June 20, 2021 / 4th Sunday after Pentecost / Richard Holmer
First Reading Job 38:1-11 Second Reading 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 / Gospel Mark 4:35-41
Jesus, Don’t You Care?
“Jesus, don’t you care that we are perishing?” This was the anguished cry of the disciples whose boat was in danger of sinking. These were not greenhorns who didn’t know bow from stern or port from starboard. They were experienced fishermen, who spent most of their days out on the Sea of Galilee. But they were terrified because this was not a passing squall but a tempestuous storm. Waves were crashing over their boat, they were bailing for all they were worth. They were in serious danger of drowning. It was a dire situation – yet Jesus was fast asleep in the stern of the boat. Was Jesus oblivious to their peril – or did he just not care?
In times of trouble, when we are faced with serious threats to our well-being, we may be inclined to react like those disciples: “Hey, Jesus, don’t you care?” “Can’t you see that I’m struggling and am really scared?” “Right now the world seems to be coming unglued – so much conflict, unrest and violence.” “I just lost my job and I’m 57 years old.” “Our son was badly injured by a hit and run driver – and he has no health insurance.” “My sister has been diagnosed as bi-polar, and the medication isn’t helping.” When faced with perilous circumstances that are beyond our control, we look to Jesus to come to the rescue.
In the fullness of his own humanity, even Jesus looked to God to intervene on his behalf. In the Garden of Gethsemane he was so stressed as he prayed that he was sweating blood. Knowing what was in store for him, he prayed: “Father if there is some other way – any way to avoid this pain and suffering – please make it so.” And then on the cross Jesus cried out in agony, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In extreme pain, for a moment he humanly wondered if his Father really cared about him.
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We know that Jesus worked many miracles. He not only calmed the storm and walked on water. He restored sight to the blind, healed the deaf, the lame and the lepers – and even raised the dead to life. Yet Jesus didn’t heal everyone. He didn’t bring an end to all pain and suffering and disease. He didn’t remove all injustice and cruelty. Jesus himself suffered pain and a cruel death. The crowd jeered at him: “He saved others, why can’t he save himself?” Like Jesus, eleven of the first disciples were executed for their faith. Did God not care?
These days on a regular basis, innocent bystanders – many of them children – are gunned down in the city of Chicago. Does Jesus not care? Millions around the world have died of Covid-19. Why doesn’t Jesus do something? Because we experience and we witness calamities, injustice, suffering and loss we can wonder whether God truly cares about us. Like those disciples we want to say: “Jesus, Wake up! Pay attention! We’re in trouble here.”
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Could it be that, like those disciples, we are overlooking something critically important? The reality of their situation in that boat on the stormy sea is that Jesus was not safe up in heaven, looking down on them in their dilemma. Jesus was right there in the boat with them. Jesus was as vulnerable to drowning as he was to dying on a cross. He was in as much danger as they were. He was with them in their moment of peril. Jesus was not indifferent to their dilemma – he just wasn’t worried.
When Jesus wakes up, he says, “Peace! Be Still!” – and there is a sudden calm. He saves the day. Yet it’s possible that Jesus was speaking not only to the wind and the waves – but also to those frantic fishermen when he said: “Peace! Be still!” That is, “Don’t panic, calm down. See, I am here with you.” And then he adds: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
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There is a kind of faith that tends to believe it knows what God ought to be doing – that God just needs reminding. Such faith presumes to have certainty about what God wills. But Jesus aims to open human hearts and minds to a deeper faith: to grasp what God actually intends and promises (and what God does not intend or promise).
God did not come to us in Jesus in order to fix everything, to solve all our problems, to keep us safe from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. (This may be hard for us to accept.) Jesus did come to assure us by his presence that God is with us. He came to share our human flesh and blood, to live within all the constraints and challenges of our mortal lives. He came to reconcile humanity to God, to bridge the gap sin creates between us and our Creator.
Since Christ has come . . . We still sin – but there is forgiveness. We do still suffer – but we are never alone. One of the real sorrows of the pandemic is how so many persons died alone in their hospital beds. Suffering is compounded by loneliness. Yet Christ is with us always. We still get sick, and we all will die – but there is life beyond this life.
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Jesus says to us, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Like the shepherd in the 23rd Psalm, Jesus walks with us through all the dark and threatening places – even the valley of the shadow of death. He doesn’t miraculously prevent bad things from happening to us. Faithful persons can still get cancer, lose a child or a spouse, be victimized by crime. Yet whatever happens, we will never be alone or forsaken (just as Jesus was not forsaken). And come what may, while we are not promised an easy or pain-free life – we are promised victory over death. The Good Shepherd also says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” This is so wonderful – it can be hard to believe.
Jesus never promised that following him would make our lives easier or free of stress and struggle. Any who offer such promises are preaching a false gospel. It’s beyond me how anyone can read the bible and somehow conclude that believers will have a trouble-free life. But we can have a good life, a worthy life – a life that is set free from guilt and fear, a life blessed by the peace and joy that only God can give.
The question that Jesus posed to his disciples is also a question for us: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith in God is fear. Fear is a sure sign that we do not trust that God is with us, that our lives are in God’s hands. Faith has power to overcome our fears. St. Paul lived with such fearless faith – as did so many of the first Christians. Paul sees it like this: “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7-8)
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Like most all of you, I have experienced times of pain and sorrow. Nobody makes it through this world without some scars, some regrets, some losses and sorrows. I am acquainted with grief and fear. But I still believe and trust God. Why? Because I know many people who have suffered far more than I have – and are still strong in faith. Their faith encourages mine.