Who is this?
Trinity 2 - Year B - (Proper 7) 20th June 2021.
Introduction and Call to Worship
“Who then is this?” asked the disciples about Jesus. In this Eucharist, we affirm our faith in the risen Lord, whose presence we celebrate as we share this life-giving sacrament together.
First Reading Job 38:1-11
The Lord answers Job out of the whirlwind and reminds him of his insignificance in the order of things.
Second Reading 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Paul opens his heart to the Church at Corinth as to the personal cost of his discipleship. In return, he asks them to open their hearts to him.
Gospel Mark 4:35-41
Jesus calms the storm on Lake Galilee. The disciples are awestruck and ask themselves who Jesus can be to have such power.
HOMILY “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41)
As Frankie Howerd began his prologue in the 1970’s cult classic comedy, “Up Pompeii”, the disruptive proclamation of the Soothsayer echoes through the stone-clad streets, “Woe, woe and thrice woe.” Sitcoms love a bit of woe; it adds to the sense of drama and helps build to a punchline. Woe, or troubles, are a theme in many a conversation, sharing great sorrow or distress (and woe is often used hyperbolically!) Recently at Morning Prayer, we have been reading through the Old Testament Book of Job - poor Job, his troubles catch up and overtake him. This Old Testament book stands alone in the canon of scripture, sort of part of the ‘Wisdom’ literature but taking a unique form. It starts with a prologue, which introduces Job, who in a single day loses everything: his family, possessions, authority, and servants: you name it, like a storm that blows in, changing his direction and causing him to reflect upon everything he holds dear. Woe, woe and thrice woe is indeed appropriate, and there is a lot of woe in the book of Job, much of it quite understandable. A bit like the storm we have experienced with Covid, with waves of infection, which disrupts our plans. Do you sometimes feel like crying, “woe is me” like poor Job?” How have the storms of life challenged you and changed your priorities? Such challenges can lead us to asking a more serious question about Jesus, “who is he?”
People who fish for a living know all about troubles at sea, the woes of the waters. They learn the signs, sudden changes in weather, air pressure, current flows and much more so they can adapt their plans quickly and, if possible, avoid the woe of being caught unprepared in a storm. Standing at the top of the hillside at Gadara in Jordan, looking down the sweeping hillside towards the Sea of Galilee in the distance below, it was possible for me to grasp exactly how vast the ‘lake’ mentioned in today’s Gospel is. Surrounded by mountains and hills, it was clear that the area, although beautiful, had its own micro-climate. I have been blessed to see this refreshing mass of water. It looked a bit like a large cauldron, big enough for different weather systems to develop. As I stood on the hillside, I could see storm clouds in the distance, lightning and even a waterspout. Out of nowhere such weather can appear, indeed we are told in today’s Gospel that a storm suddenly whipped up. Unusually, the disciples, who remember are experienced fishermen, seem unaware that a storm was about to strike as they set sail. Not only will this dramatic storm catch them unaware, but they will discover more about Jesus too.
Looking back upon this past period of pandemic, it has felt a bit like that, with so much change to comprehend, and much of it suddenly, relentlessly, like a storm. In the face of suffering and loss, we may well be left asking, “Who is Jesus?”
A lot like Job and his tragedies, this Gospel miracle recorded by Mark, has a moment of sudden woe, fear, and desperation, when really it is all about belief and unbelief. Remember how prior to today’s reading the disciples, along with many others listening to our Lord, had heard wonderful parables, in which Jesus stirs their souls from slumber, that they may recognize both who he is and what he is about; like the parable of the mustard seed which Father Gerard preached on last week. Jesus has a message for his disciples which they need to comprehend, and it is all about faith, even in the face of woe. All who hear and trust and believe in him, the Lord of the living, will not perish, but instead have eternal life.
Perhaps this miracle, is intended to display in action the power of Christ over nature? And the extremes – Jesus is not woken by the raging torrent and the woe, woe and thrice woe of the crew, who have never experienced anything quite like this before. In the moment, their troubles seem so great they cry out, “We are perishing.” What a choice of words, “perishing!” Jesus has just been teaching that the seed of faith grows so great that the birds of the air can safely nest in the plant. Therefore, they can save their lives by trusting in faith now; he does not want them to perish! Our Lord wakes up, rebukes the wind, and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the gale ceases and there is a dead calm. They need fear nothing with Jesus, who speaks peace and has power over the forces of creation. Likewise, we need not fear when we trust in the Lord and his promised Kingdom. His message is that faith, even as small as a mustard seed, can grow into the most wonderful, life changing relationship with God, who is Lord of the living, the created. The message of Jesus is life – on earth as it is in heaven. But like Old Testament Job and many today, in the face of dramatic storms, we lack faith. After this miracle, the disciples are full awe but also doubt, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41).
Perhaps they had not fully comprehended the enormity of what God was about in their midst, how Jesus was among them uniting all of humanity and God in a single experience of life, which would ultimately lead to the realization of salvation. Their experiences cause them to ask questions, like poor Job who must comprehend that it is God who asks, not he, that God is in charge, not him. The God who created the universe and our world, who confronts Job in the Old Testament and who challenges the disciples in a fishing boat, longs to be central in our lives too. Yes, God is bigger than we can fully comprehend and yet still present, engaged in our world and relevant, essential!
In the face of this divine enormity, we may ask that same question as the disciples who survived the raging waters, “Who then is Jesus?” When the many storms of life rush in, as it were from nowhere and we feel all at sea, do we know who Jesus is? Following this time of pandemic, which seems never-ending, are we willing to trust Jesus as our Lord and our Salvation? How do we, like the disciples in the boat afraid of the storm answer that question, “who is he?” Well, the scriptures and their experiences help us. Job can help us – he honestly searches for the truth, even if his three friends get it wrong, Job is righteous before God, he is faithful. It is the point at which Job accepts his woe, sufferings and pain and forgives others that his fortunes reverse.
We may be tempted to join the Soothsayer in proclaiming woe as she was foretelling the destruction of Pompeii. But our times are different, the storms of life, the forces of climate change and the destruction of an ever-evolving virus may seem dramatic and worthy of a bit of woe. Yet we have the knowledge of Jesus and the message of salvation – something for which Job longed to see. We also have this family of faith to nurture us. With the scriptures to enlighten us and the sacraments to nourish us, we must reach our own conclusion and make our own decision as we answer the question that the disciples first asked: “Who then is this?” Hopefully, we can do so in trust and faith! Amen.
Fr Damian Harrison-Miles, June 2021.