Sunday, 21 June 2009

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Today, Mark’s Gospel transports us from the province of parables into the territory of miracles. Between Mk 4:35 and Mk 5:43, we have four miracles; the first of these miracles is the calming of the storm. The wind and sea are forces of evil in biblical terms. Thus, calming the storm is an exercise of divine power as we hear in the first reading. But, wind and sea could also symbolise the trials and tribulations which Christians undergo and from which only God alone can deliver. As the earliest of the four Gospels to be written, the account of Jesus calming the storm was instructive for the early Christians because it reflected their post-Easter experience. The early Christians were persecuted and as they scattered, they fled under the impression that the Lord had abandoned them.

Thus, wind and water, either as forces of evil or as trials and tribulations are reminders that the Lord is in charge. And so, whatever difficulties we might experience and when we are most afraid, we are invited to have faith in Him. In other words, trials and tribulations give us the chance to place our trust in God.

To deepen our understanding of faith as trusting in God, we take some moments to reflect. Faith, that is, to trust in God, is difficult because we are afraid to let go. We want to be in control. This need to be in control actually reflects man’s aspiration to be the master of his destiny. Thus, to criticise the phenomenon of individualism as selfish would be to miss the point because individualism, if understood as the exercise of one’s freedom, is but the attempt to fulfil man’s aspiration or desire for self-determination. Thus, one can interpret Adam and Eve’s wilfulness from the perspective of this aspiration. They were not simply “disobedient”. Instead, what went wrong was when they chose absolute freedom as the expression of self-determination. In other words, original sin may be explained as self-determination through the exercise of absolute freedom.

But, the path to self-determination is never free from God’s loving restraint. Thus, faith does not violate our freedom but instead faith allows one to trust that God’s care and concern (or God’s will) will never diminish man’s aspiration; an aspiration which was first placed there by God Himself. The definition of the word Islam helps us to understand how the aspiration of man fits into the will of God. Here, I am not interested in how people practise Islam. Instead, I am interested in the definition or concept. If Islam means submission, then submission is possible because the will of God never diminishes a person.

Many of us fear that submitting to God’s will will ultimately annihilate us. Or God’s will will take away our freedom. Why? Why are we afraid to trust God? Hidden behind our fear is this: that God will thwart our desires. If you like, God is the strict parent who will spoil our fun. This fear is further reinforced by our experience. How so? Well, Murphy’s Law might just explain it. Often enough, when things are going our way, just when everything is falling into place, we find that something has to go wrong. No? We’ve solved a financial problem, then a health problem strikes. Some of us have the misfortune of a streak of bad luck.

But misfortunate, bad luck, trials and tribulations are not signs of God’s displeasure or sadistic pleasure in testing us. They happen as often they do because of the randomness of life—like being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes we by our behaviour may be the cause of our misfortune... But more than anything else, bad luck is just bad luck. Moreover, it is a human trait to complain and harp on our misfortune but never enough to thank God. Perhaps, free from the misconception that bad luck, misfortune, trials or tribulations are punishments, we may appreciate what faith must entail.

What does faith in God mean? Now, hidden within the idea of having faith is that, faith is faith only when it is tested. Otherwise, it is easy to delude ourselves that we have faith. When we are in control, we can’t really be sure that we have faith. Being in control gives us a sense of well-being because we move in a predictable and familiar world. We do not really need God even if we are convinced that we trust God. When everything is going our way, God’s usefulness is perhaps restricted to validating our sense of control.

Thus, our aspiration for self-determination is not an exercise of absolute freedom but instead, it is an exercise of deep faith in God. Otherwise, to say that one has faith is rather a cosmetic exercise for many will say they have faith. But, in truth, they do not. Trusting God is not an exercise of the future but rather the present. So, life, especially daily life, is the crucible of true faith because if we have faith, true faith, then be ready to be tested. The experience of Jesus commanding the elements of wind and water shows us that He can be trusted most especially when we find ourselves in trouble. Trials and tribulations are not punishments but are chances to place our trust in Jesus. And the irony is that only when we cede control over to Jesus will the storms of life be ever conquered. The more we try to control, the less control we have over the storm of trials and tribulations. Some of us try to “control” the storms by going to local shamans or bomohs. Maybe you are too sophisticated; perhaps, you consult a higher class of bomoh: Lilian of the Fung Shui expertise. We seek the help of these elements. What is relevant to us especially when we listen to this Lilian is that in Cantonese, wind is “fung” and water is “shui”. Jesus shows us who the Lord of “fung shui” is. Brothers and sisters, faith means giving to God the need to control our destiny because Jesus has shown us that those who trust Him will never be confounded.