Death was not God’s doing.
So how do we make sense of death and how the Christian should approach this stark reality? How should we respond to our natural instinctual and evolutionary reaction to fear death? The teaching that the book of Wisdom offers and which is then magnified by Jesus in these two tightly woven stories of healing and new life – the woman with the twelve-year haemorrhage and the twelve-year old sick then dead daughter of the synagogue official Jairus. The words that Jesus offers to Jairus perhaps need to be spoken also into our own lives – Talitha kum – “little child, I say to you arise” from the sleep of death.
Sunday 13, year B. Recorded at St Col’s, Corrimal (8 mins)
Mark 5: 21-43; Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24.
Ancient people were always deeply afraid of travelling by sea. This is especially so because of the primitive ships that they had to travel in – the wise sailors would hug the shore as much as possible. In Genesis 1, God creates order from the ‘toho va bohu’ – the dark depths of the ocean and chaos. In Exodus 14, the people fleeing from the slavery of Pharaoh find liberation only to come face-to-face with the dark depths of the impenetrable sea that blocks their way until the Lord intervenes and uses a mighty wind to drive back the dark depths of the water and leads them through on newly created dry ground. The sea comes to symbolise all that is evil and dark. In the book of Daniel, the sea is the place where the monsters come from. Our Psalm today as well as a number of others speak of the creator God who calms the sea, who brings order to the chaos, telling the raging storms to quieten down.
Sometimes life can become too much for us or for those who are close to us. It can seem like we are in a small boat that is being tossed about on the waves. Sometimes the storms that arise are like the one in the gospel today – sudden and unexpected. Sometimes the storms have always been there. Sometimes they have been brewing and building for untold ages and we cannot remember a time when they were not there!
In our first reading we have part of the Lord’s response to Job. Job has endured a terrible storm – he lost everything – family and friends, possessions and reputation, livelihood and health. He suffered and complained; he called God into the dock. Yet in the end, through it all he trusted. And in that trust he found his vindication. Trust gave him all that he needed – even if he never really found the answers that he was looking for.
All four Gospels record this storm out at sea – this event where the disciples are scared witless when their tiny little boat is tossed about on massive waves and seems almost at the point of being swamped and sunk. The sea and the waves are signs of all that darkness and nothingness that stand against us.
Mark has a very spiritual and symbolic telling of the events. In the Gospels, when you have the disciples and Jesus in a boat, that is always an image of the church. All the disciples (that is ‘us’) are in the boat of the church, journeying with Christ. We are always journeying to the far side – to the reaches of the world, of time, of experience.
In the midst of this journey, this gale rages up and the waves begin to break over the bow of the boat so that they are almost swamped. This particular storm must have been really something – because these fishermen were used to the weather on the Sea of Galilee. They were used to the many storms that would brew and blow – but this storm was really something. This was not a minor one – it wasn’t one that you’d get everyday or every few weeks. This storm doesn’t stand for the small troubles that we sometimes have to face – but the truly devastating and destructive powers that sometimes rise up to overwhelm us. The kinds of forces that can so dominate our lives that it can lead to an overdose or a suicide attempt.
And yet here in the story, Jesus is asleep – in the stern, with his head on a cushion. Amazing – while we are going through these terrible crises and Jesus is just asleep. He hasn’t just happened to fall asleep while sitting at the back – no he has made himself nice and comfortable on this cushion. Kind of pathetic at one level!
Yet Jesus knows the source of true power – he knows the creative and sustaining power of God. Maybe Jesus is pointing to something precious here: maybe we need to cultivate that same kind of place of peace and calm in our lives. Where do we live spiritually? (Note: the storm is still there either way!)
So they wake Jesus up – “do you not care that we are going down?” Save us we are going to drown! Out of the depths they cry out to the Lord. They are utterly desperate. He gets up; and with a single word he rebukes the storm and all is calm. They saw the same powerful forces that were at work in the beginning, at the dawn of creation. Trust in the Lord. Cry out to Jesus.
Recorded at St Col’s
Sunday 12, Year B. Mark 4:35-41
After fifteen weeks of journeying through the seasons of Lent and Easter, we return today to what is often prosaically called “Ordinary Time” but which I prefer to call the Season of Growth or the Season of Discipleship. In the Gospel today from Mark we are reminded of this when Jesus tells two of his familiar parables about seeds, soil and growth.
Even when the beginnings are so small as to be almost hidden there is one thing that is always certain – at least in the economy of God’s life – and that is a rich harvest. The farmer scatters the seeds on the ground and night and day the seed sprouts and grows. This doesn’t mean that we should just sit back and allow God to do all the work! No, the image of a certain harvest promises that even when our efforts to announce the goodness of God’s kingdom may appear to be fruitless or insignificant, we should not be discouraged or give up. Despite the church buying into the modern obsession with statistics, the only evidence of success that we need is that the harvest will arrive.
In a similar way the parable of the mustard seed reminds us that kingdom is not about the huge and flashy greatness that other kingdoms attempt to build for themselves. The mustard bush is enough to provide shade for the birds of the sky.
In our more sophisticated experience of church, it can be tempting to imagine that we have to be success-driven and strive for the great and mighty events and seek power and influence. These parables should provide us with a warning that we cannot look down on the small beginnings and simple devotion of people. One person’s vocation is always precious, or a few people meeting together to seek God’s will for their life or to plan and pray often herald the beginning of some beautiful new initiative that is also part of God’s plan for new creation.
The challenge remains for us to discern how to be the best kingdom-workers and kingdom-explainers that we possibly can be in our own day.
Grace and peace.
We had the Mission Sunday Annual appeal this weekend, so only a short homily was preached to allow time to watch the Catholic Mission video and take up the collection. A Journey Radio reflection is also available.
Sunday 11, Year B.
The scriptures given to us today for the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus take us to the very centre of our faith and our relationship with God revealed in and through Jesus. The gospel ends with the declaration in the Gospel of John that we will look on the one whom they have pierced. It is in this moment, when we are lost in wonder, that we can begin to discover the very nature of who we are before God – even if we are the least of the saints as Paul describes himself as.
Recorded at a school Mass with St Columbkille’s Catholic Primary School.
Hos 11:1, 3–4, 8c–9; Eph 3:8–12, 14–19; Jn 19:31–37
On the feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, we really should begin by re-enacting the Exodus reading – it would be a great sight to haul in a few young bullocks, slaughter them, drain all the blood into huge bowls and then begin splashing one bowl all over the altar and then the second one all over the community gathered in their Sunday best. At least you would remember that day when you renewed the covenant and destroyed your dress. But we’ll just reflect about the ongoing significance of the Eucharist for our lives. Let’s begin with the word. We probably know that the word comes as a transliteration from the Greek language (rather than a translation) and we probably know that the word can mean thanksgiving. Another translation is from looking at the parts of the word: ‘eu’ means ‘good’, and ‘charis’ means ‘grace’ or ‘gift’ – so you could also talk about Eucharist as a ‘good gift’.
Recorded at St Col’s (Vigil Mass; Sunday morning didn’t work)
The Body and Blood of Jesus, Year B