Many of us remember the devastating tsunami that hit Japan a few years ago. In fact, one news source pointed out that San Francisco was effected by it. In addition, we recall that heavy floods inundated the Midwest here in the United States.
These are but two examples of the harmful effects of water. In fact, the Hebrew Scriptures point out that water can have damaging effects. In the creation story, God’s power overcame the troubling waters (Gen. 1:1-2). There is also the story of Noah’s flood which helped explain the theological theme of election (Gen. 6-9).
In the gospel for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mk. 4:35-41), we read of a struggle between Jesus and the detrimental forces of water. It appears to be a battle between good and evil. Jesus and some of his disciple were on a boat crossing the sea of Galilee when the boat was overcome by a heavy storm. The disciples attempt to awaken the sleeping Jesus in order to help them from being capsized.
Then comes the struggle. Jesus, fully awake, stands and faces the storm, and briefly says, “Silence! Shut up.” And the sea was calm again. It was as if the word had power much as in the creation story in Genesis. Good conquered evil.
A second significant element in this gospel account are the questions Jesus poses to his disciples after the sea is quelled. “Why are you fearful? Don’t you yet have faith?” The underlying presupposition for this question is that Jesus is there present “with” them which should have been sufficient.
The presence of Jesus with his disciples should have been enough without asking for a public display of power. This brings us to the ongoing theme of Immanuel (Hebrew for “God with us”) which is a constant reminder that God has become human in the person of Jesus. So, presence can be power. But we have to acknowledge the presence itself. Indeed, the time of Advent often uses the theme of Immanuel to remind us of the birth of Jesus.
One thing helpful to keep in mind is that “temptation” to sin is much like “stormy weather.” That is to say that the possibility to commit sin is precisely what temptation is all about–just like stormy weather. Will it rain or not? The possibility is there.
But belief in the presence of Jesus (the Immanuel promise) with us, is almost a guarantee of calming the storm of temptation. How can we do it? I would like to make a couple of suggestions.
First, affirming the effectiveness of our own Baptism. We have the responsibility of treating others the same way that Jesus did, namely with compassion, understanding, justice, dignity, and forgiveness. Action follows belief. Second, reception of the Eucharist. It is hard to conceive of any other way in which Jesus can be “with” us than this.
Ultimately, the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist can strengthen our belief that Jesus is with us whenever we are faced with temptations (stormy weather), and that faith will assure us that those temptations can be handled directly and effectively (Jesus quelling the storm.)