One could read Jesus calming the sea in scriptures as a metaphor for life. We doggedly row our way toward our next destination when a ‘storm’ abruptly arises, demanding some adjustment or even a change of plans. We might see it as a critique of our spiritual life where we turn to Jesus only in times of trouble.
We might see it as a revelation to the apostles: They knew him as a man. Even when they had a glimpse of his divinity they did not understand. I read it differently.
Image by ambermb
By Steve Hall
We’re all gonna die!
WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!
While other clues may also be offered, this singular phrase, screeched in an hysterical, panicked soprano, is a sure indication that you’ve probably paid your way into a less than Oscar-worthy movie. But, before we explore the refrain, let’s examine the forces that were at work.
I grew up in the Midwest. Storms were never a surprise, though their greater or lesser intensity might have been. They regularly developed along bands running hundreds of miles from north to south. If you had a clear view you could frequently see them advancing, announcing their imminent arrival with flashes of lightning and, as they got closer, the crashing of thunder as well. Hills were too low to obstruct one’s vision, so only trees and buildings could restrict your view. Most often, you even knew where to look without being told—try southwest.
Such meteorological anticipation is not possible in all locations. Storms can develop with little warning on the Sea of Galilee. Meteorologists attribute this to the close proximity of extremes in both humidity and elevation. To the north and east of the Sea the hills rise quickly to 2000 feet; there the air is cool and dry. The Sea, however, lies in a basin where the water’s surface is almost 700 feet below sea level. All in all it’s a 2700 foot drop over a very short distance. In that lower region the air is warm and humid. The sharp, contrasts can make for abrupt weather changes, and sudden storms are not uncommon.
Not every Gospel story is recorded by all three synoptic authors. This one, about Jesus and the apostles in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, is. There is remarkable similarity between the accounts yet with notable variations in wording. Matthew and Mark describe the storm in this morning's reading as a great storm, while Luke notes specifically that it was a windstorm. Matthew says that the boat was being swamped by the waves; Mark notes that the waves were beating into the boat and that the boat was filling; Luke tells how the boat was filling with water and they were in danger. All three mention that Jesus was sleeping; and in all three he is awakened by the apostles. In waking Jesus, they address him as either Lord (Mt.), or Teacher (Mk.), or Master (Lk.) They variously call out a plea: ‘Save us’; a question: ‘Do you not care’; or an exclamation: ‘We are perishing.’
Both the similarities and the differences strongly suggest that this incident was frequently, verbally recounted in the days, months, years following the resurrection. In spite of the language used to awaken Jesus, none of the accounts should be taken to suggest that the apostles recognized his divinity. Moreover, their wonder after the storm is calmed makes it clear that they were not expecting Jesus to do something about the storm. Quite the contrary. In all three, after the storm has been rebuked and quieted, we hear the same puzzled, though private exclamations: "Who then is this?" "What sort of man is this?"
One could read this account as a metaphor for life. We doggedly row our way toward our next destination when a ‘storm’ abruptly arises, demanding some adjustment or even a change of plans. We might see it as a critique of our spiritual life where we turn to Jesus only in times of trouble. We might see it as a revelation to the apostles: They knew him as a man. Even when they had a glimpse of his divinity they did not understand. What comes to my mind is the screeching from the ‘B’ movie, the time-worn refrain from which we started: “We’re all gonna die!”
We don’t hear the exact words in the evangelist’s accounts, but the notion is certainly there. ‘Save us’ — ‘Do you not care’ — ‘We are perishing.’ All three exclamations carry that unspoken fear. “We’re all gonna die!” In a way we are tempted to shrug our shoulders and say ‘yeah, so what.’ But Jesus is more empathetic to that concern. He rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Quiet! Be still!" The wind ceased and there was great calm. In the aftermath He asked them to examine their faith, for fear and faith are not traveling companions.
Today’s reading is from the gospel of Mark; but In Matthew's organization of the Gospel material, this incident closely follows the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus talks about just this kind of life circumstance. Listen close and you will hear Jesus repeating himself, reminding the disciples of what they had just heard him say. "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life. . . ." (Mt 6:25) "Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span?" (Mt 6:27) ". . . will he [the Father] not provide for you, O you of little faith?" (Mt 6:30)
“Do not be afraid: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)