Someone once said, “The greatest cry of anguish the world ever heard, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was answered by the greatest act of love the world will ever know—the resounding silence of God. I think within this statement lies the mystery of divine love, something that many times is beyond our comprehension.
Why do people suffer?—why is there sadness?—why can’t we all understand each other better? Sometimes I am amazed with how someone perceives something I’ve said or done—completely opposite of my intention. I find myself wanting to cry out, “Why would you think that I didn’t want the best for you? Why do you choose to see the glass half-empty instead of half-full?” We are all wonderfully made, yes, but we are also so human, so prone to see the down side of things, not able because of what life may have done to us, to look up.
Also, and so many times, this is true, how we respond to a life situation is more important than what happened. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is not to answer immediately, but to ponder the best response. Just last week, I spoke with one of you about knowing how best to answer a person we love, with true love, perhaps saying what the person needs to hear, but which wouldn’t be perceived by them as words of love.
In our Gospel today, Jesus had the sea under control—he waited though to calm the waters in order that the apostles would learn that they need to believe and trust in him. Now, in order for us to understand where the apostles were coming from in their fear, it is important for us to remember that they had a long history of fearing the sea—their people lived with raging waters overflowing on a regular basis along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers—this had spawned fear and made them respect the power of the sea.
Also, within Scripture, we are painted a picture of the sea as a hostile, angry place. The Israelites were not a sea-going people so they naturally feared what they didn’t understand. To redeem them from captivity in Egypt, God seems to turn the sea monster upon the Egyptians in the Red Sea. The understanding of this chosen people is that the sea is tamed only after a fierce struggle, in most cases. We see this same idea of the sea being a bad place in the Psalms and the Prophets too. So Scripture draws upon this tradition of the hostile sea to instruct us about God’s strength to quiet the storms in our lives—to calm our fears and bring us peace.
But as we see from Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians today—Jesus was about doing something new—in this case, it was to grow their faith and trust and ultimately prepare these apostles for all that would befall them later as Jesus’ envoys. A careful study of the Gospels shows us that indeed Jesus was always “pushing the envelope” so to speak—asking more of his followers and friends than they were accustomed to. He never though asked more than he was willing to give himself. All of salvation history—the First and Second Testaments of our bible, reveal to us a God who does indeed care for us and is constantly leading us to more.
Several of you have lost loved ones this year and in the recent past, and as you know, the grief and struggle go on as you come to terms with all that it means to lose a spouse, a parent, a sibling or a close friend. When you watch a loved one suffer and die, there are many emotions, some you didn’t know you had. Within that range of feelings may be a lack of understanding as to why we must go through this process.
In my continued reading of Ilia Delio’s, The Emergent Christ, she tackles the transition of our earthly bodies to what comes next and basically says, Christ, who is more than Jesus, is calling us to what we were ultimately made for in the first place and in this new form, which actually takes place here, not somewhere far away; we will become complete, see with new eyes, become the fullness of how we were wonderfully made. Jesus has shown us the way in his life, death and resurrection and we call this, heaven.
What we have received in Jesus is the same love and care of God, but revealed in a human face, complete with heart and mind, in our likeness. Jesus, through the calming of the sea, their mortal enemy, was trying to help them understand that there is literally nothing to fear with God by their side. Sometimes, as with the apostles, when God knows that our faith is weak; we are asked to wait and grow our faith too. Sometimes, in the silence, the dark night of the soul; we find the answers we never would have, had our request been answered immediately. Even with Jesus on the cross—he found the strength in his humanity and through the grace of Abba God to say, “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.” When we look at the Scriptures and the loving way that Jesus always was with those who suffered, we can be sure, that even in the sometimes silence of our God, that same God never leaves us.
Our first reading today from Job shows us a bit more of the faithfulness of God for suffering humanity—our poor friend Job is always raised in conversation when we need an example of what might befall us in life and of how we should respond. Job, as you know, lost everything of value in his life—his family, his goods, his land—yet he did not curse or forsake God as everyone who knew him suggested he do. He did cry out to God and ask why, to which God responds very simply—don’t you think that the one who has control over the unruly waters can support you in your struggle? We recall Jesus’ words to the apostles in today’s gospel—“Why are you so frightened? Have you no faith?” And how about our faith—just what do we believe? Again, Jesus is calling us this week and always to more as God was calling Job to more—leading him and us to realize that the Providence that sustains the entire universe also sustained Job and will sustain us within it. The God, who spoke to Job, speaks to us today and through Jesus is all-powerful and all-caring. The human condition my friends is that we can’t see that, but yet our God in Jesus, lovingly and continually calls us to that realization.
Paul, in today’s second reading apparently had no problem seeing that Jesus was this all-powerful and all-caring one. Of course he did have a rather telling wake-up call! His ministry thus, was all about helping converts to see that Jesus was the one who turned everything upside down—making all creation new—proving once and for all how much we are loved by God.
The mere sending of Jesus to be one of us, to show us, by example, how to live our lives, how in fact, to love—to die and one day rise is testament of the unselfishness of God for each one of us—an unselfishness that gives us the power to live unselfish lives too. Jesus brought about a new creation—he said that the old ways have passed away—you need not fear—I am making all things new—I will help you to see more than you have seen before—understand more clearly—welcome all my people more graciously—cease judging, and be people of understanding.
Friends, we must remember who Jesus truly was on this earth and strive to follow his lead. I recently read an article from America magazine from the fall of 2014 that was looking at the similarities between the work and writings of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Pope Francis. The article was entitled, “Interfaith Affinity” and makes the case for the shared vision of these two church leaders. Rabbi Heschel died in 1972, but his wisdom lives on and there is evidence that Pope Francis read and studied his wisdom over the years as he now is challenging much of what our Church has stood upon for the past 50 years as it has slowly moved away from the teachings of Vatican II.
Within this article, Rabbi Heschel’s words are a great challenge to all of us, no matter our religious background.
He taught that God may be present in and through diverse religions, yet these same religions often fail to manifest God. In his, God in Search of Man, he states:
It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the
eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion
for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it
became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by
creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored
because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a
living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than
with the voice of compassion—its message becomes meaningless.
Heschel’s words above were spoken over 40 years ago, but ring just as true today. Our faith and our beliefs must ever grow to fit the times. We have to try and walk in another’s shoes for a day to know the pain and misunderstanding that they perhaps walk with each and every day of their lives. This may not be about the law, but it certainly is about love.
I said in the beginning that sometimes how we respond to a situation is more important than what happened. If we despair—we get caught up in a futile denial of life and our human life is the only vehicle we have to the transcendent life and our completion in God who has been calling us and walking with us all the days of our lives. As followers of Jesus, we must always try to see the bigger picture—the good in another, the purpose of a life circumstance—we must always keep faith—continue to hope and with that stance, it is easier to peer through our troubles for the goodness of God. That must always be our prayer for ourselves and each other.
When we do have faith, and act upon it, Jesus will assuredly appear as he did for the apostles. He will be our constant hope and guide in all that we don’t understand, giving his Spirit that we might better see and comprehend one day all that is cloudy now. Let us pray with and for each other friends for this comprehension. And may we always praise our God who has called us to so much!