Gospel: Mark 4:35-41
35When evening had come, [Jesus said to the disciples,] “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
There aren’t many stories from 1st century Palestine that so thoroughly resonate for us today, in our current culture of chaos, anxiety, and being affected so deeply by things that seem so outside of our control. Today we are not only still affected by major weather patterns and weird storms with increasing frequency due to climate change – but our global life is battered about by the deadly storms of pandemic, system racism, gun violence, food insecurity, human trafficking, untreated and stigmatized mental illness, to name just a few things that spike our anxiety and make us wonder if God even cares. And that’s at the root of this story. Do you care, Jesus?
Setting the scene for us, Mark tells us that after teaching the crowds, Jesus was ready for a little time away from it all, to recharge for the next time he’d be swamped by crowds. In four chapters he’s been swarmed numerous times. They are heading across the lake, to gentile territory, perhaps a nod to Jesus’ expanding mission to not just the Jewish people but to the non-Jewish as well. A storm pops up, and not just any storm, but a great storm, a mega storm says the greek. And these seasoned fishermen fear for their lives. Their boat is full of water. And somehow Jesus is still napping.
They don’t wake him up until the boat is nearly swamped. And when they do, its not to ask for a miracle or to give him a bucket to bail water with the rest of them. They wake him up when they are about to die. They say “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Rabbi, aren’t you worried about us? Why aren’t you as anxious as we are???? Do you care Jesus?
Jesus rebukes the storm. In our modern conveyance, he tells the storm off, and tells it exactly where it can go. Just like his rebuke and casting out of the demonic spirits that tormented people. This reminds us of the long held beliefs of many ancient cultures that the seas were the domain of the chaos god. In the Old Testament especially in Job – the Almighty declares that even the sea is under my power. “I built it like an above ground pool for you humans, and I laid the foundations and the boundaries and put some floating sea monsters in it too. You may experience it as perilous and mysterious, but to me it’s just the water feature I built for my creation.”
God’s view of the world is a bit different than ours, to say the least, and we are reminded of that time and time again in scripture. But we also hear that question echoed through centuries of stories and scripture when people are confronted with chaos and suffering and injustice – Do you care, God?? Are you sleeping or just resting your eyes??? Don’t you care that we are dying?
This is a fair question. Don’t you care that children die around the world from hunger and preventable diseases??? Don’t you care that black bodies are being wounded and killed for minor traffic stops? Don’t you care that people are killing themselves because they believe you MADE THEM WRONG?? Don’t you care God, that we are still losing people to this pandemic??
It is panic and anxiety that leads us to ask the question. Modern day preacher and prophet Debie Thomas writes, “I take refuge in this history because it means I’m in good company. It’s not a sin to ask God hard questions. It’s not unfaithful to wonder “Why?” or “When?” or “How much longer?” It’s not wrong to be afraid; God has wired us to experience fear when we’re threatened. The problem isn’t fear; the problem is where fear leads. When I face fearsome circumstances, my go-to position is not trust or even curiosity; it’s full-on suspicion. In my fear, I conjure up a God who is stony-faced, implacable, and loveless. A God to whom I am expendable. A God who withdraws. Once I’ve conjured that God, I withdraw, too. I curl up tight and focus on mere survival, convinced that I’m alone. All capacity for reflection disappears.”
And our anxiety and distrust leads us down the path to disregard thousands of years of faithful witness to a God who shows up, to a God who saves, to a God who comes down and stays with. The same God who laid the foundations of the earth and gave the seas its boundaries. This powerful God whose mercy endures forever. This is who sails in our boat with us. This Jesus who rebukes the sea and its mega storm and brings calm to the chaos, but not just any calm, again, a mega calm.
The disciples react to the mega calm after the mega storm, with mega awe – wide eyes and paying attention. Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him? The disciples are learning just who their rabbi is, and this will not be the last time they react with fear rather than faith.
There are still storms, sufferings, and strife – chaos appears to rule on land and in the seas – but the presence of Christ brings peace. Can we find comfort in the promise that God is with us, especially in the storm, and lift our voices in praise and thanksgiving, trusting the one who created us and loves us and stays with us? Amen.