Tests of faith tie together the three readings for the Fifth Sunday of Pentecost (Job 38:1-11, 2 Cor 6:1-13 and Mark 4:35-41).
Most of the Book of Job is a dialogue about why there is so much evil in Job’s life. In the first thirty-seven chapters most of the dialogue addresses the absence of God. In chapter 38, God takes over.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
The whirlwind is a context for a divine appearance. Consider Ezekiel 1:4 which says, as I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber. Or recall the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:2: suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.
The phrase who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge emphasizes the complete lack of understanding.
Then God asked Job a set of rhetorical questions.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?— when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?
While Job had questioned where God was in his life, God replied with a series of queries that reveal his presence from the beginning of time. God’s questions demonstrate his grandeur and his everlasting nature, and reinforce Job’s faith in him.
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians addressed the question of who sent Paul. Some Corinthians doubted that he was an authentic apostle of Christ. More significantly, they questioned his message. They were more interested in the glory and rewards of heaven than in living out the message of the cross and self-sacrifice. To these challenges Paul responds with an exhortation and the example of his own life.
… we urge you not to accept the grace of God in vain.
Quoting from Isaiah 49:8 Paul then says, For he (God) says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation!
…as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Like Job and Jesus before him, Paul wrote that even though he had suffered all these pains he knew that God was with him. Paul argued that his faithfulness during these calamities and hardshipscaused God to rejoice. While he was tested
Mark’s whole gospel addresses the question that the apostles ask at the end of the passage for Sunday.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “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?”
The gospel opens on the day in which Jesus taught his disciples in parables… immediately before this morning’s gospel he had told the story of the sower and the seed and a second on the mustard seed, that we heard last week. Their term teacherreflects how his disciples had come to know from his teaching in parables.
At least four experienced fishermen/sailors with him. They would have been in storms before, so for them to be afraid indicates that the storm was particularly severe. Despite this Jesus was asleep, in contrast with the storm around him. They trusted him in this dangerous time so they woke him.
Interestingly, his command, Peace! Be stillor silenceare the same commands that Jesus uses with the daemon in Mark 1:25. Then he asks the disciples, Why are you afraid?Have you still nofaith? These are two fundamental questions in Mark’s gospel, (which ends with the fearful women at the tomb).
Mark’s concluding phrase, Who is this is the question that Mark addresses often with his stories of teaching and miracles.
- God doesn’t answer Job directly in his response. Instead God asks him a series of rhetorical questions that show that he has always been present. When we look around us today at the political upheavals, wars, environmental disasters do we feel God’s absence? What are the signs that we see that God is with us?
- When Paul lists his afflictions he seems to be bragging about how much he has endured for the gospel. Yet he used these as an example of faith that remained unbroken. Who do you know who has endured a lot yet remains faithful? Do you respect this person?
- In Mark’s gospel the storm a test of faith. Jesus’ message seemed to he that, as long as he was with them, they had nothing to fear. What are the storms in your life that test your faith about God’s presence?