SLEEPING ON THE JOB

This homily (on 2 Samuel 12:1-7A, 10-17 and Mark 4:35-41) was delivered on 01 February 2014.

Storm at Sea by Robert Salmon

Whenever I come across a Gospel story that’s recounted in several of the gospels, the biblical scholar wannabe in me sits up and pays more attention than usual. What we have just heard today, “the Storm at Sea,” is one such story. It is reported in all three synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Interestingly, all three versions include one apparently unnecessary detail–namely, the Lord sleeping in the boat at the height of the storm–although Mark, usually the least elaborate of the evangelists, adds a charming detail about Jesus asleep on a cushion.

So I was thinking about this detail of Jesus sleeping in that storm-tossed boat. What could be a message we could take away from that story today?

Maybe it has to do with the very human tendency to think of God sometimes as “sleeping on the job.” The disciples, confronted with a strong storm that threatened to capsize their fishing boat, chides the Lord: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Even if we may not have actually dared to say similar words to the Lord, we have felt that way. We know the feeling! When things go wrong, when there’s a storm at our sea, we can’t help but wonder why the Lord isn’t doing something about it. We read the news, and morning after morning, our collective heart sinks in dismay as we learn about how nature destroys lives and properties–and worse, about how people harm other people especially the innocent and helpless. We want to tell the Lord: “Where are you? What are you doing? Do you not care?”

The truth is, often we misconstrue God’s silence as absence, and like the disciples, we can’t help but feel that he’s sleeping on the job. In the Gospel, the Lord wakes up and with just one word, stills the storm. But then afterwards he turns around to his disciples, still recovering from having witnessed the miracle, and chides them for having little faith.

It’s a reminder for us to keep faith, to believe that the Lord is active and very much present in our lives and in the world even amidst the tossing and turmoil.  But this human penchant for mistaking God’s silence for absence and inactivity  isn’t just limited to the times when we want him around, or when we need him to be watching over us. We also commit this same mistake of suspecting that God’s sleeping on the job when we don’t want him around, when we don’t want him to be watching us.

The story of King David illustrates this. Despite his special and intimate relationship with God, somehow David managed to convince himself that God wasn’t going to be around to witness his double sin of adultery and murder. What was he thinking when he lusted after Bathsheba, the beautiful wife of Uriah the Hittite? And when she sent word that she was pregnant, what was he thinking when he devised all these elaborate schemes to trick her husband to sleep with her so that he could be deceived into thinking that the child she bore was his? And finally, when all that didn’t work, what was David thinking when he came up with an equally elaborate plan to get Uriah killed in battle?

King David and the Prophet Nathan by John Brown

We know the answer. He wasn’t thinking just as we don’t think when we ourselves are confronted and overcome with temptations. Like David, we make ourselves believe that God somehow does not see, that maybe God will be sleeping on his job. In the First Reading today, through a powerful parable from the prophet Nathan, David gets his much-needed wake-up call. It is he, after all, not God, who has been sleeping on the job.

So I think today’s readings are an invitation for all of us to keep the faith that God is always around despite his apparent silence, that God watches over us and watches us whether we want him to or not. And the times when we are tempted to believe that he is sleeping on the job, it is not God but we ourselves who need to wake up and open our eyes.

 

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