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THE SUNDAY LECTIONARY

TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

YEAR B: YEAR OF MARK      Download >>> Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B





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READINGS

A reading from the book of Job                                      38:1. 8-11

Responsorial Psalm                    Psalm 106:23-26. 28-31. R/. v.1

A reading from the second Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians  

5:14-17

A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark       4:35-41                    



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Location, location, location.

Location is of particular importance in the Gospel according to Mark, and indeed in all four of the Gospels.  Not to mention the Bible as a whole. It is important to note carefully the place in which an event occurs or a teaching is given.  Just think of chapter 1 of Mark. We have,

The desert    (six times in chapter 1 alone)

Judaea

Jerusalem

River Jordan (twice)

Nazareth

Galilee (five times)

Sea of Galilee

Heaven

Capernaum

Synagogue

A house

A city

Unnamed town.

The whole countryside

  As we make our way through Mark’s Gospel, it is important to note the location and to inquire whether it has any bearing on the matter recorded in that place.  

  The Sea of Galilee is first introduced in Mark’s Gospel when he records that Jesus calls four fishermen, Simon, Andrew, James and John, to follow him on order to be re-trained as  fishers of people. The name of this beautiful lake is Lake Kinnereth, the Hebrew word for a harp and that is the lake’s shape. It is a freshwater lake, not a sea. It is ten miles long and six miles wide.  In the Gospel according to John it is called the Sea of Tiberias in 21:1 because that city, then as now, sits along its shore. In John 6:1 there is a helpful note: After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.  Matthew (4:18) calls it the Sea of Galilee and this is Mark’s regular name for the lake.  Altogether Mark mentions the sea nineteen times, sometimes as a metaphor but mostly in reference to the lake itself.

   Mark records six dramatic crossings of the Sea of Galilee in the course of which the disciples are given the opportunity to learn who Jesus is, to understand the nature and source of his authority, and to discover that their future vocation is to be to be sent to serve the kingdom of God as Jesus did.  The sea provides Mark with access to rich strands of Old Testament sea-imagery, imagery that greatly appealed to his fertile imagination.

  It is important to pause when a location is mentioned.  For example, we will see that the feeding of a large number of people takes place in the desert.  Is this significant? The man with a legion of demons meets Jesus in the country of the Gerasenes.  Significant? Jesus is condemned in Jerusalem. Again, significant?

 Another feature is the notification of time.  Notice these:



In those days (1:9)

Forty days (1:13)

After John was handed over (1:14)

On the Sabbath (1:21)

That evening (1:32)

Very early in the morning while it was still dark (1:35)

All of these references are in the very first chapter of Mark’s Gospel.  It is a feature we will encounter in almost every chapter. Time and place are not merely decorative.  They are weighty matters.



A reading from the book of Job                                      38:1. 8-11

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

Who shut in the sea with doors

when it burst out from the womb,

when I made clouds its garment

and thick darkness its swaddling band,

and prescribed limits for it

and set bars and doors,

and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,

and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

The word of the LORD

  The Book of Job is one of the longest in the Bible and the issue at its heart is the most difficult confronting all who believe in a loving, caring God.  What do bad things happen to good people? Why doesn’t God stop wars, abolish hunger, do away with prejudice, prevent slavery? Why does God not stop all that is evil?   

  In this wonderfully moving fictional drama the very devout wealthy, happy, contented Job is reduced to abject poverty, losing family, possessions, everything.  It is God who allows Satan to reduce Job to abject poverty, from sitting on top of the world to sitting on a dunghill. It is a test case. Would Job lose his faith, turn on God, and denounce God as a cruel, heartless dictator?   Three friends come to sit with Job to debate the issue: why did sinless Job become a target for a mischievous God?

  At the end of the debate, with Job steadfast in faith, he turns to God demanding an answer to the question that has plagued the human heart from long before the days of Job and continues to challenge all who believe in a God whose steadfast love endures forever.  The answer Job receives is, to say the least, unconvincing. Basically, God says that humanity would not understand why God permits evil to triumph. Out of the storm God declares his power to quell the tumultuous seas. Tell that to those who go down the sea in ships.

