“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.” Mark 4:39 NRSV
With the arrival of June, we are just weeks away from the official beginning of summer. This time of the year the heat and humidity begin to creep up and with that comes the potential for afternoon and evening thunderstorms. For some reason, I have always liked the sound of a thunderstorm. Now mind you, I do not care for the potential for damage through wind, hail, flooding, etc., but I do find the rumble of distant thunder a bit relaxing. I recall from my childhood the great reverence which my grandparents expressed during thunderstorms. Anytime my cousins and I were at their house and a storm came up, they insisted upon complete quiet as “the Lord did his work.” There was no room for foolish behavior for the duration of the thunderstorm. It was a time to be still and wonder at the tremendous power of our Creator and Lord.
Our summertime pop-up storms do have a way of sneaking up on us, rearing their ugly thunderheads, dropping a deluge of rain, and passing almost as quickly as they arise. This was the reality for Jesus’ disciples within the story of their journey with Jesus across the Sea of Galilee as reported in Mark 4. Sudden storms were commonplace on the Sea of Galilee and those disciples with a background in fishing would have been quite familiar with the experience on this given occasion.
Mark 4 reports a significant number of parables taught by Jesus to a mass gathering of people who had assembled along the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. The crowd was so great that Jesus boarded a boat which was close at hand and used it as his “preaching stage” for the better part of the day. When evening arrived, Jesus dismissed the crowd and suggested that he and the disciples travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. I have always been intrigued by the line “they took him (Jesus) just as he was.” The image I have in mind when I read these words is of the disciples rolling their eyes, huffing and puffing because Jesus had been “long-winded,” and finally saying, “Let’s get moving!” I am pretty certain NONE of us can relate to such an experience in our own lives, wink, wink!
Tired from the day’s events, Jesus took his place at the stern of the boat and, finding a cushion, decided to catch a few z’s as they sailed along. Let me pause here for just a moment. I am grateful this additional detail is included within the story as it pictures Jesus in his humanity. We have a tendency to overlook the humanity of Jesus by choosing to focus upon his divinity, knowledge, abilities, etc. To divorce Jesus’ humanity from his divinity does a terrible injustice to an accurate understanding of Jesus. Such glimpses provided by the Gospel writers offer hope to present-day readers of Jesus’ reality and relatability in current circumstances. Jesus understood hunger, thirst, sadness, betrayal, and, yes, even fatigue. Even in his full-divinity, Jesus came in order to relate to our condition in both good and not so favorable moments.
Jesus’ napping quickly drew the ire of the disciples especially when the wind and waves began to stir and work against their vessel. I am sure you can think of a time when you were in trouble or needed something done only to find your spouse asleep, neighbor not home, or child not answering his or her phone. I imagine this to be similar to the disciples’ experience when the conditions deteriorated and they became fearful for their lives. Holding on for dear life and bailing water as quickly as possible, the disciples were astounded that Jesus was able to sleep through such a situation. “We are as good as gone and look at Jesus; he’s asleep! The audacity!”
While it can be easy to ridicule the disciples, the truth is…their story is our story. Their response to Jesus is quite similar to our own. “The storm is raging! Where are you God?!” By storm, I do not mean a thunderstorm, hurricane, etc., but rather those moments in life which happen suddenly with force and are beyond our own control. We all have storms in this life. Some may be similar in nature from person to person, but they are unique to our life experience. We each have different coping mechanisms and responses to these moments in life. The quick and easy response is to pass the blame upon God for allowing (often we say “causing) our predicament. We assume the worst outcome for what we are experiencing and draw the conclusion that we are “goners” when the winds and waves become contrary. In addition to our pessimism for the end result, we lash out at God for being “asleep” or not moving quickly enough to resolve our pain, heartache, or disappointment. We become disillusioned with God and wonder why we should believe if it does not make any real difference.
We must come to the realization that the silence of God does not equate to the indifference of God. God may not respond when or as we prefer, but God is faithful through the storm. As a Gospel song from some years ago suggests, “Sometimes God calms the storm and at other times he calms his child.” The storms of life cannot be avoided, but our response to them can be renewed and redeemed for the future. We may not understand such moments in our lives, but we can hold to the truth that the winds and waves continue to obey God. This is true for those storms which rage outside as well as those which surface within. Thanks be unto God!
The Reverend Kelley Smart