JESUS CALMS OUR STORMS
Job 8:1, 8-11; 2Cor 5:14-17; Mk 4:35-41
In today’s gospel reading, we encounter the disciples crossing the lake to escape from the crowds. Jesus, worn out from work, is asleep in the stern of the boat. Their journey is obstructed and severely threatened by a violent storm. The disciples strive on their own to cope with the storm but it proves too much for them. They are thoroughly frightened. They awaken the Master and he speaks to the wind, and there comes a great calm. This miracle fills them with awe and amazement.
1. A BACKGROUND TO THE GOSPEL EPISODE
In order to appreciate the reaction of the disciples of Jesus at the end of today’s gospel passage, it may be helpful to examine the attitude of the Jews in Jesus’ days towards the sea and the elements. The Jewish people held the sea in great fear. Somehow, they believed that the sea was evil since it was the abode of all sorts of monsters and evil forces. Whenever there was a storm at sea, they believed that it was those forces that were showing their anger, with or without being provoked. Only a force greater that these evil forces could contain them and weaken the power of their anger. That force had to be divine. Such a force had to be God himself, or it could only come from God.
With the above background, we can better appreciate the reaction of the disciples. They are out at sea. The sea was the Sea of Galilee, an inland sea, yet quite capable of some remarkably bad storms, like the one described in today’s gospel passage. Things got so bad that the disciples were afraid of their lives. They feared that the boat would capsize and they would all be drowned. At that point, they might have felt that the evil forces that were believed to inhabit the sea were at their highest level of anger, and no one could call them to order.
2. THE CRISIS
This event takes place in an evening. Jesus, wearied by a day with the demanding crowd of people, suggests they head to the other side of the lake, in what we assume was a fishing boat. The disciples must have been quite some way into their journey (since Jesus is already asleep) when the storm struck. This is not just an ordinary storm. The Greek word used here is seismos (as in an earthquake). It might be better seen as a storm with the force of a hurricane! These were experienced fishermen (most of them) and they were terrified. The gospel of Mark tells us the boat was beginning to fill with water.
One can sense that these experienced fishermen relied on their knowledge of this Sea and the storms. Soon, however, they discovered that they were outmatched by the present circumstances. The power and size of the waves combined with the wind to produce a force that was more than they could handle. They were all in a state of panic. Their words to Jesus tell it all: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” This was a cry of fear and desperation! Perhaps, a little anger was also mixed in those word of the disciples. They were drowning and here was Jesus sleeping!!
3. JESUS IS LORD OF THE ELEMENTS
We are further told here that Jesus “got up.” It appears from the Greek word that was used, that Jesus stood up in the boat (which is usually not recommended, especially in a storm) and the gospel text tells us that Jesus “rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” Here, Jesus speak like a parent (with enough anger to be compelling) ordering a group of children, “Be Quiet!” What happens next is remarkable. The storm does not settle down. It stops! The waves do not reduce. No! Immediately the water becomes perfectly still.
The last sentence of today’s gospel story tells us that “They were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?’” In other words, the disciples are terrified, amazed. They are no longer terrified by the storm. Now, they are terrified by Jesus! Here is a man who can contain the wind and the sea and all the evil forces that propelled them. But, there is only one person who can command the wind, the rain, and the sea; and that is the Lord God. This truth is learned from the Book of Psalms where we read, “O Lord God of hosts, who is as mighty as you, O Lord? Your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them” (Ps. 89:8-9). Regarding the exodus from Egypt, the psalmist states, “Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, so that he might make known his mighty power. He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry; he led them through the deep as through a desert.” (Ps. 106:8-9; Is. 51:9-10). It is these same sentiments that are expressed in the first reading of today, coming from the Book of Job. There is no situation that is so chaotic that God cannot subdue and crate something surprisingly good out of it.
