The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost brings us to hear from the Gospel According to Saint Mark once again. In this reading for the day, our Lord Jesus is revealed as exercising sovereignty over the natural elements of the world and more. We read…
On that day, when evening had come, he (Jesus) said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”
And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)
A Sleeping God?
The telling of this story brings us to consider Mark’s purposes in relating the miraculous events to his readers. In the 6th decade of the first century, the society surrounding the infant church had become even more turbulent. Christians were being assailed by Jewish and Roman authorities. Therefore the story Mark passed along rang out like a boatman tolling the night watch bell across the water. The message told the church when the way got rough, that all would yet be secure. They recognized the voice from God, for the theme had been uttered to the people of Israel’s in days of old. We read…
O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as thou art,
O Lord, with thy faithfulness round about thee?
Thou dost rule the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, thou stillest them.
Thou didst crush Rahab like a carcass,
thou didst scatter thy enemies with thy mighty arm.
The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine;
the world and all that is in it, thou hast founded them.
Therefore by claiming the same authority for Jesus as demonstrated by this miracle story, the author of the gospel reminded of the character of God. This was a part of an uplifting word picture painted artistically by Mark. The portrait was provided as the Holy Spirit nurtured the early church.
Historically, the community of Mark had recently suffered the loss of apostolic guidance with the death of Peter. Thus they needed to be affirmed in the eternal power of Jesus, who is the Christ.
You see, I consider that the Christians of this early era to whom Mark wrote, were considering themselves caught in the middle of great turbulence. They were casting about, separated from the known shores of synagogues and culture, feeling not quite safe on the “other side” of the sea. Therefore, Mark’s stories of Jesus were cathartic. This miracle’s inclusion in the gospel refocused immediate apostolic guidance back upon the One who may have seemed distant in the chaos, the One who they felt had “fallen asleep” in the nave of the boat.
At least thirty five years had passed since the occasion of the stilling of the storm miracle. While some modern scholars scoff and say that the event was not done in reality, but is only symbolic… I protest. Stating that this enduring and authentic story in written form likely caused the early church to hope, I offer that they would need such to endure the persistent days during persecutions. This is an authentic occurrence cited to address a very real threat.
Take note! In the story told we see that experienced fisherman manned the boats crossing the Galilean sea. like the experienced leaders in Mark’s audience. All of the apostles encountered rough waves and turmoil, yet Jesus slept soundly. The squall, as prophetically described by the psalmist, was hard upon them. They were being swamped. Jesus, portrayed as likely tired from previous days of teaching, still slept. To me, this described the test of apostolic faith that was unfolding. Jesus was awakened to action by cries of alarm. It was then, by the power of his Word spoken, that Jesus Christ… who from the beginning created all things… calmed the wind and the waves.
The Questioning God…
Jesus then marveled at their unbelief. He chastised them concerning their lack of faith. Thus from this telling we are presented with an echoing question. Elsewhere in Mark our Lord asked “Who do you say that I am?” The inquiry is posed not only to the disciples, but to Mark’s churches and our own today. “Who then is this?” they questioned amongst themselves, not yet knowing our Lord’s divine identity. In Mark’s communities the Spirit thus made the connection. In his telling we wash from the apostolic experience to the disciple’s remembrance in Mark’s day.
You see, through this writing, as a people brought together after the crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, the persons for whom Mark wrote were reminded that Jesus was and yet is the only begotten Son of God. Although it may be considered as improper by some, further connections were made. This story reverberates across stormy seas as the apostles questioned our Lord about his caring. The men rowing hard asked if God cared. The answer was “Yes indeed.”
God cared enough to send prophets to tell of his sovereign power, and also enough to send Jesus into the world to proclaim the good news. The kingdom of God was at hand. All sinful peoples need to act upon is change our ways of thinking, and move the rudder. We need to turn from our unbelieving and grasp the faith that is freely given.
“Where do we get this faith?” we might ask. “How and when was it given?” The answer bubbles repeatedly amid the froth of the evil world. The revelation comes before us as we watch what our Lord does to the wind and the waves. These natural elements that may bring seasickness, demonic terror, and death suddenly were calmed. We see instead that which quenches physical and spiritual thirst as two sacred powers, namely the Holy Spirit and the waters of baptism are revealed. These come to us conjoined in a combined force that would at first seem to overwhelm and drown us… smothering the very breath from our bodies. But instead, Holy Baptism brings not death but eternal life. This is abundant life which is echoed from the first waves of the deep when God spoke and created all things, and when life was restored in spite of sin by the Father through his Son, Jesus Christ.
This was the message given out in the turbulent and social times in which Mark’s gospel was written. Our blessed author, immersed in the Spirit, told his communities and we ourselves to remember. We are baptized.
You see, sisters and brothers in Christ, it is through baptism that we are given faith. As we gather together and hear this reading, our Lord yet asks us where we have put this special gift. What have we done with our faith as we row stormy seas that would seem to drown us in this modern world? I say to you that we as Christians need to recall that we are the baptized. It is we who are saved by Almighty God, through Christ, and no power upon earth can drown us out.
As the church of Christ Jesus given this gift poured out, we have the stability provided to endure all sorts of troubled times. The Christian church endured the persecutions of the first century wherein Mark wrote. We shall also endure the present storms as well. By the power of the Holy Spirit, this is the message of Mark. We need hear this, and echo to one another and to all, “Where is your faith?”