Ordinary Time is that “green season” of the Church year that steps back and gives us a broad view of Jesus. The special seasons of the year—Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter—focus upon key events in Jesus’ earthly life. But the “green season” of Ordinary Time considers the three years that Jesus spent in public ministry: travelling throughout the Holy Land amongst ordinary folks, preaching and working miracles.
On the Sundays of Ordinary Time, the Gospel Readings move in order through one of the first three Gospel accounts. This year focuses upon St. Mark’s account of the Gospel. So last Sunday, the Gospel Reading was Mark 4:26-34. This Sunday’s is Mark 4:35-41. Next Sunday’s is Mark 5:21-43. We march, Sunday by Sunday, through St. Mark’s account of the Gospel.
But what about the First and Second Readings at Sunday Mass? The Second Reading runs on its own track, independently of the day’s Gospel Reading. However, the First Reading almost always ties closely to the day’s Gospel Reading. But the First Reading, in order to tie to the Gospel Reading, jumps from one book of the Bible to another from Sunday to Sunday. For example, last Sunday’s First Reading was from the Book of Ezekiel. This Sunday’s is from the Book of Job. Next Sunday’s is from the Book of Wisdom.
This background is helpful not just for understanding the “why?” and “wherefore?” of the Scriptures we hear each Sunday at Mass. The Church encourages her children during the week to have at home their own hand missals (like a missalette, but for the whole year). Of course, in the digital age each day’s Scriptures are available online. In fact, on the American Bishops’ website each day’s Scripture readings are accompanied by a podcast version of the day’s Scriptures so that you can listen to the Scriptures as you drive, or eat a meal, or sit in your prayer spot at home. The web address to find these is on the front page of today’s bulletin.
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That being said, consider today’s First Reading from the Book of Job. This book is 42 chapters long, and today’s First Reading is from Chapter 38, so it’s clearly part of the conclusion of the story of Job. Nonetheless, to reflect meaningfully upon the First Reading, you have to know the entire story of Job.
In Western culture, you’ll hear the phrase “the patience of Job”. Some might state that the chief point of the Book of Job is his example of patience, which each of us ought to imitate. Certainly Job had many reasons not to be patient. At the start of the Book of Job, the devil strikes Job by having his livestock raided and killed, and all of his children killed. The devil is trying to get Job to curse God because of his suffering, but Job refuses to do so.
Then the devil strikes Job with boils from his feet to his head. Job still will not curse God, though he does question why he was ever born. Job has three friends who try to console him by trying to convince him that his suffering is a punishment for Job’s wrongdoing. Job rejects his friends’ claims, and challenges God to explain the reason for his suffering. That’s where today’s First Reading enters: it only offers four verses of God speaking to Job “out of the storm”. Did you notice that phrase in today’s First Reading, and how it connects to today’s Gospel Reading, where Jesus sleeps in the boat in the middle of a storm?
In turn, these two Scripture readings are like mirrors. You are meant to see your self—your life—in each of these two Scripture readings. These two Scripture readings, along with your life, are meant to strike a chord. Just like on a keyboard, three notes played at the same time can form a chord, so also the First Reading, the Gospel Reading, and your life, form a chord: bringing about harmony.
Of course, that might seem like a poor analogy, because today’s First and Gospel Readings concern just the opposite: discord. In fact, some English translations of the First Reading, instead of stating that God speaks to Job “out of the storm”, state that God speaks “out of the whirlwind”. “Whirlwind” suggests something like a tornado: not just a “storm”, but a force of nature that destroys everything in its path.
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Stop here to consider an aside. Consider two different ways to relate to our First and Gospel Readings; in fact, two different ways to reflect upon Scripture in general.
The first way is to apply the scriptures to your own life. Maybe that’s easy where today’s scriptures are concerned, because maybe your life—right now—resembles a storm or even a whirlwind.
But what if your life right now is very peaceful? What if this current year of your life on earth is one of the best years you’ve ever had: no one among your family or friends is seriously ill; no serious money problems; and no problems with work? In that case, how do you listen to today’s scriptures? Or do you just ignore them?
If a given day’s Scriptures don’t seem to “apply” to your life on that day, they might describe your life at sometime in the past, or in the future. If they describe your life in the past, then reflecting on the day’s Scriptures might help you wrestle with difficulties that are still unresolved or unaccepted. After all, your past can bear a great weight upon your present.
On the other hand, since you don’t know today whether in your future you will face what’s described in the day’s Scriptures, it’s good to reflect upon them to prepare yourself for something that might well be coming down the pike.
The second way to reflect upon Scripture is for the sake of another person: someone around you. You might well be having one of the best years of your life, but someone around you might be having the worst. Maybe you have a clearer frame of mind, and can help that someone see things more clearly, in part by taking the scriptures, reflecting upon them, and relating them to what that someone is dealing with.
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So given that aside: consider again today’s First and Gospel Readings.
Out of the whirlwind, God responds to Job’s question about suffering. God responds, but He does not answer Job’s question in the way that Job was hoping. God does not explain where suffering comes from, or even if there’s a deeper meaning to it.
God’s response to Job is much like Jesus’ response to the disciples in the boat. The disciples’ cry is perfectly understandable. Their cry is like the prayers that you and I offer when we’re in distress. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” The disciples’ cry is perfectly natural. Yet how does Jesus respond? His response is not perfectly natural. It’s perfectly supernatural. Jesus calls us to be more like Him, and less like our own fearful selves.
Jesus calls us to the virtue of faith, even in the midst of suffering and distress. That’s the first point, but not the key point. The key point is that Jesus is with us—present—in the midst of our suffering and distress.
Two of the four evangelists stress this point when they start their Gospel accounts. St. Matthew, in the first chapter of his Gospel account, speaks about the birth of Jesus by quoting the prophet Isaiah: “‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us’” [Mt 1:23]. St. John, in the first chapter of his Gospel account, speaks about God the Son becoming man in this way: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth”; “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” [Jn 1:14,12].
God is with us. He’s in the boat beaten by the waves. He’s with us to help us make the changes needed amidst the suffering that we’ve inflicted upon ourselves. He’s also with us to help bear the suffering imposed upon us by others, and to pursue justice when that’s needed. He’s with us in all things, and wants to strengthen us in our suffering.
We are the children of God. Yet that truth does not exempt us from suffering. After all, how did the life of Jesus, the Father’s only-begotten Son, end if not in the suffering of His Passion and Crucifixion? God’s love does not exempt us from suffering, but it does assure us of His Presence in its midst.