The Bible has lots of great little throw away lines, little bits of information or humor that illuminate the story, or more often, shed a little light on the story teller. St. Mark wasn’t the funniest of the Gospel writers, but today’s reading from Mark gives us the line “He meant to pass by them.” Read with all seriousness, like we so often do in church, it’s not that funny, but take another look: the disciples were in their (probably rented) boat, struggling to make any headway in a storm, the waves crashing in, and Jesus was just walking along; Jesus was just going to wave and smile, maybe tell them that He’ll meet them on the other side.
Mark seemed to think that little detail was funny, though the disciples might have disagreed. The disciples were, as we mentioned, in a little boat in a big storm, and they were not happy about it. They were, as it were, in the midst of death: not only did Jews usually associate the water with death, but they were still mourning the death of a very important figure in their lives, John the Baptist, who had, before he was beheaded by Herod, managed to point them in the direction of Jesus in the first place. Death was quite literally all around, and so when they spotted Jesus walking on the water, they were further terrified, they just assumed He was a ghost. The Lord of life was within reach, He was telling them that He was there, to have no fear, but all they could see was death.
Nothing’s changed. Uncertainty, terror, and death still stalks us; we are, way to often, stuck struggling against the storm in what feels like a very unstable boat. America woke up two Friday’s ago only to be confronted with uncertainty, terror, and death. We all know the story of the massacre in Aurora: seventy people were shot, twelve dead; in a place people go to get a little escape from the real world, the real world intruded in the form of a lonely, deranged psychopath who brought terror and death to those inside, and uncertainty, anger, and sadness to an entire nation. It could seem like God was absent from that theater that night, that Jesus, if He had been within reach, had just walked on by.
Of course, we know that is not true. We know that Jesus isn’t only not absent when things go awry, but rather that when life goes crooked, when the boat is about to tip, that’s when He is most likely to be within reach. Jesus was there alright, He was there in the prayers of the scared and the dying, in the hearts of the faithful and the voices of the police and paramedics. His sacrifice was evident in the actions of the heroes of that night. In the footsteps of the Lord who gave up His Body and Blood for the salvation of the world, Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn and Alex Teves used their bodies to shield their girlfriends from the onslaught. All three of them, despite the smoke, the noise, and the confusion, in the midst of things they could not understand, all three of them pushed their girlfriends to the floor and put themselves between their girlfriends and death.
Too many have used Aurora as a set up for their own pet causes, from both the left and the right. Politicians, bloggers, news correspondents, even priests have used the deaths of a dozen people and the wounds of many more to forward themselves and their idea of righteousness. I guess I shouldn’t have expected any less or any more, but it’s disheartening anyway.
So what are Christians to do in the face of horror? Should we not use things like the Aurora massacre to make vital changes to how we live our lives together in our communities and our nation? Of course we should, eventually. But first, Christians respond to horror by running into the horror. We first care for the victims, we bury the dead, we grieve with sorrowful and console the disconsolate. Christians, first and foremost, are to be present, present to fight the horror with the weapons God has given us, with the weapons of prayer and fasting, with the Mass and with devotions, with giving sacrificially of our time and resources. When the horror of events like the massacre in Aurora have past, when the healing begins and when faith is renewed and restored, then we look for the wisdom to prevent such horrors from happening again.
But until that time when the horrors cease, when the only sword drawn is the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love, we must face the times we are in with a reasonable and holy hope, knowing that even as we rail against the tide with death all around us, when we look for Jesus He will be there; when we call out to Him terrified of perishing He will come to us, saying “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”