Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time (20 June 2021)

Mark 4:35-41

This Sunday’s Gospel is filled with atmosphere. It begins as darkness approaches. Soon, a gale is blowing, waves are crashing and a boat is in danger of ‘going down!’ In my mind, it is inextricably connected to another moment filled with atmosphere – a dark Roman evening in March 2020, slightly over two weeks after the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic. I imagine I will never again hear or read this text without being transported back to that time.

The choice of this episode from Mark’s Gospel for that March evening was an inspired one and the Pope’s homily is to be read and pondered more than once.[1] Nevertheless, what remains in my memory is not words, but images and impressions: Pope Francis praying alone in the rain, in the darkness, in a virtually empty St Peter’s Square. It was a visually striking moment of prayer, both reassuring and filled with foreboding. In a sense, for many of us, it was the calm before the storm. The tsunami warning had been sounded and we waited for the onslaught of its arrival. The worst was yet to happen and we had seen what that meant in other parts of the world. It was a discomfiting time. Yet, we could not have imagined at that stage just how long we would face the diverse struggles attendant to pandemic.

In the boat with Jesus, the disciples have a real awareness of the precariousness of their situation. They are afraid when the boat is ‘almost swamped.’ These are fishermen. They know water and they know when it is dangerous. Jesus, on the other hand, is asleep. In their distress, they wake him, asking, ‘Do you not care?’ Jesus speaks to the wind and the sea and these ‘obey him.’ As quickly as it blew up, Jesus calms the storm.

Then he turns his attention to the disciples to ask: ‘Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?’ It seems an unfair question. If they were alarmed by the storm, its response to Jesus can only have added to their anxiety: ‘Even the wind and the sea obey him.’ Despite seeing what happens in Jesus’ presence, the disciples cannot understand the one they travel with: ‘Who can this be?’ They cannot comprehend who Jesus is, yet they turn to him when they need help: ‘Master, do you not care?’ It seems clear that they know that he does care and will care.

In their question to Jesus, the disciples are not alone. The widespread suffering of these past months are more than well-rehearsed. As Pope Francis reminds us, this pandemic is not a sign of God’s judgement. Neither is it a sign that Jesus does not care. Our God is not vengeful and has not caused this. Jesus is not asleep. Yet, we have been left to flounder – “all in the same storm, but we’re in different boats”[2] – and this is not the only time, not the only storm, where people have cried out to Jesus in fear or despair and pleaded with God to look after them and deliver them.

Being people of faith is no guarantee that we emerge unscathed from difficult and painful experiences. We who believe wrestle with the question of God during these times. We may well ask: Is God asleep? Is Jesus? With the disciples, we may cry out: ‘Master, do you not care?’ As happened them, we may get no real answer. What are we to do?

Like the disciples, we lack full understanding of Jesus – and yet we know to turn to him, as they do, when we need help. Following their lead, we can look to Jesus and call on him. Jesus’ challenging words to the disciples are for us too. He encourages us not to be afraid and to have faith, even when both seem unreasonable, if not impossible. Even when our suffering or difficulties are not averted, when our storms continue, may we, like the disciples, know that Jesus is with us. Jesus does care and we will not go down!

Sr Eileen O’Connell OP



[1] Pope Francis, Extraordinary Moment of Prayer (27 March 2020), http://www.vatican.va/content/ francesco/en/homilies/2020/documents/papa-francesco_20200327_omelia-epidemia.html

[2] Cindy Wooden, “Same storm, different boats: Vatican looks at ways to help all survive,” Catholic News Service (30 April 2020), https://www.catholicnews.com/same-storm-different-boats-vatica n-looks-at-ways-to-help-all-survive/

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