Awestruck and Trembling
A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But 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?" 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 they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"The Rev. Dr. Lance Stone has preached on this passage saying in part,
The passage ends with the words, ‘They were awestruck and said to one another, ‘who can this be? Even the winds and waves obey him.’The full text of his sermon is online here: More Frightening than the Storm.
In other words, the disciples were as terrified after the storm as they were during it. The wind and the waves may be scary, but they are no more scary than Jesus! And that is the real thrust of the narrative. This particular story has done its work in us, the hearers, not when we say, ‘isn’t it wonderful that Jesus is the great comforter who gives us peace in the storms of life?’ The story has done its work in us when we tremble, awe-struck and exclaim, ‘who can this be? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’ And if you find the storm frightening, just wait until you meet Jesus.
Of course that is not a message that we particularly want to hear in our modern therapeutic culture. It’s not a message that rhymes readily with our obsession with finding peace in an arduous and stressful world. After all, here we are with every conceivable technological appliance at hand. Here we are with every labour-saving, time-saving, effort-reducing gizmo and gadget – and yet we are more stressed out and on edge than ever. And the big yearning, the longing in all this is for something to help us cope with the strain. And every new age gimmick is targeted at helping people to function more effectively in the storm and to give them peace in their stressed-out lives. And we even tailor the Gospel in order to fit this priority and in the process we turn Jesus into a big, kind, uncle figure who is there to soothe us and to help us to manage the storms.
Well, there are three things that need to be said here, and the first is that Jesus is not particularly interested in storm-management. Or at least that is not what he is up to here. One of Mark’s interests in his Gospel is the clash between Jesus and evil in all its many manifestations. Right after this storm-calming incident Jesus and his crew reach the shore, and no sooner have their toes touched dry land than they are confronted by a demoniac named Legion because of the host of demons that reside in him. And Jesus stills his chaotic life in just the same way as he stills the storm. Indeed Jesus’ rebuke to the storm, ‘Silence! Be Still!’ is the language of an exorcism. Jesus exorcises the storm! In other words here, as elsewhere in Mark, Jesus is coming fact to face with evil in all its elemental, chaotic reality. Here Jesus comes face to face with a power that dwarfs human ingenuity and storm management skills. And what is called for here is not some kind, avuncular Jesus, not some ‘precious Saviour’, not some ‘good buddy’ Jesus. What is called for here is one in whom the whole counter-force of God’s negation of evil is present. That’s Jesus –and no wonder he is scary.
Just think for a moment of those disciples in that boat, buffeted and assailed by the storm. That surely is a vivid image of our human predicament. For all our ingenuity and technological know-how, for all our progress, we are still profoundly threatened by powers of death and destruction as we know only too well. And whether it is in acts of terror or mindless violence that suddenly erupt, or whether it is in ongoing intractable problems like global warming which render us helpless and impotent, we realise that ultimately we are powerless before the storm. We are humbled before the chaos and the evil and the death and destruction that it embodies. We may to some degree manage it: that is the job of politicians after all – more effective storm management –and they do what they can. But ultimately the storm is not to be managed, it is to be overcome and stilled. And any hope of final rescue, any hope of ultimate deliverance can only come from one who embodies a power so great – the very power of God - that we can only be left awestruck and trembling before him.
Labels: Gospel reading