Wednesday is Bible Study day, we are looking at Gospel Parallels. This is a book which places Matthew, Mark and Luke side by side (and in their individual order) so as to provide an easy tool to analyze what each (final) author wrote. Last night we looked at Mark 4:35-41 (//Lk 8:22-25 and Mt 8:18, 23-27) which is the story of Jesus in the boat when there is a big storm.
While saying "the Bible is written words" is obvious, the obvious is not always factored in. [One example, it is obvious that third world people live differently than we do, yet people are still overwhelmed by what they "already know."] Jesus lived in "Third World" conditions yet how often do Middle Class Christians read the Bible with little awareness of Jesus' living conditions?
Writers write for an audience, and often times they write for future audiences. Mark is written for a number of reasons (few of which we can know for sure), but what he writes is in dialogue with "The Bible" (and in his day that means the Jewish Bible only!). This means that when you read the Gospel for history, you are missing out on the most important communication: the theological (God-talk) and spiritual.
The eye witness details, especially the ones which are not integral to the story (like 'other boats' were there), make it clear to me that the miracle on the stormy sea actually happened. I believe Jesus did it and I believe it happened. However, when Mark wrote about it, there was so much more he wanted us to know. One issue is the raging storm on the waters connects with numerous psalms (Ps 107:23; 65:7; 89:9; 93). Mark may have shaped his wording to connect with those images. In addition, there are verbal parallels with Jonah. Jonah is about a prophet fleeing from the mission to Gentiles, while Mark says Jesus is going to "the other side" which is Gentile territory. Subtle communication is not an American specialty. We are pretty straightforward and outspoken. Nuance is wasted on us, many times, because we are not attuned to it.
It seems that the nature miracle is drawing a connection between Jesus and God. "Who is this?" the disciples ask. Perhaps the most important purpose of the question is for the reader to ponder the answer. We need to ask it ourselves, not worry about which apostle asked it for "historical purposes." However, the theological connections of the story to the Jewish creation story and pagan creation myths (Psalm 89 speaks of Rahab, the ancient serpant), the salvation story in Noah, and Jonah and Gentile Mission are no doubt also to be included in our reflection. This is the deeper study which feeds the church in every age.
Since earliest times, Church Fathers saw us in the story: Boat=Church, Storm=Tribulations, Sleeping Jesus=Absent Lord in Heaven, fearful Disciples=Doubting Church.
The sad truth is we all face storms. Jesus sleeps, unaffected by the turmoil. We wonder, does He care if we perish? I have met many atheists who decided the sleeping Jesus does not save. These atheists are to be pitied. Their sad, desperate lives are, in the end, hopeless. The storm is too big. The other response, faith, clings to the hope of deliverance. Jesus has done it before, He will do it again. He is even now doing it among us.
Sleep, in the New Testament, can refer to death. In Mark's Gospel, the death of Jesus is the central theme. Resurrection is a promise, Death is a reality. Is Jesus dead? I believe He lives. Sometimes, though, the storm is pretty bad and the boat is taking on water....