If you, like me, have heard the story of Jesus calming the storm once or twice or a few dozen times during your tenure in the Church, we may share a common temptation to miss the gift in this passage. Like the truths of brokenness that we’re reminded of in Lent, the lessons here are at once both straightforward and hidden.
The story is deceptively simple: Jesus has his disciples get on a boat, a huge storm comes, Jesus seems not to notice, the disciples lose their cool, and Jesus chastises them for their lack of faith. C’mon, y’all, have a little more trust in the God of Universe! He controls the weather, and he can control your very lives. Get a grip.
While this story and its associated metaphors are familiar to us, recall that the disciples were experiencing Jesus in real time. It’s not clear how long they had been following Jesus at this point, but they had pinned their hopes to him and seen him do a lot of impressive things. Still, weather control had not yet made it into his repertoire of superpowers. His stern indictment of their lack of faith can feel a little unfair for this soggy lot.
Sometimes it can help to read these passages in an old fashioned red letter Bible, which highlights the words of Christ. In these verses, they are few:
Let us go across to the other side.
Peace! Be still.
Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?
So much hangs on that first invitation. While the disciples had yet to see him calm a storm or raise the dead or much more that would reveal the full breadth of Jesus’ powers, they had seen that his words carry authority and that he keeps his promises. This time, Jesus tells them they would cross to the other side. Trusting his call is the invitation they forgot midst swelling waves and driving rain.
Weather control was, of course, a recurring theme in worship for the Jewish people. The Hebrew prayer book we call the Psalms refers often to God’s power demonstrated in the calming of the seas (Psalm 107:29, 65:7-8). Jesus shows here that he shares this same ancient, cosmic power. Suddenly, his stern words to the disciples sound more merciful, as his authority and trustworthiness come into fuller light.
I’ve wrestled with why this passage was placed in the Lectionary in Lent. Its rich lessons for trusting Jesus’ call when the storms around us rage are often (quite naturally) applied to our big picture, vocational questions. What is the story’s relevance to this season of reflection and repentance?
Jesus’ concluding questions in this passage reveal that when our lives are threatened by dark realities, the common responses are either fear or faith. Every year in Lent, the Holy Spirit guides us to look long and deep at the brokenness all around -- personal, collective, institutional -- and we are often naturally tempted toward fear. We may fear being exposed, or our false identities crumbling, or losing the security our idols provide. We may fear that this world itself is beyond saving, that the ship has already taken on too much water.
When these storms churn, let us remember that we have been invited by Jesus to cross to the other side. Here in these early days of Lent, our crossing can feel long. Yet Mark’s narrative reminds us that we can trust that Jesus is with us and, unlike the disciples, rely on the fact that Resurrection Sunday’s dawning hope means our crossing will be certain.
Brittany Noetzel lives in Brookland, where she enjoys getting great ideas for Lenten blog posts from her husband Daniel over lazy weekend breakfasts.