Proper 7B June 24, 2018
Last week I spoke about things often not being what they seem, and today, I’d like to suggest that our gospel is much more than it seems. Many, if not most of us grew up with hearing this story from Mark. Many, if not most, learned it as a one more miracle story in the Gospels, since we read it not only in Mark, but in Matthew and Luke as well. But if we really study the text of today’s gospel, we’ll see that speaks to much more Jesus saving the disciples’ lives. So lets take a closer look.
Remember last week, we found Jesus explaining the parable of the sower and the seed to his disciples and comparing the Kingdom of God to the mustard seed. He had been teaching the crowds earlier in the day next to the Sea of Galilee. And after what must have been a very long day, he makes the outlandish suggestion that they should cross the lake to the other side. I can just see the disciples looking at one another as if to say, “Seriously? After the day we’ve had? Can’t we just have dinner and relax, or maybe just fish for a bit?” But keeping their thoughts to themselves, they take Jesus with them and start out to cross to the other side.
Now the first thing we need to know is that Jesus is leading them to a place that they have been taught to avoid, Gergesa, where the people are Gentiles. Jesus has already shown a compassion for the “other,” the sick, the unclean, the “possessed, and in his parables made it clear that the Kingdom of heaven is for (gasp) anyone who does the will of God. So after once again describing the Kingdom of God, Jesus is telling them they are to see firsthand how his teachings are to be lived out. And I can hear them thinking, “Uh-oh, this could get really bad. The authorities are already looking for a reason to destroy Jesus, and if we’re not careful, us too. We were doing pretty well where we were; why risk it?” It’s as if Jesus says, “ Come on! We’ve got seeds to sow; we’ve got secrets to disclose. We’ve got blessings to share.” (Karl Kuhn, Address at Wisconsin Conference Annual Meeting, 2018)
To say that the disciples were uneasy is probably an understatement. But they head out, even with their misgivings. There is an interesting phrase in verse 36, “…they took him with them just as he was.” We don’t know with certainty what is meant here. Perhaps it’s as simple as without any provisions for a trip, but at any rate, Jesus settles in for a nap and falls soundly asleep, obviously not worrying about anything. And wouldn’t you know it, a “great windstorm” comes up, with waves crashing over them, starting to fill their boats, and threatening to sink them. Several of these guys were professional fishermen, and they were scared, so you can imagine how the rest of them must have felt. And Jesus was snoozing away, oblivious to the storm, seemingly without a care in the world. Was it the depth of his faith that allowed him to sleep so peacefully? It certainly contrasts with the disciples own panic as they respond to the energy of the storm with increasing energy of their own as they try to save themselves (Mark Edington, Feasting on the Word, Year B).
I find it interesting that when they awaken Jesus, they don’t holler, “Help us, Jesus, “but rather, “Don’t you care that we’re about to die here?” I wonder if their question came only from a place of fear, or whether or not it was a question of their faith. Yes, Jesus had cured people, restored withered limbs, driven out unclean spirits, but any shaman or magician worth his salt could have done that. The control over the wind and waves is found only in creation stories, in Genesis, for instance, and that power is reserved for God, or the gods of ancient mythology.
But regardless, the first thing Jesus does is to make the wind cease and calm the waves. Mark describes it as a “dead calm.” Jesus turns to the disciples and asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And rather than overwhelming relief, Mark tells us, that their main reaction was fear. The NRSV translates fear as awe, but the Greek is closer to “they feared a great fear.” I would venture that there was certainly awe, but great fear as well, as they found themselves in the presence of this person they knew as human, but whom they could now see, was much, much more – possibly really the Son of God. What would that mean as they go forward? And what else might they be expected to do?
This text has everything it needs to grab us today and make us ask what it means to us. It has surprise – the last thing the disciples expected was to be asked to head to a place inhabited by Gentiles (although some might think they should have seen it coming). I think it means for us that, as Christians, we have to be open to surprise, to the unexpected, to being asked to stretch ourselves, to leave the familiar shore where we are safe and secure to go to a place we’ve never been. To ask the hard questions about what Jesus’ teachings mean for the way we live our lives individually as well as collectively as faith community, locally in our towns and cities, and in our nation. If we are open to the Spirit, we might find ourselves called to undertake a journey we never expected, caring for people we never thought we could love, and doing things we never thought we could do all because of Jesus.
Fear is the biggest thing that often keeps us from even getting in the boat, much less casting off. Are there real things to be afraid of? You bet. Jesus never said there’s nothing to be afraid of. The reality is that there is plenty in the world to be afraid of – isolation, pain, illness, rejection, losing one’s job, financial problems, death. But we’re told, “Do not be afraid.” You might say it’s the first and last word of the gospel – from the shepherds at Bethlehem, to the women at the empty tomb. Do not be afraid – not because there is nothing to be afraid of, but because God is with us, and all these things we are so afraid of will not have the last word. (Michael Lindvall, Feasting on the Word, Year B.)
And that is where our faith comes in. It is not the belief that God will keep the scary things away, but rather that they will not have the last word, they will not destroy us even if we die, because God is with us. Frederick Buechner, in a sermon on this text wrote, “Christ sleeps in the deepest selves of all us, and…in whatever way we can call on him as the fishermen did in their boat to come awake within us and to give us courage, to give us hope, to show us, each one, our way. May he be with us especially when the winds go mad and the waves run wild, as they will for all of us before we’re done, so that even in their midst we may find peace, find him.”