Gospel & Reflection 23rd June 2024

Gospel & Reflection for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Mark 4:35-41
With the coming of evening, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us cross over to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind they took him, just as he was, in the boat; and there were other boats with him. Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep. They woke him and said to him, ‘Master, do you not care? We are going down!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!’ And the wind dropped, and all was calm again. Then he said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?’ They were filled with awe and said to one another, ‘Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.’


Friends, you may remember that some years ago on RTE television, the British actor and author Stephen Fry was interviewed by the late Gay Byrne on a programme called ‘The Meaning of Life.’ Towards the end of the programme, as all guests were, Fry was asked the question that if it were all true about Faith, God, and Heaven, what would Fry say to God were he to meet Him? Fry, a ferocious atheist, then left fly a diatribe of insults including calling God “cruel, capricious, malicious, and stupid.”
The reaction at the time was astounding. Clips of what he said went all over the world. It was on the News, it got millions of views on You-Tube and other social media, and for many people it was as if finally, someone has said it! Someone has called God and Faith out and shown them up for what they really are! Personally, I could muster no reaction other than curiosity. I found it curious that so many people looked on Stephen Fry as the first person in the history of the world to question the existence of a loving God, in what can be a very cruel world. To put it more commonly, it was as if Fry was the first to ask: “Why does God allow good people to suffer?”
Obviously for most of us, but not so obvious for everyone, these are questions not original to Stephen Fry. Every human being has wrestled with the question of undeserved suffering, and we do so often, from hurtful personal experience. We did not need Stephen Fry, thank you very much, to ask these questions for us!
What is most interesting though is that on the question of suffering and God, the oldest, greatest and valid intellectual rant against both did not come from any atheist, old or new, but is found within the pages of the scriptures themselves. The Book of Job, written about six hundred years before the birth of Christ, is an extended discussion of one issue and one issue only – suffering and our experience of God within it. Job, in one moment is stripped of his health, wealth, and family. An innocent man, he sits in agony over all that has happened, wondering why God would have done this to him? Eventually, he cries and shouts out, questions and calls God to task. And God responds.
It’s the longest speech associated with God in all of the Bible. We have a few lines of it in our First Reading today. In it, God does not explain Himself but instead places everything into a broader view of life, creation, experience, and time. He removes the narrow, personal experience of the pain and suffering of Job and shows that there is much to be found and understood, in and beyond it. Yes, suffering exists but so also does goodness, beauty, and love, and these are more powerful than anything else.
This contrast of experience is found also in our Gospel. The experience of the Disciples on the sea of Galilee is one of the most beautiful and encouraging stories in the Gospels. It meant an awful lot to the early Christians because all four Evangelists included it, and it should mean and explain much to us now too. It is a Gospel about suffering and fear; the feeling that God is silent and absent, and then the realisation of a greater and more comforting certainty.
Friends, where is God when we need Him the most?
In difficult times we may feel that the Lord is nowhere to be found. We might feel abandoned. But there has always been a tension between belief in an all-powerful and all-loving God, and the reality of human suffering which He often and too conveniently, blamed for. Today’s Gospel does not solve the problem of pain, suffering and adversity because it is not a problem to be solved. We are grappling with a profound mystery, but the Gospel leaves us with an image which helps us see into the core of the mystery – the beautiful image of Jesus present with us, His head on a cushion, peaceful in the stern. It reminds us that in everything, we are not alone and peace can and will be found.
So, when like the Apostles and Job, we are fearful and overwhelmed, where do we place our faith? Do we surrender it to the power of the wind and the sea, to suffering and evil, or do we hand it over to the One whom even the wind and sea obey? Such a faith trusting in God does not mean certainty; it means courage to live with the uncertainty of life.
We pray today for the courage not to let go of God for any reason, just as God does not let go of us.
Fr. Richard