On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side." Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!" And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!"
- Mark 4:35-41
Yesterday we read that Jesus continued, after teaching the parable of the Sower, "Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear." Then He said to them, "Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. For whoever as, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him." And He said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come." Then He said, "To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade." And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.
On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side." Another sign of the expanding nature of Jesus' mission, the spread of the gospel: Jesus decides that they are to cross over the Sea of Galilee, into new territory.
Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. The natural factors of the world are encountered by Jesus in His ministry, and by Jesus as incarnate human being. It is something we should always keep in mind as faithful, when we go through our own storms and deal with our own need for rest and care.
And they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!" And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!" There are two kinds of fear addressed here; in fact, the word for fearful in Jesus' question "Why are you so fearful?" and the one used to tell us the disciples "feared exceedingly" are two different words in the original Greek text. The first implies a kind of cowardice or timidity that inhibits our courage or resilience to follow Christ. The second is a fear that comes from overwhelming awe in the face of incomprehensible power; they are encountering the power of Christ, something far more than was expected of the Teacher they have known until now. Only God can command the wind and sea.
Traditional commentaries tell us two things about the picture of Christ with the disciples in the boat on this stormy sea. One is that this is a picture of the Church, which has been likened to a ship. My study bible puts it this way: "God both permits storms and delivers us through them, so that we can see His protection more clearly." Another way this has traditionally been interpreted is one that is highly personal: it's an illustration of Jesus "calming the tempests in the human soul," again in the words of my study bible. I think both of these things are true. But it's a great illustration of life and our expectations of our faith. Too often in our contemporary understanding of life we ask ourselves why, if we are faithful people, do things not just go better? Why are there so many obstacles in the way? Why do bad things happen? Why does faith not propel us into an obstacle-free life? But if we look at the lives of the saints, and indeed the promises of Jesus to His followers before His Passion, we see that it just hasn't ever worked that way. Saints are among the most challenged of people, historically. How many can we point to who have died as martyrs, even been persecuted by their own fellow members of the Church? We may look at the great saint John Chrysostom, whose commentaries continue to enlighten us, whose preaching is still frequently quoted. He did not die an easy or peaceful death, and suffered in being sent into exile. Controversy surrounded his life, great challenges placed before him that he did not desire. Indeed, there are times when it seems surely true that those whom God loves are also called to great challenges; let us be assured that Christ leads the way on that score, for all of us. Even in the Old Testament, we can see by reading Maccabbees, for example, those Jews who suffer for their faith do so with the understanding that it is God who calls them to an even higher standard and to repentance, while those who torture them have no call to salvation but to oblivion. When Jesus refers to Himself as the head cornerstone (quoting Psalm 118:22), and warns that "anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed" (Matthew 22:14), He is giving us a hint about something similar. To be broken means one is still capable of repentance and healing. Never to be challenged in our own selfishness and hard-heartedness is to go through all of life without coming to the better way of the Kingdom. While it is Christ who teaches us that not every hardship comes as a direct result of sin, with the perspective of the Gospels, and illustrated in today's reading, we understand that even as faithful, we go through challenges in our lives. We will face opposition and misunderstanding and obstacles, just as Christ did. But it is faith that shows us the way through all. We can look at the two different words used for fear in today's reading, and understand the difference between the need for courage to follow our faith, and the overwhelming awe - even a kind of natural terror - we may experience when we get a glimpse of the overwhelming reality of God as inconceivable presence to us. He calls us to meet the challenges, not only to the necessary courage in faith, but also to its resourcefulness, imagination, creativity, perception, and discernment. I have found through personal experience that when the world tells me there is "no way" through something, God gives me a way. My own life experience doesn't provide me with all the answers, but time and again prayer and patience show me things I hadn't considered, an illumination, ways of thinking that help me in the struggle with a difficult world. Humility alone, considered to be the greatest of the saintly virtues, plays a great role in helping us get through the challenges, particularly in a life of faith. In speaking with countless people, particularly those I know whom I consider to be the most deeply faithful, I find stories of great challenges and great humility. Let us remember that a worldly "perfect" life is not really the image of a faithful life; rather Christ has spoken about a life full of blessings, but also with persecutions (Mark 10:30). Let us heed the realism of the Gospels, rather than a fantasy. The storms in darkness will come; but we go through them with Him, in the courage to do it His way.