“Other boats were with him”. Mark 4:36
The Gospel reading is a familiar story. The calming of the storm from Saint Mark’s Gospel Chapter 4 is a story that many people will remember from school days. It is a story that is memorable because of the images it conjures in the minds of those listening to it, (and, perhaps, because of the fear it might have evoked among those familiar with the power of the sea!).
Even if the story had never been told at school, anyone who attends church regularly will probably have heard the story many times through the years.
Anyone who has attended church for many years has probably heard numerous sermons on the question asked by the disciples, “who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” It is aa question that could prompt many thoughts and lead one down many avenues of reflection.
Yet how many people listening to the reading would have noticed the words of Verse 36, “There were also other boats with him.” In all of the sermons and all of the teaching on this passage of Scripture, how often has anyone ever talked about the other boats? It seems odd that the other boats have hardly been mentioned
Perhaps the other boats have not been a subject upon which preachers have reflected because, when the story has been considered, the extraordinary elements of the story are so powerful that the more mundane details can easily be overlooked.
Yet perhaps there should be fascination with these other boats. If the other are merely a minor detail of an astonishing story, then why does Saint Mark take the trouble to mention them? He is very concise in his writing, he doesn’t use unnecessary words. If Mark refers to there being other boats crossing the lake, then he has a purpose in doing so. Perhaps his intention was to establish the veracity of the story, to point to there being other witnesses to the events. Perhaps he wishes to explain what happened to someone who was crossing the lake in one of those other boats.
The dominant theme of the Gospel reading is obviously the power of Jesus over the wind and the waves, but might there be important questions to be asked about those other boats. Who was in them? Where were they going? What were there thoughts on the incident?
Perhaps, if Mark had his own purpose in mentioning the other boats, it might not be a purpose that is relevant to people who are reading his words twenty centuries later. Perhaps he would not have anticipated there being questions about the other boats crossing the lake. Perhaps it’s like asking what Jesus wrote in the sand when confronted by the woman taken in adultery in Saint John Chapter 4, an intriguing detail but not one of significance.
But perhaps it is an important detail if the fact that other boats were with him helps Christians to gain insights into Jesus. Few church members would rank themselves as being among the closest of Jesus’ disciples. To be honest, if most Christians had been witnesses to Jesus’ ministry, there would have been a temptation to be standing at the edge of the crowd. Maybe not even members of the crowd; maybe it would be less worrying to be simply onlookers viewing from a safe distance.
The other boats, were they filled with safely distant onlookers? Were they the people who feared getting too close to Jesus? People interested in Jesus and what he might say, but not prepared to make any commitment to him?
What happens when you’re at a distance? You miss the action, you miss what is going on; you miss the opportunity to be first hand witnesses. What did it mean to be in one of those other boats? It meant boat meant enduring the same storm as those in Jesus’ boat without having the reassurance of his presence. It meant sharing the experience of the ensuing calm without being aware of Jesus’ power. It meant missing life changing moments.
Being in one of those other boats crossing the sea would have been a warning against saying one was a friend of Jesus, while not being prepared to stay close to him. Perhaps Saint Mark’s purpose is to gently nudge those who try to be disciples at a distance.
“Other boats were with him.” In which boat would people now choose to travel? How close to Jesus are people prepared to be?