Sleeping through the Storm -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 4B
Mark 4:35-41 New Revised Standard Version (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?”
When my son was very little the Northridge earthquake shook our apartment. Although the quake struck miles away from where we lived, we knew it was a large quake. When the quake hit we did what we believed was the correct thing—stand in the doorframe—but first we got Brett out of bed. Had we not done this, it’s likely he would have slept straight through the quake. When you’re young like that, not only do you sleep through things, you don’t know to be afraid of a bit of shaking.
Jesus had been spending the day teaching the people, offering them parables of the kingdom—for according to Mark Jesus did not teach the public without sharing parables (while explaining everything to his disciples so they understood). Among those parables was the famous parable of the mustard seed. It was small but it became a large shrub (Mark 4:30-34). The point being—the kingdom starts small but grows large. You just have to keep the faith. When the day ended Jesus decided to cross the lake. Since there were a number of boats crossing the lake, he got in one of them, along with his disciples. It must have been a long day because once he got into the boat he fell asleep. In fact, he was so sleepy he didn’t even wake up when the storm hit this little fleet of fishing boats. Of course, maybe he didn’t have need to be afraid.
The disciples, some of whom at least had spent their lives on the lake fishing, did become frightened. They were all afraid the boat was going to go down. As they looked around they saw that Jesus was sound asleep, without, it seemed, a care in the world. If no one had awakened him up before they had gotten to the other side, it’s likely he would have slept through the storm. The frightened disciples, however, didn’t want to let him sleep. They wanted him to share their fear of the storm. It wasn’t natural to sleep through a storm! So they rousted him from his sleep, shouting (my thinking) at him: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” This is it. They’re going down. Life’s over! Jesus doesn’t seem to care. I’m not sure what they’re expecting of him—probably they just wanted him to show a bit of concern about their plight. There’s nothing worse than a Stoic person in the midst of a crisis! It can be unnerving!
Now that he was awake, Jesus seemed to be at least a little bit annoyed. Wouldn’t you? I would! He was taking a nice nap and they woke him up to tell him that they were dying and they wanted him to share in their terror. But Jesus wasn’t afraid. He didn’t live in fear. Responding to the situation he simply spoke to the storm, calming it with the words: “peace, be still.” It’s hard to read into words like this either tone or inflection. Was Jesus calm at this moment or did he have some other visage? However the words were spoken, once spoken the winds died down.
Then turned to the disciples and asked them: “Where’s the faith?” Why are you worried? In other words—haven’t you been paying attention to what I’ve been doing and saying up to this point? And so it would continue, with the disciples slow on the uptake. For their part, the disciples were a bit awestruck. How did he do this? Who is this person we’re with?
Looking back to earlier in Mark 4, we might find a key to interpretation. In the parable of the seed, Jesus said that someone had thrown seeds on the ground, and then would keep coming out to see what would come of the seeds. The wheat emerged from the ground, producing the grain that provided sustenance, but the sower did not know how all of this happened. It remained a mystery. Jesus remained a mystery to the disciples. They still had much to learn before they could truly live by faith. In the mean time they would have to deal with their fears one at a time.
The question posed here is a simple one: “Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” We are constantly being confronted by this question. Who is Jesus? In my church new members are asked to make the Good Confession (Matthew16:16), confessing Jesus to be the Christ and the Son of the living God. This is the initial answer, the expected answer we’re to give when asked to give an account of our faith. But what does this really mean? There is much below the surface that needs unpacking. This is where theology comes in. We begin to unpack the meaning of the story of the one who stills storms and heals bodies, the one who shares words about the kingdom coming and now is.
As for us, we who live in the midst of an often chaotic world, it is easy to live with what I'll call spiritual insomnia. We simply find ourselves unable to let go and fall asleep. We lie in be our minds racing with all the issues of the day calling out to us, creating fear in us. But, if we can rest in God's presence and tap into the power of the one who calms the storms, perhaps our own witness of God’s realm can offer a calming word and presence. When those around us are living in fear, perhaps we can be a presence that helps relieve that fear so that faith can take hold in their lives.