Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Who Then Is This...?"

My thanks for insights into this week's Gospel reading go to the tidbits and thoughts provided by Lindy Black on the always delightful blog page "Sermon Nuggets."

Mark 4:35-41
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But 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?” He 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?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

This is the Word of the Lord.

I always read this and thought about how bone-weary Jesus must have been, to be able to curl up on some cushions and sleep through a storm at sea. I mean, think of it: he’s been preaching all day to a crowd so large, so uncontrollable that, for his own safety, he had to get in a boat and sit just offshore. This is, of course, following the part where he heals on the Sabbath, calls the Twelve, and has to listen to his mother and brothers call him a nutcase, and that is in addition to all the other healings and exorcisms and preaching that he’d been doing, all running at a breakneck pace, every day some new experience, some new crowd, some new town. So he has to be tired!

But, of course, the point is not that Jesus is tired, or that he slept through a storm.

Storms on open water were not uncommon at all, and on lakes like the Sea of Galilee, they had a tendency to pop up out of nowhere, capsizing boats and killing the fishermen. But these were seasoned veterans, these disciples, many of them had known nothing but fishing their entire lives. They had been through these surprise storms before. Terrifying though it may be, I’m betting that, at first, the disciples simply hunkered down and did what they knew to do when storms happened: rely on their experience and expertise to get them though. Perhaps they didn’t give a second thought to who was sleeping in the back; after all, they knew to turn the bow into the waves, to bail the water from the boat, to row with all their might and make for land. They had this covered, thanks.

Yet as the minutes wore on, everything was going wrong. The waves crashed from all sides, the wind whipped madly, as if the very forces of nature themselves had decided that this one tiny boat was an insult, a fly to be swatted from the face of the earth. Rowing and bailing to the point of exhaustion, somehow these hardened, experienced lifelong fishermen couldn’t keep ahead. The wind and the rain and waves filled the boat until all hope was lost.

We aren’t told which disciple first realized that they had someone on board who had the power to command demons to leave those they possess, or whose wild imagination convinced them that this slumbering rabbi could do anything at all about rain in the first place. What we do know is that, rather than waking Jesus up with a plea for help, there is only a cold accusation: “We’re dying, and you don’t care!”

Back in the first chapter of Mark, Jesus was preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, and drove a demon from a man. The words he used against that demon were the same he used against the storm – In both cases, Jesus rebukes, and in both cases, he demands “Peace,” or “be silent;” and “be still,” or “be muzzled”… and like the demon, the storm has no other option than to obey.

In the dead calm, I imagine one or two of the disciples still wildly bailing, so bent on trying to stay ahead of the waves that it takes them a moment or two to realize the storm was over. The rest are standing, slack-jawed. One of those who had been bailing asks, “what happened?” Someone whispers in reply, pointing at Jesus, “he happened.”

And as Jesus lays back down on the cushion to resume his nap, he asks these stunned disciples, “Why are y’all so scared? Don’t you get it yet?”

There’s another parallel to the story of Jesus casting out the demon in Mark’s first chapter. When the demon departs, the people are amazed, and ask, “what is this?” – wondering at the great power God had bestowed upon this itinerant preacher, who had authority over unclean spirits. Standing in the dead calm, the boat gently bobbing, steam rising from the wood as the sun began to bake it dry, the disciples ask, “who then is this…?” – the realization dawning that this ability was not simply a power at work in Jesus, but an indication of who Jesus was… who Jesus is.

While it is always tempting to simply treat this account as a comforting story of how God will deliver us from the storms of life, the message is much deeper. Yes, Jesus slept through the storm, but like I said earlier, that isn’t the point. And I almost want to say that the fact of Jesus calming the storm isn’t really the point, either.

After all, storms happen –Physical, visible storms like those that devastated parts of Alabama in April of last year; and storms that few people outside can see, storms that may not destroy homes or level towns, but which wreak havoc on families and individuals, quietly ripping hearts and relationships to shreds.

Storms happen. The point of the reading is not that, by asking loudly enough, by accusing God of not caring, we can avoid the storms. After all, isn’t it true that Jesus had to go through storms? Think of it: Jesus endured the storm of being rejected by everyone at one time or another. Jesus endured the storm of the Cross, where even God the Father turned away from God the Savior. There was the storm of Gethsemane, the storm of the Cross, and the storm of death and the tomb. There were most certainly storms, worse storms than you and I could imagine. Even to Jesus, storms happened.

The point of this reading is the question the disciples ask at the end: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The storm of the cross led to the Resurrection, where Jesus rebuked, silenced, and muzzled Death, hell and the grave, ripped open the curtain separating humankind from the God who loves them, and drew the circle of forgiveness, acceptance, and reconciliation with the Creator wide, leaving no one out! What seemed like a storm of utter destruction instead became the springtime rains that call the flowers forth to bloom in new life!

Our storms can lead to destruction, yes; we can staunchly rely on our own experience and expertise, and when these fall short (as they often must). We can give in to the terror of loss and lack, convinced that the God who loved us enough that the only gift good enough for us was God’s only son does not in fact care that we are dying!

But when our storms push us to the end of our rope, they can also lead us to awaken our God, or, better said, to awaken to our God, to draw close to our Savior, and to answer, for ourselves, the only question that truly matters: “who then is this…?”

No comments:

Post a Comment