1Sam 17: [1a,4-11,19-23] 32-49; Ps 9: 9-20; 2Cr 6: 1-13; MK 4:35-41
In the name of God, who created us from love…. AMEN.’
The stilling of the storm, like the mustard seed, is totally familiar, and it sounds like any sudden windstorm over any water, “The waves beat on the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But Jesus 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? He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And there were filled with great awe and said to one another. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Do you hear this as the same sort of story and questions as in the mustard seed? When Jesus asks why they’re afraid and where is their faith, what tone does he use? What do you think he’s really asking and is it fair? In a crisis when does faith kick in? When do we recognize faith’s presence? Do you hear this as a challenging story or one to buoy people up? Was Jesus accusing or supporting the people of whom he asked, “Where is your faith?” Oddly, none of these exegetical questions is a part of this story, nor is this one usually considered as metaphorical as the mustard seed.
Jesus was weary after teaching crowds for days. They kept following him, so he’d left them, perhaps escaping by heading to sea with his friends. Most of them had been fishermen, so it must have felt safe to him to sleep for that short time, and then a storm came up. One of the comments I read said that for Jesus to go to sleep showed his deep trust in God, but I’d think it showed he trusted his friends. The storm wasn’t on the horizon; they were fishermen; he was tired, so it seemed natural for him to stretch out and let them take care of him. A lake storm blew up so violently, they were terrified, understanding the risks from wind and waves. They’d come to trust him, his word, and his mystical powers of healing and preaching. They didn’t identify him as the Holy One, and yet they trusted him to help in this situation, rather than using their sailor’s instinct to rescue him. Instead of scrambling for shore, or fighting the winds, they woke him up, accusing him of not caring that they were perishing. Their is a tone is“poor us, why aren’t you taking care of us” like whining children or people so frightened they act like children.
Jesus acts, even out of deep sleep, “Peace, be still.” Then the wind ceased and there was a dead calm. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe.
Barbara Cawthorne Crafton has written a splendid and useful book called Meditations on the Psalms for every Day of the Year. Today’s is about “Look upon him and be radiant, and let not your faces be ashamed,” (Ps 34.5.) She reminds us that in ancient times people feared to look on the face of the Holy One lest they die. The thought was: that for us, frail humans that we are, to look on the Goodness and Greatness of the Holy One would kill us by the contrast our sinfulness and ourselves to the Holy One’s goodness. She writes then, “So this invitation to look upon God and be radiant, is not so much about seeing God in a physical way as it is about the healing of human shame.” She writes again later, that such an experience of being in God’s presence leads to this. “Your mind will empty a bit of its own accord. Don’t worry about it or try to empty it yourself. And then there will be a quiet in your soul which God will fill with whatever you need at the moment.” (She’d been talking later about Confession—or as we name it, “Reconciliation of a Penitent.” The impetus of the person confessing can feel like a huge storm of emotions of denial, sadness, shame, embarrassment, and guilt, while our real understanding in the name for the sacrament is to emphasize what God’s action is: to reconcile us back to God. God already sees and knows about our sins and storms, but in the Rite it is we who are lead to feel reconciled, reaccepted. I’d skipped a page in her meditations and had pasted her comments about two different psalms and situations, and I was thinking about today’s storm and Jesus’ stilling it.
I heard then Jesus not attacking the guys with “Have you still no faith?” but “Have you still no faith?” He’d thought he’d been with them enough for them to trust and know him. Theirs was genuine panic on a boat, doing what they knew how to do, and yet suddenly they felt out of their depth. They doubted their own abilities, and they were ashamed and embarrassed that they were so scared, so they acted like children in front of their elder. “Don’t you care?” A longer answer to them would have included, “I was showing my deep trust in you, my reliance and my caring for you and your competence and acceptableness to me by letting down my guard and going off to sleep. Yes, I’ll do what I can do to watch out, watch over you, and guarantee your safety. Peace wind. Be still waves.” Then they were really scared, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”) They were scared, because there were really only two possible answers to their question of “Who then is this?”. Either he was a mighty demon who was in league with the forces of wind and sea with Jesus a leader, strong enough to manage the forces of chaos and evil—or the other possibility, that he was part of Team Holy One, with power and absolute control over chaos, evil, and nature. That would make them feel small in the presence of such infinite hugeness, strength, order, and goodness. They’d be uncomfortable with their human limits feeling shame at what didn’t measure up, their humanity.
Jesus says to them that their faith is enough to encounter the living God and be in harmony, in the presence of, with, and thoroughly acceptable to the Holy One. He was calling out that their faith even in calamitous situations was enough given that the impetus was from God to reconcile them, to guarantee their safety in any storm within God’s overseeing care. It might be that this question, “Where is your faith?” was then not a criticism but a repeated, ever-present invitation from the Holy One to accept that God watches over them, us. God is always ready and always caring enough to draw them and us into God’s safety, security, presence, out of any storm, however violent and threatening.
It occurred to me that I was hearing this story as a metaphor of human daily living. Like the mustard seed’s story of “How much can God do with a little bit of growth material, but can transform it into So much of life giving in security and shelter.” We all remember the humorous contrast of the “How big/So big” conversation, one all parents, I’d guess, have done with all children. The mustard seed’s context was that the listeners heard in it a metaphor for God’s life giving transformation of even our own small positive growth potential making it sound and feel inviting and cheerful.
The storm had always sounded to me like a scary real storm, with anxious guys, not knowing whether they’d be ok, and Jesus sounding annoyed that they didn’t know about God’s power, that power he, himself, incarnated. Nature’s power of a storm represents uncontrollable physical chaos, and since I get very seasick, I’d seen the guys and myself on a topsy-turvy yawing and spinning boat, all, retching and fearful. However, in a week of stormy emotions, up and down, I heard this storm as every bit as metaphorical as the mustard seed. How eager is God to care for us and reconcile us to God’s tranquil, secure loving presence and care? So eager. Even the wind and waves obey God. Aren’t there weeks when you want to just say, “OK, still this storm. Make this wind stop. Don’t you care that we’re perishing here? It’s all so out of control—just fix it.” Here, in my imagination and in Mark’s tiny account, we hear and see the effective acceptance of us, our storms and all, to be reconciled into the loving arms of the Savior.
For me, and others, we fling our trust out and don’t feel the immediate security of the stilling of the storm. It is more often for many of us seen and felt in retrospect. We remember the storm, the angst, the panic, and we got through it somehow. Somehow the storm was managed, controlled, until we were on a sure footing again. We remember that we shouted out for help, and help is always there. That invitation to feel and accept God’s reconciling love is always out there, but we only fling ourselves into its path from time to time, and often only in looking back. I think God rarely acts in connection to human requests, but often when we look back, there’s a clear pattern of God’s care and careful managing. It’s easier to recognize that providential hand looking back rather than accepting it in the present. It is not we who demand that God still our storms, but rather God is always there, even dozing, since God so trusts us to manage. When the going gets too stormy, God pours out enough oil for us to calm down, but at God’s acting. Jesus here is ever ready to demonstrate God’s steady watching care to be with us through every storm into a secure peace. God’s faith and care is there for us. Always.: Good News.
© Katharine C. Black 24 June 2012