June 20, 2021
Sunday between June 19 and June 25 inclusive, if following Trinity Sunday
Proper 7, Ordinary Time 12
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Mark 4:26-34, The Message or Mark 4:26-34, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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Jesus peacefully sleeping at the back of the boat in the midst of a raging storm has gotta be one of the all-time great images. This is what it looks like to trust in God's caring no matter what the circumstances.
The drama of this story hinges on four questions, with a concluding exclamation:
- Teacher, don't you care if we drown?
- Why are you so afraid?
- Do you still have no faith?
- Who is this?
- Even the wind and sea obey him!
A fierce storm has suddenly arisen. The waves are high enough to wash over the side of the boat; filling it with water; and threatening to sink it.
Alarmed and in fear of their lives, the disciples rush to the back of the boat - and find Jesus sleeping! Notice that their understanding of Jesus' sleeping is that he doesn't care if they drown. But Jesus isn't asleep because he doesn't care. He is asleep because he trusts in God's caring.
Just a few short hours ago as they set sail with fair winds and calm seas, the disciples were not anxious about whether Jesus cared. But they - like us - and UNlike Jesus - identify caring with circumstance. We confuse gifts with the Giver: If circumstances are good then God is good and cares for us. But when circumstances change for the worse?
And so Jesus' questions to them - and us - "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?" - reveal a deeper truth:
Deep down our trust in God's caring is really quite shallow.
Do you still have no faith? No, actually, even now, even after all you have taught us Teacher, we still have no faith. We only have "fair weather" faith. Faith that vaporizes with the first hint of fear.
But mercifully, even though we have no faith, no trust-in-God's-caring-no-matter-what-the-circumstances, Jesus does respond to their fear, and orders the wind and sea to be quiet, to be still.
Personal aside. Please don't get distracted by this "miracle." There is currently no scientific explanation. But that does NOT mean the story is imagined, or exaggerated, or "unscientific" and therefore not real / true. Science has not yet given us its final explanation of the universe. And my personal opinion is that in the not too distant future (assuming there will be a not too distant future), science will finally start admitting there is scientific evidence for non-material realities that even material realities like the wind and the sea obey.
And. As with all special effects in any good movie, the whole point is to come away talking about the characters and the story - not the effects. So too with all Biblical stories. The point is always to focus on the people in the story. What is being revealed about their character; about their relationships; about their trust in God?
The question here - "Who is this?" - echoes the same question asked back in Chapter 1 when the first thing Jesus did in his public ministry was to drive out an unclean spirit. (Verses 21 to 27) And again in Chapter 2 when Jesus forgives the sins of the paralyzed man. (Verses 1 to 12)
Just as with the cases of the unclean spirit and the forgiveness of sins, the issue here is Jesus' authority / ranking / status in the spiritual realm. Since all living things - all moving things - are animated by spirits, Jesus here demonstrates his authority over powerful spirits - the spirit of the wind and the spirit of the sea. They obey him, therefore Jesus must have higher authority.
However, the real question to ask of this story is NOT:
Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
For us, the real question is:
Who is this, that even raging, life-threatening circumstances do not disturb his sleep?
The real miracle of this story is NOT Jesus calming the storm. The real miracle is Jesus' calm while the storm is raging. His calm is not simply the suppression of fear. His calm arises from within his faith; from within his trust in God's caring - no matter what the actual circumstances.
Thus, the moral of this story is NOT: run to Jesus when you are in a crisis and he will make the storm go away. Rather the moral is: run to Jesus when you are in crisis and learn from him the source of his calm.
Do the wind and the sea fill us with fear and terror? Then how ought we respond to the one whom they obey? NOT with greater fear. Quite the opposite. With awe and reverence. With - perhaps, finally, now - faith, and trust-in-God's-caring-no-matter-what-the-circumstance.
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, page 164; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See below.
Mark 4:35-41 (NRSV)
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 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?" 39 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. 40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41 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?"
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mark 4:35-41 (The Message)
35 Late that day he said to them, "Let's go across to the other side." 36 They took him in the boat as he was. Other boats came along. 37 A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. 38 And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping! They roused him, saying, "Teacher, is it nothing to you that we're going down?"
39 Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, "Quiet! Settle down!" The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass. 40 Jesus reprimanded the disciples: "Why are you such cowards? Don't you have any faith at all?"
41 They were in absolute awe, staggered. "Who is this, anyway?" they asked. "Wind and sea at his beck and call!".
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.