Between Mark 4:35 and Mark 8:22 Jesus makes six boat trips across the Sea of Galilee (2 are mentioned in passing—6:31 & 8:10 and 2 given in detail—4:35ff & 6:45ff), encounters two storms on the sea, feeds multiple people twice and heals a demoniac. In two of the trips, Jesus goes to the eastern shore of Galilee, which was Gentile territory, ordinarily avoided by Jews. The repetition of trips, storms and feeding, for a writer who is sparse with words, is significant. Mark gives these stories distinctive symbolic value which we need to discern and reflect on. Keep this in mind as you read Mark.
Prepare to listen. Sit still, take a few deep breaths then pray: Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. (Psalm 86:11)
Read Mark 4:35-41
35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’
This story is one with which almost all of us can identify, at least symbolically. We’ve encountered ‘storms’ in our lives; had a sense that Jesus ‘was asleep’, that is, it felt as though he were absent; and experienced ‘rescue’ that restored our life and relationship with Jesus to normal. This story is a wonderful comfort and reassurance for us when we find ourselves in yet another ‘storm.’
In our comfortable identification with the story we can miss Mark’s primary lesson. First, the setting of the story suggests ‘trouble.’ Jesus, who’d been preaching from a boat, commanded the disciples to go ‘to the other side.’ This meant going to the eastern shore of Galilee that was Gentile territory. Jews usually avoided contact with Gentiles when possible. Jesus goes straight into contact with them and takes his followers with him. Second, the language Mark uses suggests his symbolic and even political intent. Jesus, he said, “rebuked the wind, and said to the sea….” The Greek word translated ‘rebuke’ is the identical word used by Jesus when he cast out demons, as in Mark 1:25, where “Jesus rebuked him [the demon], saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’” ‘Be silent’ has the same sense as the command to the storm. ‘peace, be still.’
Another symbolic term he uses is ‘sea.’ Up to this point, Mark has always referred to Galilee as a ‘lake.’ In this story he makes a significant change, calling it a ‘sea’ (v39) instead. In Scripture, ‘sea’ is often used symbolically to connote chaos, danger, evil. The Psalmists, for instance, recalled the sea that swallowed up the Egyptian oppressors when Israel was redeemed from Egypt and perhaps Mark thought of those psalms: ‘at your rebuke the waters fled’ (Ps 104:7), and, ‘He rebuked the Red Sea’ (Psalm 106:9). The violent storm on Galilee, like the rescue from Egypt, is a picture in miniature of the Grand Story of Scripture that comes to a climax when God triumphs over evil (the ‘sea’) and restores order in the world (rescues us from all that oppresses). This is what Jesus came for; to bring God’s Story (think Plan) to its triumphant conclusion and completion.
One last bit of symbolism. Jesus was “in the stern, asleep on the cushion.” Since the ancient Near East believed that only gods could sleep through storms, not as a sign of their powerlessness but of their strength, Jesus’ sleep hints at his identity as God. As Mitzi Minor notes, Jesus’ “sleep indicates neither fatigue nor powerlessness but rather his possession of absolute authority, indeed the very power of God” (1996, p. 43).
Finally, we reflect on the disciples’ reaction. Despite all they’d seen and heard thus far (and true, we’re still early in Jesus’ story) they still don’t get it; their faith is still lacking. It is this, a failure to understand and their lack of faith, that forms the main emphasis of this story. After rebuking the storm, Jesus turned and rebuked his disciples, asking two poignant and telling questions: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” The disciples are notably silent in response to Jesus but not among themselves. They are filled with awe (which can also mean fear) and ask: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” They still don’t know who Jesus really is and Jesus will challenge them again about their failure to understand on future occasions (see 8:17, 21).
What draws you into this story, something you connect or struggle with?
Imagine Jesus asking you the two questions he asked the disciples. How does it feel and how will you respond?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Lord, I too often fail to understand, or I lack faith in you. Keep me grounded in you and persistent in staying the course so that I come to a deeper understanding and faith and stay Christian to the end. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world despite any non-understanding or lack of faith.
Note: This is the last devotion from Mark for now. We’ve spent over 3 weeks on 4 chapters. Live with the message and picture of Jesus that you’ve been seeing and stay posted. I will continue ‘The Journey to Jesus with Mark as Our Guide’ soon, picking up with chapter 5. I would love to hear your comments about your journey with Mark. Please contact me. If you’re only just beginning with the journey with Mark, scroll down to Day 1 and proceed at your own pace.