  

Responsorial Psalm             Psalm 106 (107):23-26. 28-31. R/. 1



R/.          Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,

for his steadfast love endures forever.



Some went down to the sea in ships,

doing business on the great waters;

they saw the deeds of the LORD,

his wondrous works in the deep.   R/.



For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,

which lifted up the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;

their courage melted away in their evil plight.    R/.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

He made the storm be still,

    and the waves of the sea were hushed.           R/.

Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,

and he brought them to their desired haven.

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,

for his wondrous works to the children of man.   

R/.          Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,

for his steadfast love endures forever.

As in today’s Lectionary, the ancient Greek version of this psalm offers Alleluia as an appropriate response.  The ancient Hebrew does not do so.  The Greek text’s Alleluia links this psalm with Psalms 105 and 106 for the three together sing of God’s steadfast love, a love that creates all that is good.  God’s love is abundantly evident in his care for the people of Israel, in their call to be God’s people. Enemies are destroyed, deliverance from foes assured.  Exiles are gathered in and redeemed from every adversity. The last words of Psalm 107, today’s psalm, reports what wise people conclude when they observe all that God has done for his people:

The  wise will take note of these things:

they will consider the steadfast love of the LORD.

A reading from the second Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians  

5:14-17

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this:  that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

The word of the LORD.

All that God has done for his people is there, says St Paul, hanging on the cross.  No writer whose reflections became part of our Bible meditated on the death of Jesus with the intensity and depth of Paul of Tarsus.  Paul is rightly regarded as the greatest of all Christian scholars but he is also our greatest pastor. He more than any other, draws us into the very heart of Christ.  Though he himself did not stand at the foot of the cross, Paul prayed there, he mediated there, he delved into its meaning of what happened there. In his first letter to Corinthian Christians he summed up his preaching and teaching in four Greek words, equally powerful in English:



We preach Christ crucified.

1 Corinthians 1:23

That for Paul is the beginning and the end, the first and last word.  To be sure, he has much to say about the resurrection of Jesus. But Paul knows well that you will learn nothing at the empty tomb if you have not stood at the foot of the cross.

  

  So today we learn from Paul that if we can grasp the love poured out upon us in the death of Christ, we would be overcome at the depth of it.  For in dying, Jesus brought us all with him, and in his rising, we have been raised to a new way of living. We are empowered to live the life of the man who died.  We leave the tattered garments of our old life at the foot of the cross and are fitted out for a new life. We become a new creation. We are transformed so that we live as Jesus lived.  We walk with God as he did and our walking will take us nearer and nearer to the glory that awaits.

  The word glory occurs twenty times in this second letter to Paul’s Corinthian converts.  Here is just one:



We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another…

2 Corinthians 3:18



When the crucified face of Jesus is transformed and the glory of his resurrection shines forth, our faces are unveiled and we are transformed step by step until at last we are embraced by the glory of God.



A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark       4:35-41

                  

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The Gospel of the LORD

  It is all too easy when reading Mark to lose sight of the wood when admiring the trees.  Mark is about to relate four “works of power”. He calls them “works of power, using a Greek word which gives us our word dynamite.  Not miracles.  Dynamite. And dynamite they are.  But it is the total effect of the four explosive stories that he wants us to hear.  Mark explodes these works of power in order to reveal to us who Jesus is.

  

  A ferocious storm is reduced to a great calm.  An unfortunate man possessed by a legion of demons is found sitting down, clothed and in his right mind.  A woman suffering for twelve years with a haemorrhage is healed by a mere touch. Death itself is robbed of its sting as a little girl is handed back alive and well to her parents.  Who is this man who does these things? Where does his power come from? And what does it all mean?



The Stilling of the Storm

  On that very day, the day of the parables, in the evening Jesus instructs his disciples to set out for the other side of the lake.  They are heading for Gentile territory, leaving the Jewish land of Palestine for a pagan region called Gerasa. As they head off, other boats set out with them, though they play no part in the dramatic event about to unfold.  

  Place is important.  We will have to be alert to the fact that the work of Jesus is done in the land of Israel and in excursions into the larger world of Gentiles.  In Mark’s Gospel Jesus travels into the wider world outside his native land. Thus he sets the example his future apostles must follow. It may be that the other boats who, the story says, “were with him” as they crossed the Sea of Galilee, represent the many apostles who will take Jesus with them into the great world beyond little Israel.

