Commentary on Job 38:1,8-11; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41
THERE SEEM to be two lessons being taught in today’s readings.
During these Sundays we are reading from Mark’s gospel. In his gospel he brings the reader through a process by which the real identity of Jesus is gradually revealed.
Crossing the lake
In today’s passage he tells his disciples to cross over in a boat to the opposite shore of the Lake of Galilee. (In John’s gospel this scene follows immediately on the feeding of the 5,000 when the crowd got very excited and wanted to make Jesus their king. In case the disciples might have got similar ideas themselves, Jesus packs them off in their boat where they soon come face to face with real life.) They get into the boat and, we are told, there were some other boats accompanying them. (This seems to have some significance for the second part of the teaching.) The Gospel also says they left the crowd behind them. The crowds frequently gather around Jesus but they are not really numbered among his followers. They listen to him, they marvel at his miracles but they are at the most only potential followers. They are never really with him. To which group do I belong: the inner circle committed to being with Jesus or just a hanger-on seeing what I can pick up for myself?
A threatening storm
As they made their way across the lake, a storm suddenly blew up. It is said that the Lake of Galilee is notorious for these sudden storms. Large waves were breaking over the boat and filling it with water. Naturally, the disciples were very afraid and thought their boat was going to sink. But, through it all, Jesus was fast asleep at the back of the boat, apparently either oblivious or totally uncaring about their situation. In a panic, they wake him up: "Master, do you not care? We are going down!" Jesus wakes, rebukes the wind and speaks to the sea: "Quiet now! Be calm!” The wind dropped and all was perfectly calm again. Then it was their turn to be scolded. "Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?" And now they were even more afraid as they gaped at him in awe and wonder: "Who can this be? Even the wind and sea obey him."
I the Lord of sea and sky
They know that it is only God who can control the wind and the sea and the other elements. That is the theme of the First Reading, taken from the Book of Job.
Listen to God speak to Job in majestic words:
Who pent up the sea behind closed doors
when it leapt tumultuous out of the womb,
when I wrapped it in a robe of mist
and made black clouds its swaddling bands;
when I marked the bounds it was not to cross
and made it fast with a bolted gate?
Come thus far, I said, and no farther;
here your proud waves shall break.
We have here the awe of the ancients before the power of the sea and an acknowledgement that God is Creator and Lord of the sea and the waters. The Responsorial Psalm echoes the fear of sailors in those times in their frail sailing boats before wind and wave:
Some sailed to the sea in ships…
These have seen the Lord’s deeds,
the wonder he does in the deep.
Men of faith had no difficulty seeing the power of God in power of wind and wave. The words are perfectly applicable to the disciples in the boat. "Who can this be? Even the wind and sea obey him?" They begin to put two and two together. Only God has power over the seas but Jesus has exercised exactly that power before their eyes.
Let us hear some more:
For he spoke; he summoned the gale,
tossing the waves of the sea
up to heaven and back into the deep;
their soul melted away in their distress.
Was that storm a mere accident? Was it both started and stopped by the same person so that the disciples could learn an important lesson about Jesus?
Then they cried to the Lord in their need
and he rescued them from their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
all the waves of the sea were hushed.
They rejoiced because of the calm
and he led them to the haven they desired.
But wait! Now, it is Jesus who is doing all this! There can only be one possible explanation. Jesus has the power of God; Jesus has the nature of God. No wonder they are filled with awe and fear of the man in front of them. The mystery of Jesus’ identity is gradually being unfolded before their eyes.
Image of the Church in the world
However, our Gospel today seems to contain another teaching as well. We can read the story as a kind of parable or allegory of the Church and especially of the early Church but also of the Church in many places in our own time. We can see the boat, here and in other parts of the Gospel, as symbolising the Church. And in fact, as was mentioned above, there are a number of boats, representing the different churches or church communities in different places. Each one has to deal with its problems in its own way. In one boat are the disciples of Jesus and Jesus is with them. The water all around them represents the world. The Church then was like a small, fragile boat in a huge and often hostile world. Sometimes storms broke out and threatened the boat-Church. The early – and also the subsequent – Church suffered many persecutions and movements determined to wipe it out.
Where is Jesus?
And, in such confused and frightening situations these small church communities must have been tempted to ask: where is Jesus? He seemed to be so far away; he seemed to be asleep; he did not seem to care what was happening to them. Nevertheless, their communities continued to exist. In their prayers they realised that Jesus was still with them. And then they began to experience an inner peace. They came to realise that the storm was not in the sea but in their own fears and anxieties. The peace, too, was in their own hearts. Because the world around them was still the same, it had not changed, it continued to persecute and oppress them. It was they themselves who had changed and had regained their confidence and trust in Jesus’ care for them.
The peace only he can give
Perhaps we at this time in our lives or in our society are experiencing some kind of fear or anxiety. Maybe we see some threats looming on our horizon. We badly need the peace of Jesus.Very often we have no control over the political and social developments of our society; we have little or no control over what other people are doing. But, no matter what we are experiencing, we can – with the help of Jesus – find peace. It is the peace which only he can give. And it is a peace which no person and no thing can take away from us.