Making it through the storm
(Based on the Sunday Gospel Commentary of Nil Guillemette)
I tried some reading on the geography of the Sea of Galilee, and they say, its geographical make-up is quite unique. The surface of the sea is 685 feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea, since the Jordan Valley, in which it lies, has there sunk to such a depth. On the other hand, high hills surround it on almost all its sides. This means that there is usually a great difference of temperature between the air on the top of the plateaus surrounding the sea and the air on the low-lying water. When a strong wind blows from the north-eastern high plateau of the Syrian desert, which is some 3000 feet about sea level, the rush of cold air falling on the surface of the sea and the rush of hot air rising under this pressure produce a vertical air flow or convection current of great power. The results of this are sudden, violent storms, which agitate the Sea of Galilee in a most frightful fashion. Thus, terrible squalls hurl themselves, even when the sky is perfectly clear, upon these waters, which are ordinarily so calm. The storms come literally unexpectedly, and the most experienced fishermen cannot predict them. Such storms can produce waves up to 20 feet high or more.
Today’s gospel reading reports such a storm, one that came with shattering and terrifying suddenness. It mentions that Jesus was occupying in Peter’s boat the placed reserved for any distinguished guest. As the Gospel puts it, “Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.” (It must be a very comfortable place indeed.) Not only that, exhausted by a day of preaching, Jesus was asleep when the storm broke out and he continued to sleep soundly until the disciples woke him up. And we know that he calmed it down.
A noted bible scholar Nil Guillemette, would say that this story was written or preserved for two obvious reasons (obvious at least for himself). First, it illustrated the power of Jesus over nature and indirectly therefore, hinted his true identity. The Bible often presents God as ruling the storms of the sea (Ps 107:23-30; 89:9; 29:3; 46:3; 93:3-4; Nah 1:4; Hab 3:15; Jb 38:8-11). Now, the fact that Jesus could command the sea showed that he shared the very power of God – in other words, that he somehow belonged to the sphere of the divine.
The second reason is its symbolic value. Peter, let us recall, was a fisherman whom Jesus called to become fisher of men (Mk 1:17). As head of the Church founded by Christ, the boat he steers becomes an image of the Church. And, consequently, the storms he meets become symbols of the various storms and crises of the Church. To complete the picture in this connection, the sleeping Christ represents the apparent absence or non-intervention of God during times of persecutions, schisms, heresies. However, the awakening and storm-calming Christ represents the eventual overcoming of crises by the powerful intervention of God through unforeseen events or through the raising up of great saints and charismatic leaders in the Church.
This scene was highly inspiring to Mark and the readers of his gospel. Mark wrote this gospel between the years 65 to 70 according to the almost unanimous opinion of the experts. Now that was at the time of the first Roman persecution of the Church, the one launched between 64 and 68 by the cruel Emperor Nero. Both the apostles Peter and Paul perished in that persecution, along with many other leaders of the Church. (So, the early Christians were asking): Where was God in all this? Why was he permitting all this bloodshed? Was he asleep amid the storm? Mark, by reporting this episode of the calming of the storm, was reassuring the storm-tossed Church of Rome. He was saying in effect: “Christ might seem to be sleeping now, but do not worry. One of these days he will wake up and calm the storm.” Mark was right. In the year 68 Nero committed suicide and the storm abruptly ended.
In the course history, the Church has experienced many storms such as persecutions, controversies that involve money and sexual scandals. However, it is not only the church as a whole that experiences storms and crises, the church as an individual, we too, ourselves, have and experience a lot of storms and crises in our lives. Very common among them is financial crises, in the form of debts, loss of jobs, bankruptcy among others. In addition, we encounter relationship crises, marriage crises and/or family crises. A lot of my classmates in HS who are married are having difficulties in their marriage, and that’s becomes my problem as well, because, even if I am in Congo, they would call or email me to just to tell me and consult about their marriage problems. Many think that priests are lucky because they have none of these problems. Yes it is true we have none of the many of your concerns like raising children or an unfaithful husband or wife, unless, we keep one. But we too encounter a lot of problems in our work, with our co-priests and even with ourselves, that is why, there are those who are living the priesthood.
My dear brothers and sisters, the fact is, there is no way we can avoid storms in life. There will always be storms coming on us because we are living in a not so perfect world. Given our imperfect situation, it is up to us, it is left on our hands to make the best of out of these limitations. I very well remember what the Chinese often used to say in trying moments: “Crises are not something to be avoided but are opportunities to be exploited.” Simply said, crises, difficult situations are opportunities, opportunities to renew and strengthen relationship, opportunities for us to discover and exploit our hidden talents and skills and opportunities to fully develop ourselves. I believe this is also, how God suggests us to see trying moments in our lives.
It is here that I am reminded of Ray Charles, a renowned Gospel singer in US, a man whose songs are filled with emotions, who collected for himself numerous musical awards counting among them several Grammys. He is considered an icon in the word of music, a genius in fact, so much so that a film is made out of his extraordinary life. Like all of us, he too was knocked down by a storm, a really hard one. At the age of six, he was completely blinded. But that did not stop him from becoming one of the greatest musicians of our time, one that many considers a genius, who inspired others with his songs for God.
We are not blind like Ray Charles, if Charles did make it through the storm, the more it would be so for us. The gospel story should then inspire us during and amidst the storms of life. However violent and frightening they may be, we must trust that God is always at our side. True, he might wait a bit before intervening, for his own good reasons. But if we pray for his help and trust in him, we will always be given the strength and the courage to weather our storms. With him on board our boat, there is nothing to fear.