at the time (and, perhaps still today!) thought that the blessings of God came upon good people and the punishments of God came upon evil people. From this perspective, it is easy to sort out who is good and who is evil! The Book of Job tries to debunk this simplistic understanding as it presents Job, a righteous innocent man who has had many terrible things happen to him. In short order, he lost his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, servants, and family. His so-called friends keep pressuring him to admit what wrong he committed to bring God’s wrath upon him, but Job continues to protest his innocence. Instead, he demands an explanation from God. Our reading today is the point in the story where God finally appears to speak to Job. Although we only have a sample of the many questions that God asks Job, the result is the same: Job begins to realize that God’s ways are no match for him. He thought that in this confrontation with God, everything would become clear. Instead, Job is totally overwhelmed by the God who is beyond all. For God alone is responsible for shutting the doors of the sea, making the clouds its garment, prescribing bounds for it, and setting bars and doors to limit the sea. In comparison, Job begins to realize his smallness and insignificance in the face of God’s overwhelming plans and power. In the end, Job replies to God, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…Therefore I have uttered what I do not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:2-3).
Our second reading is from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Diane Bergant (Preaching the New Lectionary: Year B, Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1999: 284-5) has two good insights about this reading. First, Paul is sharing his own experience of his relationship with Jesus when he says, “We once knew Christ from a human point of view” but now “we know him no longer in that way.” Before his conversion, Paul had regarded Jesus as a renegade, who led people away from the true worship of God. But his conversion gave him new sight, so that he now understands Jesus from the point of view of faith. In addition, the reading conveys Paul’s understanding about Jesus’ representational character. The reference to the new creation helps us to understand how Paul is thinking. Adam stood for all humanity and his sin was the sin of all. Similarly, Christ stood for all humanity and his death was the death of all. Additionally, since Jesus was raised from the dead, this has effects on all humanity now, although the fullness of the resurrection for all is something to wait for in hope. But even now, because of the resurrection, Christians see and act differently: they should no longer live selfishly but selflessly. The old ways have passed away, and Christians are called to embrace the new things that have come.
The Gospel of Mark presents us with different groups of people and their response to Jesus, the incarnation of God. There are those who are not open to him and eventually plot against him, leading to his death. In contrast to these religious authorities, there are many “little” or insignificant people in the gospel, who are often unnamed, but have tremendous faith in Jesus. We might think of the leper who approaches Jesus, the nameless friends who lower their paralyzed friend through the roof so that Jesus will heal him, the woman who has been bleeding for 12 years who believes that she will be healed if she can only touch the fringe of his garment, the synagogue official whose little girl is deathly ill, and so on. Each of these people have tremendous faith in Jesus. A third group is the disciples. As a group they are well-intentioned but never seem to quite “get it.” In the passage today, Jesus is actually quite harsh in his assessment when he asks, “Have you still no faith?” Unlike the “little” people of the gospel, the disciples lack faith in Jesus. It helps to realize that in Mark’s gospel the opposite of having faith in Jesus is to be afraid. Hence, Jesus pairs these two sentences together: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
In addition to thinking of this gospel passage at the level of the disciples in the boat with Jesus, we might also think about how Mark’s community would have heard this passage some 35 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Mark’s community had undergone a terrible persecution under Nero and it looked as though another persecution was looming. One of the early images for the church is the boat and we could imagine that small church community of Mark thinking that chaos was about to be unleashed upon them again. It was as if the church is being tossed in the storms of the times. Like the disciples in the boat, those in Mark’s community are crying out, wondering if the Risen Jesus cares about them. Just as Jesus spoke these words to the disciples, the Risen Jesus continues to speak these words to Mark’s community in the midst of its chaos: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
The Risen Jesus continues to speak these words to us today whenever we are overwhelmed. While the Book of Job reminds us that God and God’s ways are beyond us, the incarnation is the clear statement that God’s plans for us are for our welfare, not our woe. The resurrection has changed everything. Everything has become new. We do not need to be afraid.
Perhaps no more beautiful promise is expressed about what happens when we set our minds and hearts to search for God, beyond what we ordinarily see is the following passage from the prophet Jeremiah: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for your harm, to give you a future with hope. Then, when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord (Jer. 29: 11-14).
( I want to express thanks to my Brother Resurrectionist, Rev. James M. Donahue, C.R., for sharing these reflections with me which he published in “Celebrating the Word,” a weekly publication of the Congregation of the Resurrection, Ontario-Kentucky Province, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Email: theword@celebratingthe word.com.)