Calming the Storm

20120409132539!Rembrandt Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee

Readings: 2 Samuel 12:1-7, 10-17; Mark 4:35-41

After preaching to the crowds in parables about the kingdom of God and how it mysteriously grows, Jesus invites his disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee.

The Sea of Galilee lies 680 feet below sea level. It is surrounded by hills, and on the east side they reach 2000 feet high. From these heights cool, dry, air flows down the hills until it reaches the semi-tropical warm, humid air above the sea. Large temperature and pressure changes produce violent winds. To this day, storms arise quickly and without warning, with terrifying waves produced as the surface of the shallow lake is raked by the wind.

The disciples in the little fishing boats knew immediately they were in grave danger. Apparently Jesus was exhausted from preaching and teaching. His peacefulness is a stark contrast to the violent waves and his panicked friends. It’s tempting to hear this story and shake our heads at the disciples after the Lord extends his calmness to the wind and the sea.

“Who is this that even the wind and sea obey?” they ask, and we may want to respond, “Haven’t you read psalm 65, which says of God, ‘You still the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves’ (Ps 65:8)? Or how about psalm 89, which proclaims, 'You rule over the surging of the sea; you still the swelling of its waves' (89:10)?"

It seems so obvious that they have nothing to fear. And yet are we without fear?

We may worry about the fate of the barque of Peter. So many Catholics leave it; so many lukewarm remain within; so many forces oppose it. Where is it headed? We can mistakenly believe that it is the stormy winds and seas of history that push the Church Jesus founded this way and that.

But it is the breath of God, the Spirit, who is God, that guides and accompanies her, just as Jesus accompanied the storm-tossed disciples.

I worry about events in my life: How will I handle the death of my parents when that time comes? What was I thinking when I accepted the office of student master? Am I doing what the Lord asks of me?

You probably have more significant worries – about spouses, children, health, finances. In response to all these, Jesus asks, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”

As the incident in the Gospel illustrates, Jesus never abandons us. He always cares for us, and he has power over everything. We should fear neither the storms that threaten the Church nor the squalls that worry us.

What we should fear is not having a Nathan in our life – someone who loves us enough to point out our sin. What we should fear is being left blind to our need for a savior, allowed to be filled with a ridiculous, grasping discontent like David’s. He had a whole harem and chose to steal Bathsheba from Uriah the Hittite.

Psalm 62 begins, “My soul rests in God alone, from whom comes my salvation.”

That rest from fear, comes from abiding in Jesus, who is never far from us, and Who, in a few moments will give himself to us as food in the Eucharist. That freedom from terrors real and imagined is a consequence of allowing the light that has come into the world to reveal the wreck we’ve made of our lives, and our desperate need for a Savior.

It comes from discovering, like David, that God’s mercy is greater than our greatest unfaithfulness, which has been nailed to the cross and forgotten. And finally, we have faith when we realize that dwelling in the presence of God – resting in Him alone - is not an antidote to life’s problems, but life itself.

--by Fr. Michael Fones, O.P.

The above image is a photograph of Rembrandt's "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee" which was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston in 1990.

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