Homily for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
We are still in the early stages of Jesus’ public life according to Saint Mark’s Gospel. Jesus has already caused His relatives to wonder whether He was mad (Mk 3:21). He then told a series of strange parables about what the Kingdom of God was like. And now Jesus tells His disciples to set out as evening falls and set a course for pagan territory on the other side of the lake. There we hear about a sudden storm and a question as to who Jesus is. What lessons is He trying to teach the apostles?
Firstly, Jesus is always challenging His followers to cross over with Him ‘to the other side’. Church has always been at its best, not when it was strong and confident of its own power – but when it challenged people to move into uncomfortable territory. The great saints were those who went into alien places to bring mercy and healing. Or they journeyed into the depths of consecrated community life to find God. A Church driven by responses to secular issues is allowing its agenda to be set by others and not by Christ. Debates about human rights may be interesting subjects – but Jesus calls us to cross over and to be disturbed by divine priorities. A merely issue-driven Church will never undertake an Exodus because it is preoccupied with human agendas and not with discovering God’s uncomfortable challenges. A Church culture of identity politics simply sets people against one another, ‘we are good, they are bad’. Issues become black and white in the service of human belonging. They can never lead to the unity that is God’s plan for humanity. Jesus seeks to move people on from an excessive emphasis of victimhood to a dream of grace-led healing. A Church that is hung-up on ecclesial identity politics or dominated by secular issues will never follow Jesus and cross over to the other side with Him. If we are human issue-driven, we can never let Christ lead us to cross over with Him. We can become too centred on solving problems to suit ‘me’ and my concerns. But the Church is not all about me. It is about Jesus. The apostles had to learn that lesson in the storm-tossed boat.
Secondly, Jesus sets out even though He knew that the Sea of Galilee was prone to storms coming down from the hot hills that surround it. Discipleship involves not being frightened of being afraid. There is a temptation to see a time of crisis as something to be avoided by fleeing somewhere that will make us feel more secure. But a crisis arises because God is trying to drag us away from soothing human solutions that ease our fears. Today’s Gospel suggests that Jesus remakes us precisely by facing onto the storm. It is not easy to learn that Christ is present and in control in the midst of the storm. The storm is a good place to be, if we can allow Christ to drag us away from self-reliance to dependence on Him.
Prayer is where we can be real before God, wherever we find ourselves. Prayer means bringing our storm-tossed life before the Jesus of Calvary, knowing that He will support us to bear the Cross and come through to unimaginable resurrection. Jesus is in the boat with you as you feel tossed about and threatened by powers beyond your control. That applies to us personally and as a Church.
The recently announced synodal pathway for the Church in Ireland is anticipating, very consciously, that we will encounter strong winds and high waves and we will wonder at times that Jesus does not care. But Jesus tells us that we will get nowhere if we just stay on the safe side of the lake, musing on what the parables means. Mission means setting out, not sure where we will arrive and not being afraid to be afraid, because we trust that Jesus is in control.
Thirdly, we hear about the storm threatening to swamp the boat. And in our second reading, Saint Paul uses a comparable phrase. He says that what drives him on is the fact that the love of Christ overwhelms us. Paul discovered that the encounter with Jesus swamped his self-sufficient boat, shattering everything he was so passionate about. That is why he could talk about being a new creation, no longer judging situations and people by the standards of the flesh. It is interesting that crossing water is a source of renewal from the Red Sea to Baptism. Baptism means dying to ourselves and being reborn with the Risen Christ. The Church, in this country, will not be renewed by a narrative that we must keep heroically batting away the unending series of balls that are thrown at us, threatening to overwhelm us. Instead, we will be renewed when the love of Christ overwhelms us, when we cry out “Master, do you not care?” and when we keep asking the awkward question “Who can this be?” rather than thinking we have to have a soothing answer or still the waves that threaten our boat.
At the core of silent prayer and adoration is that spirit of wonder and awe in God’s presence. Mary and Joseph were amazed at who Jesus was. Those who heard His preaching were confused. The faithful few on Calvary, those who met Jesus after the Resurrection, those who experienced the Ascension and Pentecost – they were all left wondering who Jesus was. Mission begins with allowing the love of Christ to overwhelm us. There is no other starting point and no other companion on the journey.
The response to today’s psalm is strong and brings this message together, O give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures for ever. That can be unthinkable because so many people come through terrible suffering and loss because of tragedy, violence and addictions. Today, we give thanks to the Lord who is with us in our tears and in the storm. People of faith are able to wait out the rough weather, trusting that calm will follow the storm and that, in God’s eyes, every dark cloud has a silver lining if we keep our eyes on Jesus. Like Mary, our daily prayer can be one of glorifying the Lord and rejoicing in God, our saviour.
As we journey on in faith, facing the waves, we can pray with Saint Paul:
May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our mind, so that we can see what hope his call holds for us.
He is always with us in the boat, even if we think He is asleep and doesn’t care. He is always there, working for our salvation. So, we can say give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures for ever. Amen.
- Bishop Donal McKeown is Bishop of Derry. This homily was delivered during Mass on 20 June 2021 in Saint Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry.
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