“Why are you terrified?” Sunday reflection

This morning’s Gospel reading is Mark 4:35–41:

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples: “Let us cross to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

Happy Fathers Day to all of our Hot Air readers! I hope your plans involve good family time, grilling, maybe some golf, or whatever brings you joy today. I’ll be hard at work on a big project, which has been ongoing for a while but will wrap up a little later, so I’ll keep today’s reflection brief.

Big projects and how we approach them provides a pretty good framework for today’s Gospel. Anything we find important in life gets freighted with concerns, anxieties, and fears — fears that we will fail, fears of those consequences, anxieties over what will come in the future, and so on. Even family life itself can produce those anxieties and fears. And there are good reasons to have concerns, because we are stewards of our own lives and God’s creation.  Our choices matter, and they have consequences.

Sometimes we forget, however, that we are stewards and not gods. We also forget that this life and our stewardship of it is temporary, rather than eternal.

Thus we have today’s Gospel reading, as well as our first reading from Job. When Job laments his treatment at the Lord’s hands in this life, the Lord reminds Job of his position:

The Lord addressed Job out of the storm and said: Who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands? When I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door, and said: Thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!

The lesson here is that there are greater actions in play than what we have set in motion ourselves, actions that are outside our control. We are not called to still the seas or to dictate all outcomes, and yet we often behave as though we are. We wish to impose our specific idea of justice — usually most benefiting ourselves — rather than trust in He who created everything in the first place.

In the boat with the disciples, Jesus asks, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Clearly that’s a reference to Jesus’ presence in the boat with them in the storm, but it’s also a rebuke on missing the eternal context of Jesus’ mission. The point isn’t getting out of this world alive, but getting eternal life in Heaven. Jesus came to conquer death so that we can all enter into the Trinitarian life.

So why are we terrified? We are terrified because we refuse to let go. It is in our nature, by way of original sin, to cling to our figment of omnipotence and omniscience rather than rely on the Lord. We spend much of our time fighting the storm rather than seeing past it.

Regardless of the brilliance or incompetence of our projects in this world, we can still be assured of our salvation by committing to Christ. We should only be terrified of falling out of His grace. That isn’t to say that the consequences of our choices as stewards won’t be unpleasant or awful at times, or that the consequences of the choices of others won’t be unpleasant or awful for us either. It does teach us that, in the storm, we should focus on what’s most important — and if we have Jesus in our hearts, we have no need to be terrified.

But if you plan on a bit of sailing on this Fathers Day, maybe check the weather charts.

Note: The Sunday Reflection series will take a month-long hiatus. It will return on July 25th.

The front-page image is a detail from “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee” by Ludolf Backhuysen, 1695. On display at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Via Wikimedia Commons.

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  

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