The 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Onboard MS Amsterdam

MS Amsterdam

Job 38, 1, 8-11 + Psalm 107 + 2 Corinthians 5, 14-17 + Mark 4, 35-41

Last week’s gospel about faith the size of a mustard seed has set us up now to go deeper into an understanding of faith and how faith works in our relationship with God. The boat and the storm are like scenery on a stage for a play. In a really good play it is the script that matters not the scenery. So these verses of Mark’s Gospel are not about storms and boats. This incident is about faith. The whole of Mark’s Gospel chronicles the development and growth of disciple faith. This is only chapter 4, so it is early, and clearly these disciples are a little short of what Jesus is looking for. They are impressed, awe struck, wondering who this is in the boat with them, but they are afraid. The measure of fear is always in relation to the measure of faith. Little faith, great fear. Great faith, little fear.

The disciples at this stage of their growth in faith look up on Jesus as their “safety net.” He is there to help them, and they are upset when the help is slow in coming. He’s sleeping for heaven’s sake when they are scared to death! The assumption with this kind of faith is that God’s duty is to take care of and provide for anyone deserves it. This kind of thinking, this idea of “faith” is very handy for the fortunate in this world. It proves their worthiness and gets them off the hook of responsibility for the masses of people who suffer. “Why doesn’t God do something about this?” is the thinking that manifests this kind of “faith” which is more like an insurance policy than the kind of faith Jesus is looking for.

People who only go to God in their need are stuck at the level of the apostles in the storm tossed boat. Self-concern is really what is expressed in their prayer, while the presence of God in others who are suffering finds no place in their consciousness and prayer. A greater faith looks at the poor, at refugees, at the lost, or the sick and they see God suffering, and their prayer rises up for a spirit of wisdom or courage to relieve that suffering, ease that pain, and share that burden. This is the kind of faith that Jesus is looking for. In another place in the Gospels, Jesus wonders aloud if he will find any faith on this earth when he returns. What he wants, what he expects, what he is looking for is far more than people crying out when they are scared or hurt. He wants to see faithful people taking care of one another just as he has done among us.

Paul in writing to the Corinthians today is utterly convinced that Christ’s life in us changes everything so much that Christ’s love actually “impels us” to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ. Paul is trying to point out that because we are one with Christ, death can harm us no more than it can harm Christ. He never says we will not suffer and eventually die. A life without suffering is hardly a life lived, and it certainly does not indicate that one is favored by God while those who suffer are not favored by God. The faith Jesus hoped to find in his disciples as they went through the storm is an “interior certainty, a conviction that God can act in every situation. Faith means believing in God who truly loves us, does not abandon us, and always brings good out of evil by his power and his infinite creativity. The readings we proclaim today invite us to evaluate our faith, asking not what it promises us, but what we can become because of it.

Father Tom Boyer