Reflections for the 12th Sunday Ordinary Time (21.6.2015)
Readings: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41
Have you ever had the experience of reading something and thought you understood it; then read it again and come away with a very different interpretation?
Usually when I have read this story of the storm in Mark’s gospel I have tended to focus on the question at the end: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” My assumption while reading has tended to be that the Gospel of Mark tells us who Jesus is and the disciples are being prompted to wake up the the incredible fact that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. In other words our attention is held by the extraordinary signs and wonder as Jesus stills the storm – and still the disciples wonder who he is – and we feel exasperated that they seem so slow – they just don’t get it! This focus on the end has some value but I think it’s a bit of a distortion.
You see we are still in that part of the gospel where Jesus has just gathered his disciples (3:13-19) and is just beginning to train them and help them start to understand what he is involving them in. They have been warned about the mystery of the kingdom and the conflicts and even family divisions that obedience to the call of God may involve. But maybe this has all been a bit theoretical since Jesus has always been the one at the centre - teaching, healing, telling stories and taking the heat in the conflicts: what might it be like if these apprentice evangelists were to have a bit of a practicum? Everything is about to change and move to a new level.
He takes them on a boat – and maybe that should be a warning in itself! Think of the boats we encounter in the scriptures – Noah’s ark and the story of Jonah are two that come immediately to mind, but especially the story of Jonah. The imagery of the sea is as a place of wonder and danger, a watery chaos, the playground of Leviathan and monsters of the deep. I remember my own youthful reading of Melville and Verne (Moby Dick and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea) and the alarming images the sea could hold. So for the Israelites and the ancient world – the sea was a place of wonder indeed but also of chaos and disorder, of watery behemoths that might drag you down into the depths of some nightmare abyss.
Before we go any further – think about the Old Testament story of Jonah – how he is called by God to undertake a mission but tries to escape on a ship where he goes to sleep only to be awakened by the crew panicking because they are in a storm and fear they will drown. That leads to him being thrown overboard and the great whale swallows him and delivers him to destination God had in mind. Here in Mark there are different nuances – such as it is Jesus who is asleep, calm and untroubled: but clearly behind this passage is the figure of Jonah and the story of the prophet who did not want to go on the mission for which God called him.
Of course the disciples are terrified by the storm – they have been taken to a frightening place. That is the perfect image of what their call to follow Christ is all about; it is the same for us too. We are drawn into situations where we do not have control over what happens; where we will be stressed and frightened. We have all known storms of this kind: the phone call in the middle of the night and a desperate rush to the hospital or police station; the medical specialist who has news we did not want to hear, and our world starts to disintegrate; the long slow storm of a relationship gone awry or a career that is broken, the helplessness we feel as it tears away at us and our ordered life turns into chaos. No life without storms. Storms happen.
Of course the disciples make the storm the centre of their focus for Jesus. He is asleep. We’ve known those moments ‘Lord, help me. Don’t you care?’ We’ve all said it or something like it. We’ve been desperate – and that’s the trouble with the storms we encounter in life, they rage within us and tear us in shreds. Jesus simply says “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” The storm is not really the issue - the problem is what the storm does to us and Christ requires that we set our faith in him and find the calm eye of the storm alongside him.