Job 38, 1 and 8-11
- Some of my more alert listeners will hear me say: Thus far shall you come but no farther, and
recall the lines from the best-selling mystery novel and the feature film based on it.
That is good, as long as I have said them in the decisive context that God spoke them to Job, that suffering man who
- God gives him no reasons. The Lord addressed Job out
of the storm. In our very shortened version of God’s challenge to Job,
we do not hear the opening words that evoke eternity and put mortals in their place: Who is this? The sense of God’s intervention is this: who are we to question, who are we to challenge, the eternal
designs? I want to convey a taste of this unreachable realm to the congregation,
just as the disciples of Jesus will wonder about their master in today’s Gospel after he calms the winds and the sea.
- The book of Job contains the most stunning poetic images in
all the Bible. I hear a tiny part of them here and I will do them honors. For example, the hissing of the waves is unmistakable in all those ‘s’
sounds: Who shut within doors the sea? And their abrupt stop, in the command
to come thus far but no farther.
- We are hearing a mythic version of the birth of the sea, with
the mention of womb and swaddling bands. We also hear a kind of
taming of a wild beast: shut within doors, set limits for it, fastened the bar.
- I hear the finality of the last words: here shall your proud
waves be stilled! And I will lend the same finality to my own retelling.
- Central point: There are mysteries in our experience beyond
our ability to grasp them. In an age of ever-increasing discoveries we must keep
in mind the primordial discovery of humanity – that the world we live in surpasses our ability to fully understand it.
- Message for our assembly: God is the master. We have become far better at dirtying and destroying all that we touch, including the oceans. We need to recover some of the awe our ancestors felt in the presence of the creation.
- I will challenge myself: To do justice to the ancient mythic story
by echoing the timeless rhythm of the waves that is captured so well in the English translation.
II Corinthians 5, 14-17
- With readings like this I am grateful for the regular opening Brothers and sisters, because it allows me to
get my voice ready for the opening words, The love of Christ impels us. For
his part, the apostle meant them as his personal response to a series of salvation events involving us all: I must evangelize
because of the wonderful things that have happened to us. They can also stand
alone, as they often do in sermons and spiritual books. I think that I need to
let them stand alone, or else my listeners will forget them. I also think that
I have to say them without finality, admitting the connection with the words that follow.
- I hear another closely reasoned argument from the apostle, and I must take my time for the sake of the congregation. I recall that these letters were dictated in an age of oral supremacy, when people
did not erase or cross out or delete as they proceeded. There is an air of an
innovator thinking out loud as he speaks to his audience, re-phrasing and clarifying the meaning. Listen: One died for all; therefore, all have died. He
indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves.
An active search for the right phrasing—that is the way I would interpret this section.
- I sympathize a lot with the scholarly writing that searches for a historical Jesus of Nazareth. We are creatures of history and think in those terms. But
the best argument against the historical Jesus approach comes right here. For
the apostle it would be a most insufficient way to get to know Jesus. Even
if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer.
Why? Whoever is in Christ is a new creation. This is the approach of the four Gospels, too: to appreciate Christ in the light of his resurrection.
- Behold, new things have come. So the passage ends. How can I say it so that the congregation consciously adopts the awareness of a new
creation and accordingly prepares for conversion once again? My own conviction
about the radical change in our lives may help them a great deal.
- Climax: Whoever is in Christ is a new creation.
- The message for our assembly: We absolutely do not have to know Jesus by personal acquaintance or by historical study;
we have to encounter him as Christ in the church and in the Gospels that the church prepared for us.
- I will challenge myself: To recover in my retelling some of that hunger the apostle felt as he sought the right words
to capture the wonderful things that motivated his missionary activity.
Mark 4, 35-41
- As I prepare these reflections we are experiencing the first tropical storm in a long season full of fear and apprehension. I do not have to work hard to reach the minds and hearts of the assembly this time
- Jesus starts things out by insisting, Let us cross to the other side.
None of them have ever been there, but they get in the boat and head out on the lake.
The story could have been built up from their recollections of a boat trip into a complete parable of the church. As I speak Christ’s words I am inviting my listeners to accompany him in the
boat. Other boats were with him, a general excursion.
- Then comes the storm, a violent squall with waves breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling
up. We know how a storm can break out in a moment and leave the strongest
and bravest at its mercy. I do not spare my powers in describing the suddenness
of the storm and its advance upon the crew.
- Then the contrast of Jesus asleep on the cushion. It calls for
restraint, as if I don’t wish to awaken him. But the disciples in the story
awoke him and accused him of insensitivity: we are perishing.
- Again the contrast of Jesus and his simple command to the waves: Quiet! Be
still! I can tell that I am switching between the turmoil of the storm, the
stormy emotions of the disciples, and the calm command of the Lord.
- Climax: I will emphasize the advice Jesus gave to his disciples: Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?
- Message for our assembly: Do we know who is traveling with us? Will we
call on him when we are overwhelmed by the storms of our lives?
- I will challenge myself: To repeat the story from the point of view of God, as I did for God’s words to Job,
making as my theme the great calm that followed the words of Jesus.
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