“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:41
We can think of the Gospel reading in terms of four words beginning with “A”, words that tell the story and words that help us think about our own faith: afloat, asleep, afraid and amazed.
They were afloat. We read in Saint Mark Chapter 4 Verses 35-36, “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.” Did you ever think about why they were in that boat? Jesus just wants time to be peaceful, time to rest from the demands of the people all around him. He doesn’t suggest going anywhere specific, just “the other side”. There is an opportunity to be quiet. Saint Mark says they were “leaving the crowd behind. It would not be hard to imagine the throngs of people on the shore, watching Jesus’ every movement, listening for every word he might speak. There would have been many who were disappointed that he was getting into a boat, some people seemed determined that even on the lake, they would stay near to him, “other boats were with him”, says Saint Mark; other boats were crossing the lake because Jesus was crossing the lake.
Being afloat can be a picture of our own faith. Sometimes we will feel there is a road ahead of us that can be easily followed, the direction to go is easy to see, the way to go is clear, more often, we may feel that we are afloat. A boat has no road to follow, it can go in any direction, and, when far from shore, there might be no clear signs, no landmarks by which to set a course. Some of the disciples were fishermen, most were not, they probably felt uneasy stepping into a small open boat, but did so in order to follow Jesus. Where would our faith take us? Are we people who are prepared to follow Jesus on whatever journey he may lead us, or are we people who wish to stay firmly on the shore, unwilling to move on from where we are?
Jesus was asleep. Verses 37-38 tell us, “A great gale 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.” Becoming human, Jesus has accepted the realities of what it means to be one of us. He is so tired, so exhausted from his encounters with the crowds that he has to sleep. While everyone around is awake and alert to the realities of the boat journey, Jesus finds a space at the back of the boat and stretches out and falls asleep. He is able to sleep because he has confidence that everything is in God’s hands, that God will protect them and bring them safely to the other side. Free of fear and anxiety, he can sleep soundly.
What does Jesus being asleep say to us about our own faith? A lady in Dublin used to talk about bringing all her anxieties and problems to God at the end of each day and leaving them with him, saying, “there is no point both of us losing sleep over the things.” Sometimes we live our lives as though we believed God himself were asleep, thinking God takes notice only when we alert him, as though her were someone who had to be shaken from their slumbers. How often have we the confidence to be like Jesus and to leave things in God’s hands?
Being afloat, and with Jesus asleep as the storm raged, the disciples became afraid. In Verse 38, “they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?'” Having seen and heard all they had, they still have no confidence. Even the fishermen among them, the seasoned boatmen, are afraid at their boat will become so swamped that they will be unable to ride out the storm, that they will be unable to turn the head of the boat into the waves and that the waves will hit them broadside and turn the boat over. Should they capsize in the storm, the prospects of survival would have been slim. Look at the question they ask Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” It has the tone of a rebuke, it suggests that their thinking was that they felt that they were in danger of drowning and that Jesus could do something, but wasn’t doing so. The question is at one an expression of doubt and a declaration of faith.
The disciples are people of doubt and faith; even on the first Easter morning, they believe but still question what has taken place. A mixture of doubt and faith probably describes all of our lives as Christians, we would like to believe more firmly, but there are moments when we are fearful, when our trust weakens. Like the disciples in the boat, times come along when we are afraid at what lies ahead and we call out to God, asking him why he doesn’t care. Like the disciples in our expressions of doubt, there is a belief that God is there and that he will hear us.
They were afloat, Jesus was asleep, they were afraid, and, at the end of the story, they were amazed. If we read Verse 39-41, they tell us, “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. He 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?'” They have woken Jesus in the expectation that he might do something, but what had they expected? Had they thought that Jesus would say how terrible was the situation that they faced, but be able to do nothing? Had they thought that he would pray with them before they all drowned? If they had thought they would lose their lives, what had they thought about Jesus? What did they think would happen next? Saint Mark says they were filled with “great awe”, they had seen Jesus perform miracles of healing, but this was something altogether different.
What about ourselves? Are we ever willing to be filled with “great awe”? Do we say our prayers and feel that is the end of the matter, that expressing our feelings is the most that can be done in response to a situation? Do we expect anything to happen, or is it a matter of just words? The disciples are no different from us, they ask for help, but there hope has not been great, and they find themselves amazed. Are we willing to be amazed? Are we willing to say our prayers and expect things to happen?
Afloat, asleep, afraid and amazed – four words telling the story and asking questions of us.