Homily for the 12th Sunday of the Year

12th Sunday of the Year B (2024)

Famed for his patience and suffering, Job wasn’t that patient. Who would have been under those horrifying circumstances?

A rich man, Job suddenly lost his flocks of thousands, all ten of his children, and eventually his health. Then as he sat scraping his oozing boils, his wife told him to curse God and die. If that wasn’t enough to depress him, Zophar, one of his best friends who came to comfort him, offered this critique, “God is doubtless punishing you far less than you deserve”!

With stress like that, pursuing patience wasn’t at the top of Joe’s list. He wanted justice and he had a few choice words for God about it. “Why won’t you leave me alone even for a moment? What have I done to you, oh watcher of all humanity? Why have you made me your target?” What unfolds is a remarkably insightful debate about human suffering.

As the story goes, God tells Satan that Job is the finest man on earth. Satan says it’s no wonder given how God has blessed him with prosperity. “Take away everything he has”, Satan says, “and he will surely curse you to your face!” So God allowed Satan to test Job’s faith. Suddenly messengers started arriving at Job’s home all with tragic news. Raiders stole the oxen and donkeys and killed the workers. Fire killed the sheep and shepherds. Other Raiders stole the camels and killed the herders. A wind toppled the house crushing all of his children. “The Lord gave me everything I had and the Lord has taken it away”, Job said, “Praise the name of the Lord!” Satan got permission to extend the suffering and he struck Job with boils from head to toe.

Three of Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar arrived to console him. For a full week they sat with him in silence which was the only smart thing they did. Once they started talking, they only inflated Job’s misery with their hot air. The problem was that in the ancient times people tended to think that the gods rewarded good people with prosperity and punished bad people with disasters, poverty, and sickness. So, it was clear to Job’s friends that he had done something to deserve his suffering. Eliphaz says “My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same”. Bildad said “Does the almighty twist what is right? Your children obviously sinned against him so their punishment was well deserved.” Zophar said “If only you would prepare your heart and lift up your hands to him in prayer. Get rid of your sins !” Job’s response to them all was “What miserable comforters you are!”

In today’s First Reading, we hear God finally responding to this ordeal. And God had a true few choice words of his own for everyone who thinks they know so much. That includes Job’s comforters, a latecomer named Elihu, and especially Job himself. Speaking from a whirlwind, the Lord asked a long string of questions that humans couldn’t possibly answer. Questions like: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me if you know so much”;  “Can you hold back the movements of the stars?”.

Job got the point: There’s a limit to human understanding. But the end of understanding can be the beginning of faith in God. Job replied, “I take back everything I said and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance”. God blessed Job with 10 more children and larger flocks: 14,000 sheep 6000 camels 1000 teams of oxen and 1000 donkeys.

How often do we find ourselves in Job’s position? Times when fear, doubt, suffering, and uncertainty threaten to overwhelm us? The storms may come in various forms—illness, financial struggles, relationship difficulties, or spiritual crises. In these moments, our faith is tested. And, so often, the advice, cliches of non-wisdom we often receive from well-intentioned people around us, is as helpful and meaningless as that of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.

In today’s Gospel passage, we encounter the disciples of Jesus caught in the midst of a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee. The winds were strong, the waves crashing against the boat, and fear gripped their hearts. In their distress, they turn to Jesus, who was peacefully sleeping in the stern of the boat. They wake Him, crying out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). Their presumption is that God was absent. Do we often feel that God is sleeping while we are praying?

Notice Jesus’ response to His disciples’ plea: He rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” (Mark 4:39). Immediately, the wind ceases, and there is a great calm. Jesus then questions His disciples, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” (Mark 4:40). Here, we see that faith is not simply about believing in God’s existence or His power to perform miracles. Faith is about trusting in God’s providential care even amidst the storms of life. It is about surrendering ourselves completely to His will, confident that He is with us always, guiding and protecting us. And also, in recognizing the limited perspective that we have as temporal, human beings.

When Jesus rebukes the wind, the disciples immediately forget the fear that they had experienced only moments before. Suddenly their minds are hyper-focused on the greater reality of the presence of God in their midst. The miracle is not only to calm the storm of the weather, but to calm the storm of fear in the minds of his disciples – the storm which clouded their vision and distracted them from taking rest in his presence.

When faced with trials, our immediate instinct may be to focus solely on our immediate needs—safety, relief, answers. But today’s readings invite us to take a step back and reflect. They remind us to look back on past storms in our lives and remember how God has brought us through them. Each storm we weathered became a testament to God’s faithfulness and love, and we learnt to grow in virtue.

We are also encouraged to seek out Jesus in the midst of our storms. Where do we find His quiet abiding presence? Sometimes, amidst the chaos of life, His presence may seem silent or distant. Yet, He assures us that He is always near. He is present in the sacraments, where His grace strengthens and sustains us. He is present in the Scriptures, where His Word speaks directly to our hearts, offering comfort and guidance. He is present in the quiet moments of contemplation and prayer, where we can rest in His love and find peace in His presence.