(silent) May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my soul be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen
What scares you? I mean—what really, really frightens you? Can you remember a time in your life—some moment—when you were more frightened than you’ve ever been at any other time in your life? What was it that caused that fear? How did you feel? More importantly; how did you respond?
Fear is an issue in today’s Gospel lesson from Mark, but it’s not the most important issue. When we first started this year and this emphasis on Mark’s Gospel, I told you that this particular Gospel had a theme that ran throughout. It’s a theme called the “Messianic Secret.” As I’ve mentioned before, Mark presents his Gospel in an interesting way—we, the readers, know what’s going on; we know the end of the story; we know who Jesus is; but the disciples do not. They have moments of partial understanding, but they really just don’t get the whole picture. They just keep on missing the point throughout the whole Gospel. And Jesus continually expresses his frustration with them—frustration because they just don’t get it. They don’t recognize what’s going on around them.
In today’s lesson, Mark tells us that Jesus has the disciples take him in their boat and set out for the other side of the Sea of Galilee. And then this storm comes up. Now, we all know that the Sea of Galilee is actually a lake, but it’s not a small lake; nor is it the size of one of our Great Lakes; but it’s still a fairly large lake. What makes storms on this lake so dangerous is the terrain surrounding the lake. The surrounding mountains serve as a funnel for storms. Winds rushing down the sides of the mountains hit the cooler waters of the lake and pick up tremendous energy. It’s not unusual for 30-foot waves to be generated on the Sea of Galilee. So, imagine being in a small boat out on the lake, when one of those storms hits suddenly.
Mark says that waves were beating into the boat and the boat was in danger of being swamped. And yet, somehow Jesus manages to sleep through this pounding storm. Now, this fact alone can lead us down an interesting path. Here are Jesus’ disciples; they’re doing exactly what Jesus has asked them to do, and now they’re in mortal danger. And what’s Jesus doing? He’s SLEEPING! Doesn’t he care?! Just when they need him the most, Jesus is basically not around! You can hear the accusations in their voices:
“Teacher, don’t you care that we are dying?” (Mark 4:38).
You’ve heard similar accusation in the voices of others. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’ve always been a good Christian—why is God letting this happen to me? Where’s God when I need God?” Or maybe you’ve heard someone say, “How can God let such terrible things happen in the world?”
But you see; that’s just what Satan wants. Those words of the disciples reflect just how far the disciples really are from understanding who Jesus is. In a moment of crisis, their faith fails; a gap is created between them and Jesus—and Satan steps in to fill the gap. The reality is that this situation is a mirror into which we can look and see ourselves reflected. We are those disciples in the boat out on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus did not create that storm. Nor did Jesus leave the disciples alone. Jesus was always right there.
Are the disciples wrong to be fearful? NO! Their fear is normal and it’s to be expected. Just consider this for a moment. At least four of the disciples are experienced fishermen. They understand the lake. They understand its perils. They had most likely experienced storms before, and had come through them successfully. So, if they were afraid of what was happening, it must have been one incredible storm. So, we need to be understanding of their fear, and we need to understand that it was not their fear that was separating them from Jesus. What separated them from Jesus was their lack of understanding of who Jesus is. Additionally, the separation was compounded by way they approached Jesus in their fear.
Did they go to Jesus, wake him, and say, “Teacher we need some help here; we know you can calm this storm; we know you can save us.” No! What they did was accuse Jesus of not caring. Just the same as we accuse God of not caring when we ask, “Why is God letting this happen to me?” or “Why does God let such awful disasters—or wars—or famines—why does God let them occur? Doesn’t God care?”
But is it even possible that Jesus does not care? How could he possibly NOT care?! He’s in the same boat with them; the same boat that’s being swamped! BUT—you might say—he’s the Son of God; he doesn’t have to care; he doesn’t have to worry. Oh, yeah wait a minute; there’s that little matter of the cross looming in the future. So, maybe he does have to worry. But, he is the Son of God, isn’t he? Yes, and that’s exactly the point. You see, in order to get past their fear—to overcome their fear—the disciples have to first recognize that Jesus it not some ordinary human being who just happens to have these unusual abilities to preach and to heal; they have to understand and acknowledge through that understanding that Jesus IS the Son of God.
