Today's (Sunday) Gospel is Mark 4:35-41. Some reflections from my homily preparation:
It is a story about Jesus in a boat. There is a strorm, a bad one, and Jesus just snoozes away. The apostles are terrified and sort of imply that Jesus is being negligent. (not too respectful there) He basically said "Quiet! Be muzzled!" ("Peace, be still" sound nicer). However, He rebukes the storm, which is harsher (and more theologically loaded) so I am thinking He screamed "shut up!"
The nature miracles of Jesus are under attack by skeptics and Modernist/Liberal Christians. They have a point, these are not typical miracles we see much of today. They have another point, perhaps the stories are symbolic. There are times when the Biblical writers are more interested in communicating a theological insight than they are giving accurate details of history. (This is true of much ancient history and even since "scientific" history came in vogue it still occurs) So one is left to ask, did this happen. It cannot be proved, but here is my argument for thinking it is a real event: Details. And not just any kind of details, unneeded, useless details.
There are three of them:
- "They took Jesus with them in the boat, just as He was." Jesus is being led around. Not the type thing which makes sense if the story were made up to prove He is a mighty miracle worker. The latter phrase, 'just as He was' is rather confusing. It obviously refers to something, but it is a something which a story teller knows, not a reader. And an author would not have much reason to add it because it is mysterious. It is irritating (huh?) mystery, not deep (oh my!) mystery.
- "other boats were with Him." Actually the Greek says, "little boats" and that makes their presence more of a concern. What happens to little boats in a storm? Did all those folks perish? We do not know, because they are never mentioned again. The focus is on the miracle and more so on the final question in the story. The little boats, the sort of detail story tellers provide about true events (the details that make the listener say, "Get to the point" because they muddy up the story) are an indication to me that someone (Peter) recounted an event which he witnessed. He is remembering the little boats.
- Jesus was "in the stern, asleep on a cushion." Once more, meticulous detail unneeded if the story were somposed simply to say Jesus is powerful. The exact location, smacks of eye witness and the cushion does as well.
The background in which to read the story is the Bible (i.e. The OT). Herein the deeper resonance of the story lies. All of us experience events which have a deeper meaning. Yesterday a Detroit pitcher pitched a game, having just returned from two days off with his family. His brother, a young man, had unexpectedly died. The personal tragedy made his excellent performance more poignant. We all get it. That is why Paul Harvey made money telling us "the rest of the story."
The creation account in Genesis is one such key for insight: powerful (elohim=gods, but can also mean mighty) wind (ruah means breath, spirit and wind) and water(= dark chaos) are central elements of the story. Creation is ordering chaos, making things habitable for all that comes later. The sea (for a Jew) was a dangerous place. In Daniel's apocalypse the monster comes from the sea. In several places YHWH kills the sea monsters. All this references the ancient creation myth of the Jew's predecessors. Wind god and sea god battle and the result is wind defeats chaos and humans eventually emerge. The men in the boat on the lake are participating in the great mythic struggle of life over death, order over chaos, the Divine over the Demonic. [Hence, Jesus rebukes the wind, the same term used when He exorcises demons. It isn't just a storm, it is satanic forces let loose in and through nature. It is pure evil wreaking havoc, and the Good One rebuking and silencing the fierce enemy of creation and humanity.]
Psalm 107:25-30 provide an additional OT parallel. It recounts people in a storm. "They cried out to the Lord in their trouble...He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed." I don't think you need a PhD in Bible to see parallels here.
So the deeper story, the connection of Jesus with God (who creates order out of chaos and stills the sea for those in peril) is pretty obvious. This is not just a miracle; it is an Epiphany. It is God manifesting Himself in Jesus, Jesus revealing Himself as God.
As I mentioned earlied, Mt reshapes the elements of the story to make his theological declaration. But Mark has made one as well. It is from the question.
"Do you not care that we are perishing?" the apostles (accuse) ask Jesus. It is a question of The Church. (The Bible is Big Picture first). The first readers of this account, living some 15 to 40 years after the actual event, had their own storms and struggles. Is Jesus sleeping (=dead and gone)? Is He unable or inattentive? If Jesus is risen Lord then why is the church in duress and why is the victory not obvious and why aren't we experiencing the fruit of salvation and why does it feel like He does not care? The church (a boat) is being slapped and pummeled around in the storm, so where is He? Only secondarily is the question personal. (Why am I suffering--no job, illness, depression, broken marriage, losses&pain, etc.)
[This issue of church and the storm brings up a side issue for traditional Episopalians. We experience the church in a mega (demonic) storm. We see water filling the boat (chaos) and the threat of sinking is real (data shows it happening). My only point is this, if you leave the Episcopal church for another, remember, any boat close enough to swim to is in the same storm. The problem is wider than our denomination. And the storm is raging. We are not in the harbor we are on the lake!]
Jesus response, also an accusation: Why are you afraid? How is it you have no faith? This is the fundamental question for the church in every age. Why is fear and doubt cripping us in our ministry? The answers are multiple. We have short memories and what Jesus did is not always sufficient for us to trust what He will do in the future. Also, few of us are grounded deeply in the Lord. Our faith is not nurtured. And besides if the apostles doubted in His presence is there serious reason to think we won't in His "absence"?
The last question, "Who is this that wind and sea obey?" is the main point. Who is this Jesus? What manner of man is able to do (Psalm 107, again) what God does?
So our purpose as church is mission to "the other side" and our challenge as church is to trust and be brave, even as we are buffeted in the storm. Our doubt and fear, however substantial, still crumble before the God-Man Jesus. He has power to conquer the storms of our ministry. He has power to exorcise the demons in their use of nature, relationships, government and institutions (including inside our churches). Jesus has the power. The power is mega; more mega than the storm and more mega than our fear and more mega than our doubt.
I could write more. Visit standrewscollierville.org to hear the homily if you like. Now I am off the grid until July 10.