The Nothing

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples:
“Let us cross to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.
And other boats were with him.
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind,
and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
(Mark 4:35-41)

Scripture Study

4:35–36 Jesus had been teaching the multitude in parables from a boat anchored just offshore (4:1). Concluding his “Sermon on the Sea” as evening approaches, he asks his disciples to cross to the other side. The eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, across from Capernaum, was a predominantly Gentile area (5:1). This voyage is Jesus’ first extension of his ministry into Gentile territory (later repeated in 6:45; 7:31; 8:13). Disciples accompany him in several boats, leaving the crowd behind on the shore. They cast off with Jesus just as he was, still seated in his floating pulpit, without his first going ashore.

4:37–38 The Sea of Galilee is known for the violent storms that can arise without warning, as wind is funneled through the steep valleys among the hills surrounding the lake. In this instance the gale is so fierce that it terrifies even seasoned fishermen. Waves come crashing over the boat, swamping it and threatening to sink it. Yet in the midst of this fury, Jesus is in the stern, asleep. Anyone who has ever been in a violently storm-tossed boat has reason to think that this ability to sleep through the storm was the first miracle! Jesus exemplifies the perfect trust in God that is often signified in Scripture by a peaceful and untroubled sleep (see Job 11:18–19; Ps 4:9; Prov 3:24).

But his serenity is not shared by the disciples, who awaken Jesus with a stinging reproach: Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? It is the first time in the Gospel that Jesus has been called “Teacher,” having just completed a day of teaching (Mark 4:1–34). This time there will be a powerful lesson of faith, learned by experience. The tone of the disciples’ question suggests that they have a vague idea that Jesus can do something about the storm, but they think he is indifferent to their desperate plight, as if he has no concern for their safety or survival. How often God’s people reproach him this way, from the Old Testament (see Exod 14:10–11; Num 14:3) to this day.

4:39 Jesus does not leave his disciples in their panic but immediately awakens and rebukes the raging elements. He does not pray that God would calm the storm, but commands it himself with sovereign authority: Quiet! Be still! (literally, “Be muzzled!”). Rebuked is the same word used to describe his casting out of unclean spirits (1:25; 3:12), suggesting that demonic powers somehow instigated the squall that threatens to deflect him and his disciples from their mission. In the Old Testament the sea is often viewed as a symbol of chaos and the habitation of evil powers (Job 26:12–13; Ps 74:13–14; Isa 27:1). Jesus exorcises these adverse forces of nature with the same authority with which he freed human beings from demonic oppression. Instantly the howling wind subsides and the choppy waters become calm. The wording parallels Ps 107:28–29: “In their distress they cried to the Lord, who brought them out of their peril, Hushed the storm to a murmur; the waves of the sea were stilled.”

4:40–41 The moment the danger has passed, Jesus chides his disciples for their feeble faith. Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith? Certainly, they had turned to him in their moment of terror and dismay. But they did not yet grasp who he really is: sovereign Lord over all creation. Jesus was forming a band of followers who were to be confident in their mission on earth: to bring the peace and authority of the kingdom into all the troubles of humanity. He had called them to complete a task on the other side of the sea; would he have done so only to let them perish in the waves (see Exod 14)? As the disciples knew well, God alone has power to subdue the seas: “You rule the raging sea; you still its swelling waves” (Ps 89:10; see Job 38:8; Ps 65:8). Indeed, from the Exodus on, God’s control of the sea has signified his tender care for his people (Exod 15; Isa 51:10). So it is no wonder that after Jesus calms the storm, they were filled with great awe (literally, “they feared a great fear”). Their abject terror of the forces of nature has been replaced by reverent fear of the presence of God in Jesus. Jesus’ subduing of the sea is an epiphany, a manifestation of his divine authority. Who then is this? is a question that not only Jesus’ contemporaries but all the readers of the Gospel are meant to ask (see Mark 8:29).

Scripture Reflection

Friends, the story at the heart of our Gospel for today is the storm at sea. Karl Barth said that the stormy waters in all of these cases stands for das Nichtige, the nothing, that which stands opposed to God’s creative intentions, difficulties both interior and exterior, difficulties physical, psychological, and spiritual.

The disciples in the boat are, as I’ve often said, evocative of the Church, making its way through time and space. And those waters are symbolic of everything that besets the members of the Church. To stay within the emotional space of the story, this must have been a terrible storm, to have terrified experienced sailors. This is no small problem, no minor difficulty.

Do you know the de profundis prayer? It comes from Psalm 130: “Out of the depths, I have cried to you, O Lord. O Lord, be attentive to the voice of my pleading.” It is the prayer we should offer at the darkest times of life, when we find ourselves lost and in the shadow of death, when, in our desperation, we feel utterly incapable of helping ourselves.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.