This Sunday’s lectionary Gospel (Mark 4:35-41) is one I remember puzzling over when I was a university student. I had read it before, probably several times, since I started reading the Bible in high school. Maybe I’d even heard it preached.
But I had never noticed this little story. I had never stopped and really chewed on it, neither to hear the questions it was asking me, nor to hear the answers it suggested.
Those university years prompted me to read more slowly, to genuinely study the Bible, book by book, text by text. I wasn’t studying it the way I would learn to do in seminary a few years later: with ancient languages, or the tools of higher criticism, or informed by the spiritual reading of the Church Fathers and the theological reading of the Reformers. But I was reading carefully, prayerfully, asking questions and digging for answers.
It’s a simple little story.
After days of healing, and now a long day of teaching by the seaside, Jesus and his friends sail off, leaving the crowd behind. Jesus is beat. He goes to sleep while the accomplished fishermen sail the boat. There is a storm. They wake him up. He stills the wind and waves.
So far so good. It all makes sense.
But then Jesus gets on their case:
Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? (Mark 4:40, NRSV)
That puzzled me.
Wasn’t it perfectly reasonable for the disciples to be afraid? Their boat was being swamped. They could all die.
Wasn’t it perfectly reasonable for the disciples to wake Jesus up? Maybe he could help. Even if he were an incompetent sailer, they could teach him to bail water or hold a rope — something. How could he just lay there sleeping?
But then maybe their response wasn’t so reasonable. They were the first to scold, waking Jesus up with reproof:
Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? (Mark 4:38, NRSV)
Why do they expect him to be aware of their danger? He was, after all, asleep.
You see their fear and lack of trust in their accusation. They think he doesn’t care.
Still: Jesus seems to really scold them.
- He scolds them for being afraid.
- He scolds them for lack of faith.
At a glance it seems kind of mean. When my children are afraid, my job is to comfort them, to assure them, to help them get past it — help them trust that all will be well.
Jesus’ response implies that they have missed a lesson he’s been trying to teach them. The lesson is about faith. And the lesson is about faith’s potential power over fear.
The lesson about faith was not taught during the boat trip in Mark 4:35-41. The lesson about faith was taught from Mark 1:1 to Mark 4:34.
Jesus had put his critics to shame and answered his followers’ curiosity with wisdom.
More to the point, the disciples had seen that Jesus could heal
- demon possession,
- a withered limb,
- and countless unnamed other ailments.
Nothing was too much for Jesus.
I remember the “Aha!” moment, rushing out to relate my insight to the guys I shared an apartment with.
Jesus had been teaching his disciples to trust him — to trust that he was capable of solving life’s hardest problems. Sure there was a storm on — but Jesus was asleep in the boat.
If Jesus himself could sleep through this storm, all would be well. How could they miss that?
He wanted them to have faith based on what they had seen and experienced of Jesus: If Jesus was with them, they could trust that all would be well.
Jesus was right there.
- They could trust.
- All would be well.
- They had no need to fear.
In retrospect it was obvious. How could I have missed it before? How could I ever miss it again.
Storms still shake our faith.
But then life happens. Right now we are in the midst of storms. And it is hard to trust.
Here’s the storm that has me tossing on the seas, wondering if we’re going to drown:
It’s what’s happening on our southern border.
The real Trump Hotel. pic.twitter.com/PP6nIbzNQR
— Tim Kaine (@timkaine) June 18, 2018
Children are being torn from their parents with cruelty familiar to any student of Germany in the 1930s. In 2018 America it isn’t Jews being rounded up and taken to camps with assurances that they will be fed and cared for. It is the suffering poor yearning to breathe free, the oppressed who seek asylum — people who happen to be of browner skin than the ruling class, and who do not speak English as their mother tongue.
It is ordered from the highest officials of the land, claiming law and biblical authority — misinterpreting both, I might add. And the people hauling others to camps are going to say they were just following orders.
Christians far and wide, at least those who have not sold their souls, cry out that this is wrong, a sin of deepest measure, unjustifiable by any fair and full reading of the Christian scriptures.
What is God doing? Is Jesus asleep in the boat?
We wonder if we can trust — and if we should.
We do need to trust.
And in our text, Jesus seems to tell us that if we trust it can overcome our fear.
So we need to trust. And we need to pray.
And with trust overcoming fear, we can act.
We need to trust that Jesus is awake and acting — knowing he’s most likely to act through us.
Because trust is not the end of the journey in a stormy time. While we trust, because of trust, we need to act.
Dear God, help the children. Help us know how to act.
My “Monday Meditations” are a personal exploration of the coming Sunday’s Gospel text in the Revised Common Lectionary.
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