  Great storms are fairly common on the Sea of Galilee. But it is to the Old Testament that we must turn to discover the meaning of Mark’s terrifying storm.  The Jewish people, as many ancient peoples, believed that in the beginning the whole earth was submerged under water. In order to overcome chaos, God had to put the waters in their place and rule them so that they did not threaten the earth:

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.                                                                         Genesis 1:9

The Book of Job speaks of God as the one who created the sea and everyday keeps it with its allotted confines:

… who shut in the sea with doors

when it burst out from the womb,

when I made clouds its garment

and thick darkness its swaddling band,

and prescribed limits for it

and set bars and doors,

and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,

and here shall your proud waves be stayed”?

Job 38:8-11

  But the demons of the deep are ever restless and ever seeking to swamp the good earth.  God must be vigilant and humanity must say its prayers:

The floods have lifted up, O Lord,

the floods have lifted up their voice;

the floods lift up their roaring.

Mightier than the thunders of many waters,

mightier than the waves of the sea,

the Lord on high is mighty.

Psalm 93:4

  The threatening devils who dwell in the deep were given names such as Leviathan and Rahab and Old Testament poets loved to sing of the ease with which the good God could control his adversaries.  At the end of the book of Job, the fertile imagination of the poet who penned what I like to call the Old Testament edition of Waiting for Godot, points out that human beings cannot probe the mystery of God.  God comes on stage to remind Job of human weakness when compared with God’s strength:

“Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook

or press down his tongue with a cord?

Can you put a rope in his nose

or pierce his jaw with a hook?

Job 41:1

The Book of Isaiah recalls the great escape from Egypt God accomplished in the days Moses when God led the people through the Sea of Reeds to safety:

Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces,

who pierced the dragon?

Was it not you who dried up the sea,

the waters of the great deep,

who made the depths of the sea a way

for the redeemed to pass over?

Isaiah 51:9-10

The book of Israel’s prayers acknowledges the same divine concern for those who go down to the sea in ships:

O Lord God of hosts,

who is mighty as you are, O Lord,

with your faithfulness all around you?

You rule the raging of the sea;

when its waves rise, you still them.

You crushed Rahab like a carcass;

you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.

Psalm 89:8-10

  Much more needs to be brought to mind if we are to grasp the depth of meaning in Mark’s telling of the storm at sea.  We have met those who claimed Jesus’ authority was derived from Satan, his power from Beelzebub. When the fierce storm threatens to destroy everyone in the boat, Jesus is asleep.  But we know, do we not, that untroubled sleep is a sign of confident trust in God’s protective care:

I lay down and slept;

I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.

Psalm 3:5

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;

for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4:8

Of course there are times when God seem far distant and his help not to hand to aid when we are in distress:

Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?

In the storehouse of Israel’s prayers we learn that God is listening:

Some went down to the sea in ships,

doing business on the great waters;

they saw the deeds of the Lord,

his wondrous works in the deep.

For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,

which lifted up the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;

their courage melted away in their evil plight;

they reeled and staggered like drunken men

and were at their wits 'end.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

He made the storm be still,

and the waves of the sea were hushed.

Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,

and he brought them to their desired haven.

Psalm 107:23-29



Today’s Responsorial Psalm tells what happens when we cry to God in distress.    But in Mark’s telling of the storm that threatens the disciples, it is to Jesus they turn:

Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”

And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  

 

It was Jesus who asked the inevitable question:

Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

And they were feared with a great fear.

My more literal translation captures the dread of the disciples.  But the storm is stilled. What are they fearing? The fear is in the question that Mark puts on their lips and ours:

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

 

It is, we know, God who stills the storms of the deep.  But Jesus? The question on the lips of the fearful disciples is not a question.  It the question.  Who is this man? Of course, from his first line Mark tells his readers/hearers who Jesus is.    He allows demons to reveal he is the Holy One of God (1:24), and to pronounce that he is the Son of God (3:11).  But we will soon come to the direct question that confronts us all:


Who do you say that I am?

Be ready for it.



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Joseph O’Hanlon

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