The nation was shocked last week at the brutal attack and death of a young Melbourne comedian walking through a park in Carlton on her way home from the city. The nation was shocked she was just 900 metres from home. But whether she was 900 metres or 900 feet from home the tragic circumstances are just as significant. And the fact that she was walking through the park in the early hours of the morning does not add or detract from the tragic circumstances. The reality is that we live in a world where tragedy can hit us wherever we are, whoever we are – young, old, male or female. The circumstances do not change the tragic nature of the event. Some say she shouldn’t have been walking that time of night alone in the park. But people are attacked in their homes – in the shopping centre – in their car. Tragedy does not discriminate. They are the young – they are the elderly. When it comes to tragedy, there is, to quote St. Paul, neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female. And when tragedy happens and we mourn the loss of someone we know and love it raises many questions for us including “where was God”. Why didn’t God prevent this from happening?
We hear that question today from the frightened disciples: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Where was Jesus while they were battling a raging storm that was swamping their boat? In the stern of the boat, asleep on a cushion; maybe that’s how it seems to be for you when you’re going through some difficult time – that God is asleep when you need him the most. The world around us rages with natural disasters – volcanoes in Hawaii and other places – wildfires – effects of climate change. The world around us rages with human influenced disasters – crime, terrorism, drugs, murder. The world around us rages with things that are out of our control – accidents, sickness, death. It doesn’t matter how these tragic circumstances come or to whom they come, they can sometimes make us question what God is doing in the world. To many it has left them with the conclusion that either God is unable to help us or God is unwilling to help us. Because if God could help and was willing to help then why would he allow the tragic circumstances to happen. But let’s remember in our Gospel reading a few things. First, Jesus was with the disciples in the boat. He didn’t send them across the sea while he stayed in safety on the shore. And neither does Jesus take himself away from you when you’re going through a time of difficulty. He promised: I am with you always till the end of the age. Certainly it might seem like we’re going through things alone at times but as St Paul discovered during the times of his suffering that the power of Christ was resting upon him.
The 2nd thing we learn from the boat encounter is that Jesus responds to their cries for help. While the storm rages around the disciples causing them to fear, it has no effect on Jesus who is able to weather the fiercest of storms. That doesn’t mean that Jesus does feel our suffering but rather he is able to be our source of comfort as the book of Hebrews says: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. Because he did not sin he can protect us from the most tragic of events – eternal death and that means that tragedies are limited to this lifetime only and as Christians that means that we can look beyond our tragic circumstances to a new eternal life where there will be no more suffering and death.
The final part of this boat and storm encounter is Jesus’ authority. At his command the wind and the waves cease. The disciples rightly claim: Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Even though it looks at times that the world is out of control – Jesus remains in control. Even though at times it seems that Jesus is unable or unwilling to help, he is our Lord who is riding the waves with us. Jesus’ complete authority is displayed in this scene that will be affirmed, firstly by Jesus when he says in the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”. And then later affirmed by St Paul when he says: ‘God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’
As we journey, like the disciples, to the “other side” we’re going to face tragedies at various times. Despite all the precautions and safety procedures we undertake, our world does not discriminate where the next tragedy takes place. It has nothing to do with whether Jesus is unwilling or unable to help or prevent. It is sadly a result of our eyes being opened to knowing good and evil. But we are assured that in the new life that Jesus has won and prepared for us as the book of Revelation assures us – Nothing evil will be allowed to enter.
Life is a journey to the other side. In our Gospel reading we are assured that Jesus is with us until we arrive. His presence does not guarantee a smooth sailing but it does assure us we’ll reach our destination. No matter how rough the sea gets Jesus says: I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. It is sad when life ends tragically. It’s sad when life ends naturally at the end of life. But regardless of how life ends we are assured that death is the beginning of new life in heaven where no evil will be able to enter. The final lesson we learn from the disciples is that we those storms come we go to Jesus who promises: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though they may die, they shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”