12th Sunday in Ordinary Time reflection by Paul Nicholson
There is no agreement on human behavior in times of calamity. Some say it brings out the best in us, others say the worst. Others say it brings about both. Maybe these perceptions say more about the observer than the observed. Someone who sees the glass half empty may also tend to note antisocial behavior, violence, and selfishness. On the other hand, a glass-is-half-full observer might notice selflessness, generosity, courage, and compassion. As we move through the fifteenth month of pandemic (surely a calamity by most standards) I wonder what our assessment of behavior might be, collectively, and individually.
I was thinking about this as I read the Gospel story for today. Despite the fact that the disciples were experienced sailors on the sea of Galilee, the storm that overtakes them is clearly a calamity. They are expecting their doom. I wonder what they tried to do on their own, as any sailor worth his salt would do. I wonder too, if they tried to talk Jesus out of crossing to the other side in the first place. Surely they knew the signs well enough to anticipate a violent storm, and take the steps necessary to avoid it. But all of that is purely theoretical now, as the waves break over the boat. In the midst of this fiasco, were any of them annoyed with Jesus, blaming him for risking their necks? I wonder at this because I hear a certain tone, a blaming tone, in the question, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Subtext : you got us into this mess; get us out!
I am familiar with this feeling.
It is a common behavior, I find, to feel resentment toward God (or others) for all the things gone wrong, big or little. I get all caught up in making the world the way I think it should be. When it doesn’t go my way, or more to the point, when it scares me with isolation, loneliness, danger, pain, suffering, you name it, I feel angry, indignant. Add insult to injury when I read,
“He was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.” Like a cat, curled up for an afternoon nap, not a care in the world. It sparks my anger, thinking of all the innocents dead from war, poverty, neglect, greed; where are you God? Don’t you care about this?
Another feeling, though, is working its way through me. It is a kind of loving embrace for that part of me that is frightened. It’s a side of me, like the experienced sailors in the boat with Jesus, that recognizes the limit of knowledge and of human will, and turns to God. I do not think of it as resignation or despair, but of turning toward what seems mysterious about Life and about God, and the way the world unfolds. In a practical sense, I don’t enjoy storms but I sense there is a part they play.