I hope you have all been able to enjoy something of the lovely weather we have been having. Perhaps it makes up a little bit for the fact that we are to continue living with certain Covid restrictions for another four weeks.
The weather in our gospel reading today is far from lovely as we read about Jesus stilling a storm while on a boat at night with his disciples.
Until now, Mark’s readers have been working through parable after parable about sowing and seeds, as Mark’s way of describing the mystery of the Kingdom of God. Ever since Mark 1:14-15, Jesus has been preaching the gospel of God and the coming of the Kingdom that brings with it repentance and belief in the good news. The seeds are just Mark’s way of describing a divine reign that is sure to be coming and will grow and spread like a mustard seed.
But now we are on a boat in a storm. But this is not just another miracle story, but a revelation of Jesus’ identity.
On the one hand, this boat ride means that the troubles the disciples are facing on the boat are not just physical but have a wider significance. Mark’s Gospel sees the troubles Jesus faces as cosmic. As if to underline this fact, Jesus faces down the storm and rebukes it (verse 39). This is not just about the disciples’ fears of being capsized and drowned, but the storm stands for something greater within us all and within the world.
On the other hand, this stilling of the storm should tell us something more. The focus here, however, is not the mysterious Kingdom of God, but Jesus himself. The fact that Jesus stills the storm with a word of rebuke also tells us something about him.
In the middle of the tossing waves of the storm, the disciples refer to Jesus as “Teacher” (Mark 4:38). After witnessing the stilling of the storm, all the disciples have is deep awe (feared a great fear, in the Greek) and deep questions. Who is this? Who is the one whom even wind and sea obey?
Experienced readers of Mark know that the disciples are slow learners and that it is outsiders who are usually the ones to confess faith. Here, it is left up to the readers to decide who Jesus is when his own disciples fall short or fail. This Jesus, who was “just as he was” in the boat, was way more than ordinary. He was a revelation of the living God among us. Or as Mark puts it in the first verse of chapter one: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God.”
It is also worth considering when Mark’s gospel was written. It is thought to have been written about the time of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans around 70 CE. There are storms and there are storms. But this one was huge. The centre of Jewish worship and culture was completely destroyed.
And here is Mark writing, when the Jews have lost a precious part of their identity, the holiest of places, that it is Jesus who is now the revelation of God’s extraordinary purposes, this ordinary Jesus, “just as he was” (verse 36) and even someone who, like us, is partial to a nap! (verse 38).
This story of Jesus silencing and rebuking the storm points, I think, to deep questions that touch all our lives and the forces that threaten to upend us all. It is particularly appropriate at this time, not just of pandemic, but of rising divisions in and between nations, and intolerance and ‘the blame culture’ in society.
However, the disciples were all in a boat, a beautiful symbol of the church that stands to this day. Even in churches emptied out by Covid, many of their ceilings look like the bottom of a boat. Churches often even call their main sections a nave. So like the disciples, we in our boat as a church may be surrounded by difficulties and problems, but as Jesus told the disciples, we must have faith. Faith that we have a Saviour who is able to silence all storms, of whatever type, and not only silence them but assert his authority, as the Lord of all creation, over them.
Someone sent me a card last year which read on the front:
‘Protect me Lord: my boat is so little and your sea is so great’.
What I love about this is that the writer recognises that both the boat and the sea belong to Christ. So whatever storms we may be facing in our lives at present, the sea is still Christ’s, and he can, and he will silence it. All he asks is that we have faith.