12th Sunday in Ordinary Time June 25, 2006
Job 38:1, 8-11
INTRODUCTION: This reflection is my third attempt at writing the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time. My first effort was made at the Jackson Co. Jail. I had completed my reflection on the text of Job before I was moved to the Federal Transfer Station in Oklahoma City. My second effort was made while I was in Oklahoma City. I had completed the whole reflection and was ready to mail it out but never got it in the mail before I was transferred to FPC Yankton. Both my first and second efforts were lost in the process. What you’re seeing now is my third draft.
ORDINARY TIME: This week we pick up on Ordinary Time in the lectionary text selection. Ordinary Time is any weekend that doesn’t land in Advent, Lent and Easter or on a special feast day. This will be my first chance to write a reflection in Ordinary Time since I’ve been locked up. The thing about ordinary time is that the scripture selections stand on their own and need not be interpreted based on a seasonal or feast day theme. Also the first reading from the Old Testament often is selected to heighten a particular theme or issue found in the Gospel selection. For our purposes I will try to explore what themes the Old Testament readings are highlighting in our Gospel selections.
THE BOOK OF JOB: Job is one of the best known biblical characters of the Old Testament mostly because of its fable-like plot and the universal human appeal it addresses regarding the issue of “why bad things happen to good people.” Yet few people have familiarity with most of the content of the book. Forty two chapters long, its fable like plot is laid out in the first two chapters. The satan (who is not the Devil of Christian understanding but rather a heavenly ‘prosecuting attorney’ who brings charges against humans who sin; satan in Hebrew = “the accuser”) pays a visit to God in heaven and God brags up Job to the satan saying “have you noticed my servant, Job, and that there is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil?” (Job 1:8) The satan challenges God saying Job’s righteousness is based on his good fortune, so the satan makes a bet with God at Job’s expense. The satan bets God that if Job lost all his wealth, his family and his good health Job would surely “blaspheme” God (Job 2:5). God takes the satan on and accepts the bet. The satan is allowed to take Job’s wealth, his family and his good health away from him.
Penniless, with his family lost and his health destroyed, the next 35 chapters of the book are a discussion between Job and three friends who try to make the case to Job that his bad circumstances must be a byproduct of something he did, some evil he brought on himself. Throughout the discussion Job maintains his innocence. He curses the day he was born and longs for death but he never curses God. Most people have not bothered to read this section of the book, yet many of the arguments are familiar to us for their universal character.
At the end of the book Job takes his concerns directly to God. In Chapter 38-41 God responds to Job but not by giving Job any reason why he was suffering so much bad fortune. Instead God points out to him the great difference between the Divine Being who created the universe and a lone human being, created by the creator. It is in this section of the book that we find this week’s text.
(WHERE WERE YOU) WHEN I SET LIMITS FOR THE SEA AND FASTENED THE BAR OF ITS DOOR? (Job 38:10)
What does God mean when he tells Job he “fastened the bars of the sea’s door?” To understand this statement we need to understand the ancient peoples’ understanding of their universe. The ancients believed the earth was flat and at the center of the universe. The flat earth was like a giant plate that rested on four giant columns. Over the plate was the firmament, which was like a giant upside down bowl that was placed on top of the flat earth. Surrounding the giant bowl, plate and four columns were the primordial waters. When God asked Job where he was when God set the limits for the sea by fastening the bars of the seas’ doors, God was speaking of a cosmos in which the earth was flat and God was the master mechanic that kept the primordial waters from flooding the earth. The point God is making in this week’s text to Job is that no matter what happens in life to him personally, Job’s limited finite mind will never fully understand the workings or reasoning of the Divine.
JESUS, THE DISCIPLES, BOATS AND STORMS: There are six stories about Jesus, his disciples, boats and storms in the four gospels. In three of them – Mark 4:35-41, Matt 8:23-27 and Luke 8:22-25, Jesus is asleep in the boat with his disciples when a storm threatens their lives. The disciples wake Jesus and Jesus commands the storms to cease. In three other boat accounts – Mark 6:45-52, Matt 14:22-35 and John 6:16-21 Jesus is not in the boat with the disciples but catches up with them by walking on water. In Matthew’s account Peter steps out of the boat in an effort to copy Jesus’ water walk. In each account the disciples are dealing with rough and stormy waters. Bible commentaries often refer to these ‘boat in the storm’ stories as metaphors for the future Church and the difficult and trying times the church will face. The lesson in the stories being, no matter how difficult things get for the Church, as long as she keeps her focus on following Jesus, the Church will survive.
HE WOKE UP, REBUKED THE WIND, AND SAID TO THE SEA “QUIET! BE STILL” (Mark 4:39)
In Mark’s gospel there is a two-tier struggle going on between good and evil. On one level there is the human struggle that takes place in our time and space continuum. Most of the narrative is told on this level. There is also the cosmic struggle between good and evil. This level is beyond our human plane and deals with ultimate divine affairs. Evidence of this level of the struggle breaks into Mark’s narrative at different points of the story. It is first introduced at the time of Jesus’ baptism. We are told the heavens open up and a dove descends over Jesus and the voice of God is heard (Mark 1:10). It is also brought into the narrative when on two occasions evil spirits who have possession of a person address Jesus directly demanding to know his intentions (Mark 1:24; Mark 5:7).
In this week’s Gospel Jesus steps out of the human plane of reality to show which side in the cosmic struggle he is working for. Jesus’ loyalties are called into question by some scribes from Jerusalem in Mark 3:22 who accuse Jesus of being possessed by Satan, saying it is “by the prince of demons (that Jesus) drives out demons.” In today’s Gospel Jesus clearly shows his allegiance in the cosmic struggle. When Jesus rebukes the wind and tells the sea to be calm he was demonstrating he was on the side of God by his ability to do what only God can do – command the wind and the seas to obey him, something our first reading from the book of Job made clear.