On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41 ESV)
One often remembers first times – going to school, on an aeroplane, meeting a relative, hearing a song or going to a concert, reading a book, success and even failure. For me this text will always remind me of my first sermon. I was assigned it in Homiletics class at the seminary and I had to prepare and deliver my first sermon based on this text. I’m not repeating it today!
We have no account of the disciples repeating the experience either. We do have them in boats on other occasions and among them are at least fisherman experienced at what to do and how to deal with the squalls and storms that can rip across the Sea of Galilee. But we have no additional account of Jesus telling a storm to ‘be muzzled’ – that’s the literal Greek – whereas in the English we tend to hear the words ‘be still’. More polite it seems to me. Less dramatic. There is an account of the strong wind calming when Jesus got into the boat having walked on the water but this command – this scene of Jesus sleeping calmly in a storm, waking to terrified disciples, and then telling the storm to ‘shut it’ in the same way you might tell off a yapping dog – no, there is no other occasion like it. This was the first time – and, it seems, the only time.
However it isn’t the only time the Gospel writer, Mark, uses this Greek word for he uses it earlier when Jesus was in the Capernaum synagogue and he silenced and cast out an unclean spirit from a man. Again you have this emphatic silencing – an order – and it happens. We can’t do that – for a storm, the barking dog, or even a crying little one – and yet Jesus says things and they happen. It also can make us wonder why experienced fishermen were so terrified on an inland lake – granted it is a big inland lake – with a storm. Perhaps there was something unnatural about it? Perhaps something that made the hairs on their necks stand in alarm rather than from the strong gusts?
And then what happens – how do they feel – when the storm – whatever it is – ceases? We often forget this part of the text – the disciples’ reaction. Yes, we can understand their question, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ but maybe miss that they were filled with a great fear when things were calm!
There is a first time when we ‘see’ Jesus as someone like us – yes, of course, he is a human being – but also not like us – there is something ‘other’ about him. This maybe the first time we hear about Jesus. It may also be a long time after we’ve heard about Jesus but something happens and we ‘see’ Jesus as if for the first time. Maybe it is another miracle. Maybe it is his teaching or the fact that he forgave sins as if he was God. Maybe it is at his death. Maybe it is coming to grips with his resurrection – and that is another first time on this planet. If the resurrection is true, then Jesus is someone everyone on this planet will confront. Of course, if the resurrection is false we are wasting our time here. If we want to be good, we don’t need this sort of religion to help us – and any claims about Jesus are ultimately useless if he is dead.
It is easy to domesticate Jesus, package him, present him – and each generation will do it – and needs to resist doing it – when they make Jesus into their own image. This is one of the themes we get throughout the gospel accounts. People think they have understood Jesus – categorised him – know where he ‘fits’ in the scheme of things and thus know where he fits with us. That’s how we live with
people – spouse, family, grocer, doctor, best friend, enemy, colleague, and so on – having worked out who they are and how we relate and how we live. The gospel accounts and this event in particular brings Jesus into people’s lives in ways that are outside known experience, legal experience, custom, culture. Here he tells a storm to shut up and his disciples to stop being afraid and have faith.
It will take three years of experience and a resurrection to take confused disciples and turn them into bold proclaimers of Jesus. Judas had the same experiences – he’s not mentioned in our text but we have no reason to doubt he wasn’t there – and yet he could process this experience and all the experiences he had in such a way to regard Jesus as … – we’re not sure what but someone who could be betrayed. That’s the point of miracles and experiences – even significant first ones – they are not necessarily proof or definitive about something – even as they are personal and often powerful – because over time they might blur with the years and all the memories.
What holds people are the words – promises, commitments, accounts, stories. We can see this in families and relationships – especially when there is faithfulness exhibited because somewhere there are words said and heard and being lived out. That is why each Sunday we have a Gospel reading to meet Jesus – the Old Testament and Epistle point to him as well but often their focus is more the consequence of following Jesus – whereas the Gospel is very much Jesus stepping into our lives – the ones we’re living now – today – our real lives with hopes and dreams, joys and sorrows – our lives with real people around us – our lives with storms or calm, health or suffering – and he speaks to us. We teach our children the bookends, so to speak – ‘I love you’ and ‘Don’t be afraid’ – but there is also a lot in between – each week, each day – as we listen to Jesus, as Jesus serves us by forgiving us, guiding us, healing us, and blessing us.
Who is this Jesus? That is the question!
People can go through quite a journey discovering the answer. But Jesus is faithful to us and committed to us. No matter the storms, he can and does help – always his way and on his terms – but help he does because that is why he is here still today so that we may live each day with faith and hope and trust and love.
Thank goodness Jesus is … and isn’t … like us. He is our God who serves. And yes, he can be trusted.