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Mark is witnessing to an incredible turning point here in Jesus’ ministry. Up until now in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has certainly been “performing miracles”—at least that’s what the disciples see it as—“performing miracles.” But he’s not performing “miracles.” All those healings and those exorcisms—they’re signs; not miracles. And we’ve talked about the difference before. They’re signs pointing to Jesus as the Messiah; as the Son of God. But the disciples are seeing them as “miracles.” Their all the kinds of things that could have been “performed” by any number of miracle workers or exorcists or magicians who were wandering around at that time. Even today, we have people around who perform those kinds of miracles. Does that make them the Son of God? NO!
So, here we have Mark witnessing to an incredibly powerful sign. Had the disciples made the request of Jesus, “Teacher, save us as we know you can,” it would have been an acknowledgment of their understanding of who Jesus is. But the lack of a request is just as powerful in meaning. It raises the question of doubt.
The disciples aren’t sure—they don’t believe—that Jesus can save them. So, what happens? Does Jesus rebuke them? No, Jesus calms the storm. “Peace. Be still!” he says. “Peace. Be still!” But there are six more words that are implied but not spoken here, “Peace. Be still. . . and know that I AM God!” Jesus doesn’t have to speak those six extra words, because what happens is no mere miracle, no mere exorcism, no mere healing, no mere magic trick—what happens is a sign. At his command, the winds calm; the waves settle; the storm passes. The calming of the storm is a sign pointing right back at Jesus. “Know that I AM God.” He doesn’t have to say the words; the silence of the calming storm screams the words.
But then again, we know the ending of the story; the disciples do not. We know without a doubt that Jesus is the Son of God. The disciples do not. You’d think that after a sign like this, there would be no room for doubt. But listen again to the end of this lesson:
“They were greatly afraid, and said to one another,
‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?'”
Is it any wonder that Jesus is frustrated with the disciples? After all that, they still say to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Don’t you just want to rap on their collective foreheads and say, “Helloooo, anybody in there; anybody home?”
Well, if we did that, we’d be missing perhaps the most important point of not only this lesson in Mark, but also of the whole Gospel of Mark. As I said previously, Mark’s Gospel is a mirror into which we have to look. And what we see looking back is ourselves. So, if we point a finger of condemnation or even of criticism at the disciples for their lack of understanding; we’re pointing right at ourselves. We ARE those disciples in the boat. We ARE those disciples when we demand, “Where is God when awful things happen in our lives.” WHERE IS GOD? God’s right there in the boat with us. God’s right there in the midst of all the suffering.
There’s a story told—oh, let me honest; it’s a joke—of a man Fred who tried to ride out a flood in his home. As the water climbed higher, Fred climbed the steps to the second floor. Looking out his window, he saw his neighbor paddle up in a canoe. The neighbor shouted, “C’mon Fred, climb in and I’ll get you to dry land.” Fred waved his neighbor off and said, “How could God let this happen, why doesn’t he save me?” The water continued to rise, and Fred climbed to the roof of his house. Pretty soon, a helicopter flew up to his house and the pilot offered to pull Fred in.” Fred waved the helicopter off, and muttered, “How could God let this happen, why doesn’t he save me?” The water continued to rise and Fred drowned. When he got to heaven, he said to God, “How could you let this happen; why didn’t you save me?” And you know what God said? God looked at Fred and said, “I sent a canoe, and I sent a helicopter. Why didn’t you trust me enough to get in?”
All we have to do to accept God and Jesus into our lives . . . is nothing. God has saved us. God is right here with us. God is right by our side—not just when things are good or when things are bad—God is right by our side ALL the time. God walks by our side. God rides in the boat with us. Don’t wonder why God isn’t doing something about the bad things that happen. Don’t accuse God of not caring. Just ask, and then listen. God says, “Be at peace. Be silent . . . and know that I AM God.”
Let us pray.
May the love of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus who holds us in his hands and cares more than we can imagine. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2009 Daniel Brettell. Used by permission.