Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 23, 2024

Mark 4:35-41 Commentary

What an interesting detail Mark gives us when he narrates the story of Jesus calming the storm. He says that the disciples “took him [Jesus] with them in the boat, just as he was.” Just as he was…

The disciples took Jesus just as he was. Which, apparently, was a tired man because the next thing we know, Jesus is asleep on a cushion at the back of the boat even as a storm whips up on the Sea of Galilee. He sleeps even though the boat is starting to fill with water as the wind carries the waves over its sides.

So the disciples wake Jesus up. It seems to me that they do not anticipate he will be able to simply speak and relieve them of their peril—otherwise the fact that he does so would not be as terror-filling as it is. I actually wonder if they wake him up because sleeping through one’s troubles is often what you do if you are not concerned enough about what’s going on. I think the disciples are panicked and afraid and believe their lives, Jesus included, to be in danger. And yet, just as he was, he slept. He slept while they all thought they were dying.

Awakened, Jesus calms the storm and displays his lordship over creation, but even more, he uses the opportunity to guide the disciples into deeper knowledge. They have just experienced a in real time parable. Having spoken to the sea, he now speaks to the disciples.

There are any number of ways we might read into his questions, but it seems to me that Jesus is connecting their faith in him to their fear/timidity (see the textual point below about the two different words used in verses 40-41 to speak of fear). “Do you not yet have faith?” Jesus asks, thereby answering his first question, “Why are you afraid?”

What might have been different if they did have faith in Jesus as more than just a man? Might they have woken him up and instead of questioning why he is not as fearful and concerned as them, might they have asked him to intervene? We see a little growth with Peter on another journey on the Sea of Galilee, when as his faith falters, he cries out to Jesus to save him. There too, Jesus asks about his faith and doubt. There, instead of just being filled with awe and asking “Who is this?” Peter proclaims Jesus as the Son of God. (Matthew 14.22-33)

Unlike in Matthew and Luke, Mark places this event on the same day as the seed parables about the Kingdom of God that we read last week. (Though Luke does have the parable of the sower and the soils close to the stilling of the storm.) Could it be that Mark chose to understand Jesus stilling the storm as another image of the small Kingdom seed’s great power? The Jesus they brought onto the boat was just as he was, a tired man. But what does he do? He shows himself to be the one with authority over the forces of nature and the things that threaten our physical lives. He calls us to courage and faith in him, just as he is, and shows us that we cannot assume we understand who he is or how he works. Just as he is, it turns out, is rather great and mighty, powerful and present—even if, for a time, it looks like he is sleeping.

Textual Points

Two different Greek words are used to talk about fear in this passage. Jesus asks the disciples why they are deilos, whereas the disciples are said to be filled with great phobos. The fear Jesus asks about is related to internal cowardice or timidity—something that keeps you from action. Phobos, on the other hand, is a type of terror or awe one experiences by something external, like what happens to you when you encounter the powerful Son of God firsthand. It is perhaps by experiencing the second kind of fear that one’s faith is built up enough to counter the first kind…

Many exegetes see a parallel between Jonah and Jesus in this story. In fact, they point to parallel language and storytelling to the Septuagint Old Testament text. A similar kind of fear causes a frenzy among Jonah’s crew mates and the storm subsides as he is thrown overboard (see especially Jonah 1.10). But Jesus is greater than Jonah: Jesus controls the winds and the sea. Nor is Jesus running away from his calling, just as he will not run away from becoming a sacrifice.

Illustration Idea

Have you ever been told by another adult to “calm down” or “stop feeling ____”? Doesn’t really work, does it? In fact, I find that it tends to just compound the number of feelings I’m experiencing rather than diminishing them. And, it makes me feel like the person telling me to calm down doesn’t actually care about me or what’s going on.

I especially appreciate, then, that Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples how to feel as they are in the midst of the storm. Notice that the only things told to calm down are the waves and the only thing literally rebuked is the wind. Some read Jesus’s question as a rebuke of the disciples, and it might be, but the Greek text simply says that Jesus said his question. And even in the question, we see that Jesus is not speaking to the feelings, but to the disposition of their hearts: they need faith in order to not be cowards. Jesus takes us, just as we are, and leads us to get to the heart of the matter of what we’re feeling.


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