The Third Sunday after Trinity 1 Samuel 17 ( Ia 4-11 9-23 ) 32-49; Psalm 9.9-end ; 2 Cor. 6.1-13; Mark 4. 35-41
This Sunday’s gospel comes at the end of a day when Jesus has been teaching on the edge of the lake, the ‘ boundary’ between land and sea where he called his first disciples. Jesus has been teaching on the Jewish side of Lake Galilee, or the Sea of Galilee ; on the other side is the Decapolis, mostly Gentile territory. This boat trip is going to cross much more than water; it will be a boundary crossing into the new and unknown deep of Jesus’s mission to the Gentiles. Boundaries are a challenge to disciples of all times – the crossing is often rough.
Jesus uses homely metaphors and parables to share his message. In these early chapters of Mark’s gospel, these metaphors and parables are theological in character in that they affirm the unity of nature and grace. He is saying that his heavenly Father so created everything that there is a direct correspondence between nature and grace – a oneness between the two which enables him to stand astride the two. Preceding the story of stilling the storm – which is probably an actual eye witness account- we have the ‘ grain of wheat’ parables , set in the rural countryside of Galilee. Jesus tells us he will be the grain of wheat dying and being buried to produce the harvest. The dying and bearing fruit principle is fundamental to Jesus’s disciples too.
Here the main point is Jesus’ work of salvation and discipleship are part of nature, part of the natural world. The parables are theological statements about how life is, because God made it so. They also imply that they reflect God’s way of working in every area of experience – nature and grace.
The calming of the storm on the lake of Galilee, which is our text for today, can be seen as a straightforward ‘ nature miracle’; as well as having a focus on the relationship between Jesus and his disciples.
We read of Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat with his head on the helmsman’s pillow. There is also the disciples’ reaction ‘ Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’, followed by ‘Do you still have no faith?’.
There is a sense that the incident is playing on different levels, Jesus is stilling the storms of our personal lives , even as he addresses the wind and the waves on the surface of the lake.
How do we feel about miracles? How do we feel about a nature miracle?
Our sympathies may well be with the disciples here. Some of them were fisherman. They knew the Lake Galilee very well. Experts are often the ones to raise the alarm – they can recognise what might happen, and the need to take action. Whatever the motivation, including their fear, their question reproaches Jesus for neglecting their safety by sleeping during a dangerous storm.
Jesus’s reply goes to the heart of discipleship: ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? What or who is ruling their lives? The passages from Samuel explore the problems of rulers, and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians focuses on the trials and tribulations of life, and the need to stand firm. The disciples needed Jesus to do things: he wanted then to trust him His very presence amongst them was all that they needed to survive – they knew how to handle a boat in a crisis, just get on with it.
Jesus’s authority over the storm reveals him as Lord of Creation, and recalls the divine authority over the chaotic waters ‘ in the beginning’ ( Genesis 1.2;) and when God divided the waters to allow people to pass through from slavery to freedom ( Exodus 14-15). Readings from the Book of Job can also be beautiful companions for this gospel. We can extend the picture to include awesome cosmic forces of the sea that threaten to engulf everything. Yet, as Job tells us, God has established boundaries, this is a God we can trust – even as we cross boundaries and enlarge our vision of God’s reigning presence filling the whole of creation. In Christ we are called to be boundary crossers, until our vision extends throughout the world. We are asked to become stillers of storms, to become ‘ bridges over troubled waters’, to stand firm in the heat.
For the disciples, and for ourselves, it should be enough to be with the Lord, whether life’s seas are running smoothly or not. It is enough that Christ goes with us on our journeys. We shall not be overcome.