The Lord addressed Job out of the storm and said:
"Who shut within doors the sea,
when it burst forth from the womb;
when I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling bands?
When I set limits for it
and fastened the bar of its door,
and said: Thus far shall you come but no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stilled!"
O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you. (R./)
For it was you who created my being,
knit me together in my mother's womb.
I thank you for the wonder of my being,
for the wonders of all your creation. (R./)
Already you knew my soul,
my body held no secret from you,
when I was being fashioned in secret
and moulded in the depths of the earth. (R./)
The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer. So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.
When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
St John Chrysostom's Homilies on Matthew were preached in Antioch and show his keen engagement with details of the text. His main objective was promoting morality, so that in dealing with any passage he concludes with an exhortation to some special virtue. Here is part of what he says about today's Gospel. The citation is long, but it is full of keen insights: "Behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, so that the ship was covered with the waves, but he was asleep." Jesus took them with him, not by chance but in order to make them spectators of the miracle that was to take place. For like an excellent trainer, he was anointing them with a view to both objects; as well to be undismayed in dangers, a to be modest in honours. Having sent away the rest, he kept them and lets them be tossed with the tempest; at once correcting this, and disciplining them to bear trials nobly. For while the former miracles were great indeed, this one contained also in it a major kind of teaching, and was a sign like that of old. For this reason he takes with him only the disciples. For as when there was a display of miracles, he also lets the people be present; so when trial and terrors were rising up against him, he takes with him none but the champions of the whole world, whom he was to train. While Matthew merely mentioned that "he was asleep," Luke says that it was "on a pillow;" meaning both his freedom from pride, and to teach us hereby a high degree of austerity."
He goes on to moralise about the disciples' fear: "When the tempest was at its height and the sea raging, they awoke him, saying, "Lord, save us: we perish." But he rebuked them before he rebuked the sea, because as I said, these things were permitted for training purposes and they were an image of the trials that would come to them later. Yes, for after these things again, he often let them fall into serious tempests of misfortune; and Paul also said, "I would not have you ignorant that we were pressed beyond our strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life;" and again, "Who delivered us from so great a death." Indeed their very alarm was a valuable occurrence, that the miracle seemed all the greater and their remembrance of the event be made lasting. Having first expected to be lost, they were saved, and having acknowledged the danger, they learned the greatness of the miracle. So that is why he sleeps: for had he been awake when it happened, they would not have been fearful, or they would not have begged him. Therefore he sleeps, to give occasion for their timidity and make clearer their perception of what was happening."
Chrysostom concludes, "He stretched out no rod, as Moses did, neither did he stretch forth his hands to Heaven, nor did he need any prayer, but as for a master commanding his handmaid, or a Creator his creature, so did he quiet and curb it by word and command only; and all the surge was immediately at an end, and no trace of the disturbance remained. This the evangelist declared saying, "And there was a great calm." And that which had been spoken in praise of the Father, he showed forth again by his works. For it says, "he spoke and the stormy wind ceased." So here likewise, he spoke, and "there was a great calm." And the multitudes who wondered at him; would not have marvelled, had he done it in such manner as did Moses."
In good weather it is lovely to live near the sea, especially when we have such a lovely promenade. Last month I was involved in a blessing of boats ceremony organized by our boat and yacht club. It was my first time in the premises of that club and it brought home to me how many people, including young people, from the area are involved in sailing and boating. We are fortunate to have a relatively sheltered stretch of water between the promenade and the open sea where people can sail reasonably safely. It is a wonderful amenity. Let's hope it is left to the people of the area and to the people of Dublin well into the future. Yet, for all the attractiveness of the sea, we know too that the sea can be treacherous. Even our sheltered stretch of water can sometimes look quite choppy, never mind the open sea beyond the lighthouse. Those who spend time on the sea learn to treat it with respect, because they know it can be a destructive force as well as a benign one.
The Sea of Galilee was a very large inland lake more than a sea, yet, like a sea, it could turn very nasty due to winds suddenly blowing down onto it from the surrounding hills. Something of the fear that a storm at sea can evoke is very well captured in the way that the disciples address Jesus, 'Master, do you not care? We are going down!' They could have been forgiven for thinking that Jesus did not care because, according to the gospel, he was asleep as the storm raged. There is a striking contrast between the relaxed demeanour of Jesus in the storm and the great agitation of the disciples. Jesus was clearly coping with the storm better than they were. Having been rebuked by his disciples, Jesus goes on to rebuke them, 'Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?' They had been with Jesus for some time and had witnessed God powerfully at work in and through him. That experience should have been enough to reassure them that, in spite of the raging storm, all would be well, because Jesus was with them. He had said to them at the beginning of their journey, 'let us cross over to the other side.' They should have trusted that, with Jesus with them, they would make it to the other side, in spite of the storm they were encountering.
The church's reputation has gone through stormy waters in recent times. Unlike the storm on the lake, the storms the church has been battling are, to a large extent, of our leaders' own making, by covering up cases of abuse in order to safeguard reputation. Perhaps, in the midst of these storms some of us may have been tempted to cry out with the disciples in the boat, 'we are going down.' We may be asking, like those disciples, where is the Lord in all of this? Like them, we may find ourselves fearful and losing faith as the church lurches from side to side in the stormy waters.
One of the messages of the storm story is that the Lord remains with the church in the storm. The Lord is present to his fearful and faithless disciples. He may rebuke us as he rebuked those disciples in the boat. However, his presence to us in the storm is not just a rebuking presence. It is ultimately a creative and life-giving presence. Jesus brought calm out of the chaos; he tamed the storm and saw to it that the boat reached the other side. The Lord remains stronger than the storms that threaten the church, whether those storms are self-inflicted or brought on by others or a combination of both.
Like the apostles, we need to trust that Our Lord works to bring his church through the storm to a new place where, as in their case, fear gives way to awe and their rebuking question, 'Master, do you not care?' gives way to amazement, 'Who can this be? Even the winds and sea obey him.' This conviction (that the Lord of the church is stronger than the storm) should not make us complacent. Yet, it keeps us hopeful and faithful, even when so much seems under threat. Today's responsorial psalm assures us that if we cry to the Lord in our need he will rescue us from our distress. Our need and distress can open us up more fully to the Lord's life-giving presence among us.
Saint Paul makes a wonderful statement at the beginning of that second reading, 'the love of Christ overwhelms us.' Another translation would be 'the love of Christ urges us on.' The love of Christ for us was revealed above all in his death on the cross. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans, 'God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.' It is that remarkable love of God in Christ for us that urges us on, even when we are battling against a headwind. It urges us on until we reach what the gospel calls 'the other side', the place towards which the Lord is guiding the church -- the place where he wants us all to be.