Year B: Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Calming of a Storm at Sea
Mark 4: 35-41
On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, “Let us cross to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? ”He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”* The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith? ”They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
A thought to ponder: Awe and wonder over Jesus’ identity and power is not a substitute for our failure to grow and work toward integrating his teachings into our own lives. Having a spiritual opening or realization is easier than actualizing it into our daily life experience. When the “high” of a retreat ends, or an intense sense of peace during prayer time passes, we can easily slip back into our emotionally reactive selves and habits of responding.
- This story of “crossing over” speaks of our life journey. What storms are you facing at this time that might require deep faith and what is the “spiritual growth” invitation in that storm?
- Where have you experienced peace during the turbulence of life and what brought it about?
- In what areas of life are you more a spectator admiring Jesus’ faith and courage, at the expense of integrating that depth of faith and trust in your own journey?
- If true faith is “trusting God is present in what we cannot know, understand or see”, in what areas of your life have you been moving (transforming) from fear to faith in your experience of God with you?
Mark 4: 35-41
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
Today Mark presents us with another miracle-story that centers our attention on the identity of Jesus. Also, Mark continues to use dramatic irony: that is, Mark tells his story in such a way that his readers understand what the characters in the story fail to understand: that Jesus is divine.
Mark uses all the conventions of the miracle-story literary form as he tells the story of the calming of the storm. First, a problem is definitely brought to Jesus’ attention: “A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up…. They woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?
Notice, however, that Mark does not tell us that the disciples woke Jesus in order to ask him to calm the storm. They do not ask him to do what they may well assume is completely beyond his or anyone else’s power. Rather, they appear to have awakened Jesus simply to share their anxiety (“do you not care?”) or to make sure that Jesus is at least awake when they sink (“we are perishing”).
Next, it is specifically stated that Jesus does something about the problem, and that Jesus’ action solves the problem: “He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ The wind ceased and there was great calm.”
The final characteristic of a miracle story is that the observers are described as reacting with awe. However, Mark pictures Jesus asking the disciples a question before Mark describes their awe. Jesus asks, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” This question brings out the dramatic irony in the story because the question is understood differently by the characters in the story—the disciples—than it is by the readers of Mark’s Gospel. The disciples would have understood Jesus as asking them if they lack faith in God the Father. Jesus had been able to sleep securely during the storm because he did have faith that the Father’s will would be accomplished in them. There was no reason to be terrified. The readers, on the
other hand, with their postresurrection knowledge of Jesus’ identity hear the question as asking if the disciples lack faith in Jesus. Of course, during Jesus’ public ministry, the disciples did not know Jesus’ identity.
Mark emphasizes this dramatic irony as he describes the disciples’ awe: “They were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?’ ” This question is similar to the question that we read in the healing of the paralytic, “Who but God alone can forgive sins?” (Mark 2:7). Just as only God can forgive sins, only God can calm the storm. Our Old Testament reading from Job reminds us of this fact. Psalm 89 also affirms God’s power over the sea: You rule over the surging of the sea; you still the swelling of its waves. (Ps 89:10)
By structuring the miracle story as he has, Mark has moved the focus from Jesus’ mighty act of power to Jesus’ identity. Remember, this is typical of the function of a miracle story. As the disciples ask, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” the reading audience is invited to conclude that Jesus is divine, since he can do what only G.od can do.
Fr. Michael K. Marsh
Jesus and his disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee. They are moving from the Jewish side to the Gentile side, the side where they are at home to the side where they are strangers, the side where life is familiar to the side were it is new, different, and unfamiliar. We may have never crossed the Sea of Galilee but we’ve been in that boat.
This is not just a story about the weather and a boat trip. It is a story about life. It’s a story about faith. It’s a story about fear. Wherever you find one of those you will find all three. They cannot be separated.
Sometimes the sea of life is rough. The wind is strong. The waves are high. The boat is taking on water and sinking. We all know what that is like. Each of us could tell a storm story. Some of our stories will begin with a phone call, a doctor’s visit, or news we did not want to hear. Some of them will start with the choices we have made, our mistakes, and our sins. Other stories will tell about the difficulty of relationships, hopes and plans that fell apart, or the struggle to grow up and find our way. Some storms seem to arise out of nowhere and take us by surprise. Other storms build and brew as we watch.
Storms happen. Storms of loss and sorrow. Storms of suffering. Storms of confusion. Storms of failure. Storms of loneliness. Storms of disappointment and regret. Storms of depression. Storms of uncertainty and second guessing, Storms of thoughts and voices.
Regardless of when or how they arise storms are about changing conditions. Life is overwhelming and out of control. Things don’t go our way. Circumstances seem too much for us to handle. Order gives way to chaos. We are sinking. The water is deep and the new shore is a distant horizon.
The disciples are quick to make the storm about Jesus. “Do you not care that we are perishing?” We’ve probably all echoed their words in the storms of our lives. “Do something. Fix it. Make it better.” In the midst of the storm Jesus seems absent, passive, uncaring. How can he sleep at a time like this? Sleeping Jesus is not what they or we want.
Sleeping Jesus, however, is in the same boat and the same storm as the disciples. He is surrounded by the same water as the disciples, blown by the same wind, beaten by the same waves. His response, however, is different. While disciples fret and worry he sleeps. The disciples want busyness and activity. Jesus sleeps in peace and stillness. His sleep reveals that the greater storm and the real threat is not the wind, waves, and water around us – the circumstances in which we find ourselves – but within us. The real storm, the more threatening storm is always the one that churns and rages within us.
That interior storm is the one that blows us off course, beats against our faith, and threatens to drown us. Fear, vulnerability, and powerlessness blow within us. The sense of abandonment, the unknown, judgment and criticism of ourselves and others are the waves that pound us. Too often anger, isolation, cynicism, or denial become our shelter from the storm.
“Peace! Be still!” Jesus speaks to the wind and the sea. Jesus isn’t changing the weather as much as inviting the disciples to change. He’s speaking to the wind and the waves within them. The disciples have been pointing to what is going on outside them. Jesus now points to what is going on inside them. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Jesus’ words are more about us than the circumstances of our lives, the storms we meet. Storms happen. Faith, more faith, better faith, stronger faith, the right kind of faith do not eliminate the storms of our lives. Faith does not change the storm. It changes us. Faith does not take us around the storm but through the storm. Faith allows us to see and know that Jesus is there with us. Faith is what allows us to be still, to be peaceful, in the midst of the storm. It means we do not have to interiorize the storm.
The Spirit of God blows through and within us more mightily than the winds of any storm. The power of God is stronger than any wave that beats against us. The love of God is deeper than any water that threatens to drown us. In every storm Jesus is present and his response is always the same, “Peace! Be still!”
In every storm there are choices to be made. Will we interiorize the storm or Jesus’ peace? Do we put our faith in the power of the storm or in the power of God in Christ?
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle B, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.
Reflection excerpt from: Interrupting the Silence, Fr. Michael K. Marsh