Ancient people were always deeply afraid of travelling by sea. This is especially so because of the primitive ships that they had to travel in – the wise sailors would hug the shore as much as possible. In Genesis 1, God creates order from the ‘toho va bohu’ – the dark depths of the ocean and chaos. In Exodus 14, the people fleeing from the slavery of Pharaoh find liberation only to come face-to-face with the dark depths of the impenetrable sea that blocks their way until the Lord intervenes and uses a mighty wind to drive back the dark depths of the water and leads them through on newly created dry ground. The sea comes to symbolise all that is evil and dark. In the book of Daniel, the sea is the place where the monsters come from. Our Psalm today as well as a number of others speak of the creator God who calms the sea, who brings order to the chaos, telling the raging storms to quieten down.
Sometimes life can become too much for us or for those who are close to us. It can seem like we are in a small boat that is being tossed about on the waves. Sometimes the storms that arise are like the one in the gospel today – sudden and unexpected. Sometimes the storms have always been there. Sometimes they have been brewing and building for untold ages and we cannot remember a time when they were not there!
In our first reading we have part of the Lord’s response to Job. Job has endured a terrible storm – he lost everything – family and friends, possessions and reputation, livelihood and health. He suffered and complained; he called God into the dock. Yet in the end, through it all he trusted. And in that trust he found his vindication. Trust gave him all that he needed – even if he never really found the answers that he was looking for.
All four Gospels record this storm out at sea – this event where the disciples are scared witless when their tiny little boat is tossed about on massive waves and seems almost at the point of being swamped and sunk. The sea and the waves are signs of all that darkness and nothingness that stand against us.
Mark has a very spiritual and symbolic telling of the events. In the Gospels, when you have the disciples and Jesus in a boat, that is always an image of the church. All the disciples (that is ‘us’) are in the boat of the church, journeying with Christ. We are always journeying to the far side – to the reaches of the world, of time, of experience.
In the midst of this journey, this gale rages up and the waves begin to break over the bow of the boat so that they are almost swamped. This particular storm must have been really something – because these fishermen were used to the weather on the Sea of Galilee. They were used to the many storms that would brew and blow – but this storm was really something. This was not a minor one – it wasn’t one that you’d get everyday or every few weeks. This storm doesn’t stand for the small troubles that we sometimes have to face – but the truly devastating and destructive powers that sometimes rise up to overwhelm us. The kinds of forces that can so dominate our lives that it can lead to an overdose or a suicide attempt.
And yet here in the story, Jesus is asleep – in the stern, with his head on a cushion. Amazing – while we are going through these terrible crises and Jesus is just asleep. He hasn’t just happened to fall asleep while sitting at the back – no he has made himself nice and comfortable on this cushion. Kind of pathetic at one level!
Yet Jesus knows the source of true power – he knows the creative and sustaining power of God. Maybe Jesus is pointing to something precious here: maybe we need to cultivate that same kind of place of peace and calm in our lives. Where do we live spiritually? (Note: the storm is still there either way!)
So they wake Jesus up – “do you not care that we are going down?” Save us we are going to drown! Out of the depths they cry out to the Lord. They are utterly desperate. He gets up; and with a single word he rebukes the storm and all is calm. They saw the same powerful forces that were at work in the beginning, at the dawn of creation. Trust in the Lord. Cry out to Jesus.
Recorded at St Col’s
Sunday 12, Year B. Mark 4:35-41