Jesus slept in the back end of the boat while the disciples were confronted with a “violent squall” and feared for their lives as the winds threatened to capsize them. This is the only place in the gospels where Jesus is referred to as sleeping. We can only assume that at the end of a long day of instruction, Jesus is dog tired.
But the disciples are threatened by the storm and fear for their lives. Still Jesus sleeps on. Finally they woke him up and complained that he did not care that they were in the process of drowning. When arose he rebuked the wind, “Quiet, be still” and the wind ceased and the waters became calm. Then he turned his rebuke on the disciples with the question, “why are you terrified, do you not yet have faith?”
With whom do we identify in this dramatic event and dialogue between the disciples and Jesus? Jesus is exhausted (he slept through the storm) and definitely needs his rest. And the disciples are scared to death in the choppy sea with the boat taking on water and threatening to go down. What do they want of Jesus? Is he just another set of hands to help bail out the boat? Possibly, but they more likely sought his active support and presence to them in a dire situation.
The dialogue between the disciples and Jesus is strained. Tossed and turned by the great squall the disciples are frightened and need the support of Jesus more than ever. They turn to him and expect something. What? They probably didn’t know exactly but want him to be actively with them; all they seem to know is that they don’t want Jesus sleeping on them at this fearsome juncture. On Jesus’ part, he seems oblivious to their plight yet when he wakes up he rebukes the wind and it quiets down. Then he turns his attention to the disciples asking the hard question about their faith (or the lack thereof).
Clearly the disciples need Jesus’ help. But that help does not come in the form they anticipated: helping them deal with the fierce wind and not drowning. The wind turned out to be the least of the issues the situation called out from them. Jesus’ questioning them went to the heart of the affair: their faith.
What are the situations in our lives that threaten and demand our attention? Serious illness of our own or of our loved ones? Divisive situations that seem impossible to solve like hurtful separations from others? The loss of work in troubled economic times? The death of a daughter/son, father/mother, or of a dear friend? What is elicited from us in these dire situations is the same that Jesus alludes to in his searing question to his friends: faith.
Sometimes we get the feeling that God or Jesus is sleeping on the job as we experience the many threats of our lives. Yet we can also have the graciousness to acknowledge that God’s ways and timing are not ours. The passage in Mark’s gospel today reminds us that we are not in control of whatever threatens us deeply.
We are invited, like the disciples, to respond with awe at God’s ways which are way beyond what we can fully understand or articulate. Thank God that God is present to us and let us receive what God desires to give even when it seems to flummox and challenge us. I can only imagine the awe that came to the disciples when they recognized the power of God-in-their-midst. My prayer is to be open to that awe in my life.
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