Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Francis J. Caponi, O.S.A.
Villanova University
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Job 38:1,8-11
Ps 107:23-24, 25-26, 28-29, 30-31
2 Cor 5: 14-17
Mk 4: 35-41

My second-grade teacher, the long-suffering Sr. Edna Marie, said something in religion class which went off in my brain like a bomb: “When you follow Jesus, you discover that the more you give away, the more you have left over.”

Even with a second-grader’s knowledge of fractions, I strongly suspected that when you take away part of something, you have less than when you started. Sr. Edna Marie was wrong! I thought I had caught a nun in a mistake, and when you’re in Catholic grade school, that’s like hitting the trifecta.

This conflict between mathematics and religion set off a series of very messy experiments in our kitchen, involving cups of flour and sugar, pitchers of water, and bowls of salt and seeds and rice. At the end, the kitchen looked like a wrecking ball had swung through, but I had discovered two things. First, in every case, whatever the substance, whether liquid or solid, edible or inedible, the more you took away, the less you had left. Second, I discovered that parents say they like it when their children show curiosity a love for learning, but they really don’t.

The next day, I confronted Sr. Edna Marie with the results of my investigations, and awaited her humble confession of error, and her recommendation that a child as smart as I should skip the rest of second grade. Instead, she laughed, and said, “It’s not a math problem! It’s a paradox.” I had never heard this word before, and, seeing my confusion, she said, “It’s one of those things that doesn’t seem to make sense at first, but the more you think about it, the more you see it’s true. If you have a cup of flour, and you take some away, you do have less flour. But do you think I was talking about flour?”

Her logic was rigorous, and, as always, she was right, although it took me a long time to puzzle it out. Gradually, though, I realized that our faith is chock-full of paradoxes. You can hardly flip a page of Scriptures without finding a statement that appears to be illogical and absurd, but turns out to be the God’s honest truth: a virgin gives birth, a carpenter is the Son of God, a poor preacher riding the colt of a donkey is Israel’s long-expected king, eternal life comes from death on a cross, the more we die to ourselves the more alive we become, God is Three yet One. Many of his countrymen did not recognize Christ, but pagan wise men did. Many of the living did not hear Christ’s call, but Lazarus, dead and buried, heard and came forth.

Today we are presented with one of these Christian paradoxes, one that hits all of us close to home. Christ turns to the howling winds and the raging seas and says, “Stop!”, and the wind and the water obey. Christ turns to us, in the midst of our sins, and says, “Stop!”, but we do not obey. Storms heed the Lord; our hearts do not. This makes no sense. This is a paradox.

What are we, that God commands galaxies to spin and stars to shine, and they obey Him, but He commands us to share our bread with the hungry, yet we remain tight-fisted? Why can Christ say to a demon, “Come out!”, and is instantly obeyed, but he says to us, “Go out, and bring back the lost,” but we stand still?

In today’s reading from the book of Job, God declares that He can do what no one else can: keep the land and the water separate. God says, “Hold back!”, and the mighty waves that could wash away every field and home are stopped. But the wicked desires and evil words and shameful acts that pour forth from our hearts and our mouths and our hands, to these the Lord says, “Hold back! Be pure, be holy, be perfect!”, but the torrent of our sins gushes on.

The Lord blesses bent limbs and they are made straight, he touches blind eyes and there is light, he picks up a few loaves and fish and feeds thousands. The world was made by, through, and for Jesus Christ, and every corner of it obeys him. Yet Christ calls out to us, “Follow me,” and we do not move, or we take a grudging half-step, or we turn and walk away. The Lord of heaven and earth proclaims, “Give, and it will be given to you,” yet we walk past the poor boxes in the church and the poor on the street.

We are sinners, and our hearts hold tempests more violent than any that have swept the seas, and our minds bring forth more cruelty than any clash of nature. In the face of the human storm, Jesus says, “Stop.” But we do not. At his command, winds die down, demons flee, sickness vanishes, the weight of death itself is hurled aside. But we say, “No.”

Thanks be to God that, as Saint Paul proclaims, “whoever is in Christ is a new creation.” The storms that sweep our hearts can be made calm. Christ makes us new because he simply does not give up, he never lets go, he never walks away, he never takes his mercy elsewhere. We never stop sinning, and he never stops loving. He stands in the midst of the storm of our sin, holds out his arms, and shouts, “Quiet! Be still!”

Jesus Christ is a paradox: he is the rock that wears down the storm.

The proof is in this meal. The bread and wine we receive from this altar are the feast of our new creation. Here Christ says to us, “I gave myself up for you. Look on my sacrifice, and let your winds grow slack. See how I died, and let your seas grow smooth. Take this bread and wine and sin no more.” And when we leave, and when we sin again, and when we return to this table, the feast is offered to us again. Week after week, month after month, year after year, we receive the body and blood of Christ. He is wearing down our sins. He is slowing down our storms.

Let us give the Father the thanks He desires: let us hear and obey the words of Christ, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Christ died for sinners, gave this meal to sinners, sacrificed his majesty and power for sinners. Let us hear and obey: “Do this in remembrance of me.” With prayers for that man you hate, eat this bread. With prayers for that woman you despise, take this cup. Furious at someone you work with, angry at a parent, spiteful towards a spouse, cold towards a wayward child, come forward to this altar knowing that you are a storm-filled sinner, and that this is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, who taught and healed and died and rose that the human storm might be hushed and stilled, and we might taste his peace, and we might share his joy. There in the elevated host is the eye of the storm, and when we receive communion, we can take that peace into ourselves.

It sounds absurd, impossible, unthinkable. But with God all things are possible. Virgins give birth, the Cross gives life, sickness is cured and death is vanquished. Sinners eat and drink their salvation.

And thus the old storms begin to pass away.