Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Father Donald Dilger

Sunday Scripture

First Reading: Job 38:1, 8-11; Response: Psalm 107:23-24, 25-26, 28-29, 30-31; Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Gospel: Mark 4:35-41

The date of composition of the Book of Job is uncertain. Persian influence is a possibility be-cause of the role played by Satan in the first two chapters. According to the editors of Britannica, the Satan was a Persian official whose job was to seek out acts or persons to be adversely reported to the king. Israelite exiles would have come into contact with Persian ideas and vocabulary especially after Persia conquered Babylon circa 540 B.C. The theme of the book, why do good people suffer, fits any century. Most of the book is in the form of a long debate of that question. The first two chapters set the stage. The author describes Job as a very rich and deeply religious man. Following this description there is a staff meeting in heaven. Satan is on the staff and present for the meeting. In this book Satan is not yet the malignant figure of later Jewish and Christian thought. He is instead a private investigator, perhaps a prosecuting attorney looking for work, and not minding at all trying to lead his victim into a form of entrapment. 

In the staff meeting God boasts about the goodness of Job. Satan suggests that if Job would lose wealth and family, he would turn against God. God says, “O.K., let’s try it.” Job lost everything, but as God had assured Satan, Job remained loyal to God. In a second meeting God teases Satan with the fact that Job remained loyal. Satan suggests another try. With God’s permission he causes Job to be covered with ulcers. Result: “Job did not utter a sinful word,” though he did speak unkindly to Mrs. Job. Word gets out about Job’s misfortune. Three of his friends come on stage, later joined by a fourth, to attempt to find some secret sin that brought Job’s disaster as a divine punishment. But no sin could be found. The debate therefore does not solve the question of why good people suffer. In today’s reading God appears to Job in a storm. He batters Job with unanswerable questions. The point is this: Job has no right to question God’s role in the disasters which he suffered. Job admits his ignorance. He cannot answer any of God’s questions. His reply to God: “I retract all that I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job gets a new family and gets back all his wealth doubled. The debated question remains unanswered. St. Paul attempts an answer in Colossians 1:24 and Romans 8:17-18.

The connection between the reading from Job and today’s gospel is the storm in which God appears to Job and implies that he (God) controls the sea. In the gospel Jesus controls the chaos of the sea. The uproar of the sea and God’s control of it is also a theme of Ps. 107, today’s Response Psalm. Like the disciples in the gospel, the psalmist describes those caught in the storm on the sea. “They cried to the Lord in their distress. From their dangers he rescued them. He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze, and the billows of the sea were stilled. He brought them to their desired haven.” The people respond, “Give thanks to the Lord, his love is everlasting.”

2 Corinthians is a collection of several letters of St. Paul. One theme is an intense defense against critics of his status as a real apostle. In today’s reading he echoes the prophet Jeremiah, who becauses of criticism tried not to speak the word of the Lord, but could not resist. Paul writes, “The love of Christ impels us.” Then he reverts to a previous discussion about whether it is better to die and be with the Lord or continue to live for the sake of his ‘parishioners.’ He switches again to his defense. All knew Paul had been a brutal persecutor of Christians. He is now a changed man. “If we once knew Christ according to the flesh, we know him so no longer. Whoever is in Christ is a new creation. Behold, new things have come!”

Mark comes to the end of a collection of Jesus’ parables addressed to the crowd and explained privately to the disciples. Evening had come. Jesus and Co. were on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus said, “Let’s cross over to the other side.” The northeast shore was not within the traditional boundaries of the Holy Land, yet Jesus will work a miracle there. An example of catechetical geography. By showing Jesus reaching out across traditional boundaries into Gentile lands, Mark justifies the later mission to the Gentiles. The disciples took Jesus into their boat “just as he was.” There were other boats with them. A strong windstorm arose, always a hazard on inland seas. Jesus was fast asleep in the boat, his head on a cushion. The frightened disciples rudely awaken him, “Is it no concern of yours that we are perishing?” Jesus ignores their rude question. He rebuked the wind and commanded the sea, “Be still! Muzzle yourself!” It is an exorcism, using the same verb form Jesus used to command silence to a demon in Mark 1:25. Mark also shows Jesus in a role only God plays in the Old Testament, as in today’s Response Psalm.

Jesus was dealing with demonic powers in the chaos of wind and sea. Besides the background to this episode in our first reading and Response Psalm, Psalm 89:9 says of God, “You rule the raging of the sea. When its waves rise up, you quiet them.” Psalm 65:7, “You still the roaring of the sea, the roaring of its waves . . . .” The attribution to Jesus of powers attributed only to God in the Old Testament is a confirmation of what Mark wrote at the beginning of his gospel, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The disciples are unaware of Jesus’ divine identity. Clueless as usual, “They were afraid with great fear, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?’” Jesus had not responded to their earlier rude question. Now it was his turn. “Why are you cowards? How do you not have faith?” Not only does this miracle demonstrate Jesus’ divine authority over evil and over nature, it also validates what he taught in the preceding parables. Jesus said to his critics in John 10:37-38, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me, but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works . . . .”