12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Fr. Joseph Levine; June 20, 2021
Readings: Job 38:1,8-11; Psalm 107:23-26,28-31; 2 Cor 5:14-17; Mk 4:35-41

The modern imagination is very much shaped by the modern scientific view of the world, but the scientific view sees a world stripped of all inherent meaning. The scientific view shows us the mechanics of the universe, the inner workings, the gears. It is like explaining a movie by describing how the projector works. The biblical view shows us the universe we see, as the creation of God, together with its meaning; it shows us the universe as a ‘word’ that God speaks to us.

The Bible shows us four great regions of creation in relation to man, created in God’s image: the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the netherworld “under the earth”. The difference between ‘up’ and ‘down’ is essential for the meaning. Neither is it foreign to our human instinct, even in the midst of the scientific world. We still understand ‘lift up your hearts’, while we do not want to feel ‘down in the dumps’.

So, the visible heavens, above us, are not so much the dwelling place of God and his angels, as the visible symbol and representation that directs us above themselves to those higher natures. The netherworld, under the earth, where the dead are buried, becomes the visible representation of the realm of the dead and the domain of the devil. The earth of course is the actual domain of man himself. We are meant to live upon the solid ground, but that also tells us that we need stability, order, and structure in our life.

How about the sea? In biblical times the visible sea was seen to represent primordial chaos. Among the pagan nations outside of Israel, this chaos was seen as distinct from and independent of the realm of the ‘gods’. The typical ‘creation’ myth of the ancient near east tells the story of how some supreme ‘god’, one among many, vanquishes the sea and forms the habitable earth and all that lives there from the body of the great sea monster.

Actually, this sort of myth does not tell the story of creation at all because true creation does not presuppose some primordial chaos. Rather, this is a story of a battle between order and chaos, in which order is established in the midst of chaos and always threatened by it. That is a very human perspective because human life, both individually and socially, often appears as a never-ending struggle to establish order in the midst of chaos. If you do not maintain your house, it will fall apart. The farmer clears a forest, plants a field, then prays that neither hail nor drought destroy his crop.

The Bible, however, gives us a divine perspective, showing us God, the only true God, who creates the heaven and earth, all things, out of nothing, that is presupposing no other pre-existing thing, except himself. Nor does he create out of himself as though he were to cut off a part or project a part of himself and fashion that into the universe. Rather, conceiving in his divine mind the whole of the universe, both form and matter, God calls everything into existence by the word of his command. In the words of the Psalmist: He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth. (Ps 33:9)

So also, God created the visible sea, but he created the sea in such a fashion that its position in relation to the earth, the domain of man, made it to be a fit symbol for the forces of evil in rebellion against God; since the forces of evil, the diabolic realm, are unable to assail God directly, they attack his image in man. As the sea was created by God, so also the devil was created by God.

This leads us to our 1st reading from the Book of Job and the words that God directs to the sea: Thus far shall you come but no farther and here shall your proud waves be stilled.

Job, the man, is unable to give this command to the sea, but God is. There are three things to observe here

First is the primacy of God’s providence: evil is allowed by God but only within a set limit determined by his providence. We do not know that limit; we do not know at what point God will command, “Thus far and no farther”, rather we must learn to trust God.

As St. Paul writes: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Cor 10:13)

Here the word temptation refers to every kind of trial and helps us understand the proper meaning of the Lord’s prayer, Lead us not into temptation. To be led into temptation would mean to enter in so deeply, as it were, as to be completely surrounded, without any ‘way of escape’, and so unable to endure it. When we say this prayer we are effectively asking God to put a limit on evil, leaving us an ‘escape’ from temptation.

The Psalmist uses the image of the sea, crying out: Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold. (Ps 69:1-2) Yet, so long as he is still able to cry out to God, he has not succumbed to the trial; the waters may have risen to his neck, but they have gone no farther. So long as the neck remains connected to the head, who his Christ himself, the faithful soul will be saved.

That leads to the next point: the presence of evil brings us face to face with our human limitation and need for God.

In today’s Psalm we heard that the hearts of the sailors at sea melted away from fear in the face of the storm; a line that comes shortly after was skipped over: all their wisdom perished.

We do not have, in ourselves as human beings, the power to overcome evil. If we are truly honest in the face of evil, then we will realize that we need a Savior and that only God can save us.

That means that all merely human attempts to establish justice (and this is the history of the modern world at its best) are doomed; in the end they do more harm than good. Chaos proves stronger than merely human efforts to establish order.

Third: What is not in human power is in the power of God; he can and does put a limit on evil. Not the limit we want, but the limit that he knows will be for the good.

St. Paul tells us: We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Rm 8:28-29)

That leads us to today’s 2nd reading. St. Paul writes, From now on we regard no one according to the flesh.

When we evaluate matters according to the flesh, when we judge according to the flesh, we judge from the perspective of this passing world, worldly goals, and worldly goods. From that perspective, in the last analysis, evil will seem to have the upper hand. For that reason also it will seem necessary to use evil to fight evil.

That is not God’s way. Rather he is concerned to fashion men to be conformed to the image of his Son. Evil is powerless against this work of God and the limit God places on evil is in relation to God’s work of shaping those who will accept it according to the image of his Son.

That is the new creation of which St. Paul speaks today; that is the reality that begins in us through the life of grace that we first received in baptism. If we are living in the grace of God, then Christ is in the boat with us and we have calm in the midst of the storm; we have nothing to fear, even if he does not wake up and rebuke the wind and the waves.

The love of Christ impels us. Christ died and rose again from the dead that we might die to the concerns of this world and live for him in the life of grace. Everything we do in this world, for love of Christ, for ourselves or others, finally should have in view the Kingdom of God’s grace, the new creation. Putting our trust in God we need to learn to collaborate with his providence letting him form us and others according to the image of his Son.

Share

Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.