June 20, 2021

Brief synopsis of the readings: Near the end of the Old Testament Book of Job, God speaks “from the heart of tempest.” God reminded Job of his power and how he “pent up the sea behind closed doors.” In Mark’s Gosepl Jesus suggested that he and his disciples cross over the water by boat. Jesus then fell asleep in the stern (back) of the boat. A gale then began to blow and waves broke over the edge of the boat. Alarmed, his disciples woke him up and told them their lives were in danger. Jesus then rebuked the wind and quieted the sea. Once it all calmed down he asked his disciples why they were so frightened and had so little faith. His disciples were amazed that even the wind and the sea obeyed Jesus.

In 1941 the famous director Orson Wells released his landmark film Citizen Kane. On the odd chance that you’re not familiar with the movie, it chronicles the life of a fictitious newspaper publisher, Charles Foster Kane. At the end of his life, on his deathbed, he whispers the word “Rosebud.” In the movie a reporter sets out on a quest to find what this word means; after all such a wealthy and important man must have found great meaning in that word.

This reporter interviewed people and read articles from his entire life starting when Mr. Kane was a small child. As viewers I think we all expected to learn rosebud’s meaning but we also spent the most of the movie learning about this man who seemed such an enigma to his friends and family. The tension over rosebud grew slowly over the entire movie. Only at the end do we find out it’s the name of his childhood sled.

I thought about this movie as I read today’s Gospel. When the squall came up we knew that Jesus and his followers would survive, but we didn’t know how. We knew Jesus would not sleep through his own drowning. Would they be able to ride out the storm? Would a larger boat come to their rescue? And, by the way, what was wrong with Jesus he was asleep in the back of the boat when everyone else feared for their life?

Scripture does not tell us the size of the boat, but archeological finds in that area at that time tell us it was likely about 30 feet long and 7 feet wide and could hold upwards of 15 people. It may seem large but in the middle of a fierce storm it was much too small and much too fragile. But when they awakened Jesus, he rebuked the wind and criticized them for their lack of faith. In that moment he spoke much to them (and to us) about himself and us.

Even to this day people who make their living on the water know to respect and even fear the weather. One of my uncles spent much of his career serving on a ferry in Alaska. It was a large ship and they had the most modern of safety equipment but he once told me about times when the sea was so rough they laid damp towels on the galley tables so their meals wouldn’t slide off the edge. And there were times when the sea prevented them from eating at all. It was a far cry from reruns of The Love Boat.

Not only in Scripture but in many writings from the Ancient Near East we find squalls like this symbolizing great power. In our first reading God appears to Job out of the storm to remind Job that God’s ways, choices, and actions go far beyond Job’s ability to question or even understand. It reminds of an old African American expression: “Your arm’s too short to box with God.” For the readers of Job and Mark, these storms must have felt to be the most powerful forces they could imagine.

But they weren’t more powerful that God or Jesus. Job comes away from this experience not only awed by God’s power but also enveloped in God’s love. Without going into too much about the book of Job, he grapples, suffers, complains, and weeps for not understanding God and he is eventually rewarded. His “friends,” on the other hand, smugly attempt to explain and defend God and incur God’s wrath.

In Mark’s account Jesus, likewise, showed not only his power to calm the waters, but also his love for his disciples, and us. As I read between the lines I can almost hear Jesus’ irritation of “is this all you woke me for? This is nothing compared to my power.”

We can all remember experiences when we thought all was doomed, when we were on the verge of giving up hope. And then, in ways we never would have imagined, God intervened and it all worked out. Unfortunately too often we wait until the end and beat ourselves up over our lack of faith.

If we do that we miss the point. We read these readings not for our reaction after the storm, but to determine how we will face the storm as it happens. Our faith will be strong during the storm only if we feed it before the storm happens. We can’t avoid storms any more than we can avoid suffering and avoiding them isn’t the point. Too often religions push the false narrative that strong faith can prevent bad things from happening. But perhaps we should look on the gift we are given in a strong faith that withstands storms rather than a weak faith that never needs to grow strong.