In the face of this stunning miracle, the disciples were justifiably filled with awe and asked the question: “Who can this be?” What these disciples saw was the very power and authority of the Lord God Almighty, as found in Jesus. As it were, they had just taken an “advanced lesson” in the true nature of Christ, and it terrified them! The disciples caught a glimpse of the power, holiness, sovereignty, and the authority of Christ. Suddenly, they are aware of their sin and their personal inadequacy before Jesus. These human beings were in the presence of God and they became terrified, knowing instinctively that sinful people cannot stand in front of a Holy God. The threat of the storm was nothing compared to the greater threat of standing before a Holy God! The more clearly true a Christian sees Jesus, the more aware he/she becomes of his/her sins; and the more humbled he/she is before God’s grace. Arrogance evaporates when you see yourself in comparison to the holiness of God.
This passage reminds us that Jesus is more powerful than any storm we will face. The focus of the passage is not us. It is Jesus. It is not about our problems; it is about his greatness. The episode points to the irony that the more clearly we see who Jesus is, the more minor would our problems seem to be. The lesson is clear: Jesus is God. He is all-powerful. He has authority over all creation! He is much more than just a ‘great man’.
4. JESUS AND THE STORMS IN OUR LIVES
Just before Jesus calmed the storm, Jesus asks a penetrating question: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Any normal human being would panic in a similar situation. But the fact that Jesus poses this question means that there is a lesson that we need to learn here. We need to grow in our faith in God. Sometimes we feel that God has lost control, or that he has looked away, or even that he has forgotten about us. If we believe in the sovereignty of God (that He has absolute control) and we believe the gospel message that he loves us and will never abandon us, why are we ever afraid? Have we forgotten the famous words of St. Paul to the Romans: “If God is for us, who can be against us?… who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecutions, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or the sword?” (C.f Rom 831-35)
Very often, we get into trouble because we panic when trials and difficulties come our way. We try to handle by our own personal force and means. We assume that such challenges cannot be the will of God. But why do we think this? As we read through the Bible, there were no problem-free lives. Many of the greatest victories that we read in the Bible came through the difficulties. In fact, we have a huge advantage over the disciples. We have all these historical accounts and can look back on them. We know about the Resurrection; we have the Bible; we have benefitted from the coming of the Holy Spirit; and we have the church, and the people of God to support us. We have thousands of year of Jesus showing his faithfulness. We even have more years of walking with Jesus than the disciples had. It is our job to take the resources God has given us and TRUST HIM.
In our daily lives we encounter storms of one kind or another – troubles, disappointments, quarrels, set-back, accident, illness, etc. Often, we are worried about many things: parents worried about their children, people worried about their health or that of others, farmers worrying about the weather or their livestock, financial worries, worries about relationships, worries about so many different things. These worries breed storms in our live. Every storm tests our faith in God. Although we turn to God in the midst of the storms, at the same time, we often doubt him. Just as Jesus was present with his disciples in the midst of the storm at sea, he is also present with us in our own storms. Jesus comes to us in some way, usually through the help of those near to us and says, “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.” How often we have heard it said, “If it wasn’t for the help of so-and-so, I would never have made it through that time.”
Just as the boat of the disciples was being tossed about dangerously by these stormy waves at sea, we can readily think of the Church in the stresses and tensions of her existence in the world. We can think of the Church in her mission to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to all peoples of the world, and to overcome suffering, death, and evil in the world. Perhaps we are tempted to think that the Lord has no interest in us; he has neglected us and he is asleep. But the stilling of the storm by Christ is a guarantee that the Church will always come out successful in her mission, because of the presence of Christ in it, and because of the promise of Christ that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mtt 16:18).
5. A STORY: THE FOOTPRINTS
Let us finish with a reflection to assure us that Jesus is still with us even when we don’t feel his presence.
One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the LORD. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; one belonging to him, and the other to the LORD.
When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.
This really bothered him and he questioned the LORD about it. “LORD, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.”
The LORD replied, “My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
With Jesus on our side, who/what can be against us? Jesus is always by our side to guide, protect, and keep us safe. In his glorified body, he does not grow weary nor does he fall asleep over our problems. He does not take away our storms but he leads us through them. Let us not relent in our faith in him, but trust in him at all times, and in every circumstance. Jesus, I Trust in You!