I don't know about you, but I have a lot of sympathy for the disciples who panicked as a powerful (the Greek is MEGA) windstorm threatened to sink their boat while Jesus took a little nap, apparently unfazed.
For millions of people, right now, there is plenty of reason to panic. Hurricane Harvey is still fresh in everyone's mind as Irma, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, has already left devastation behind in the Caribbean and is about to do the same in Florida and beyond. If we can bear to pay attention to the news beyond that, we'll read about the epic floods have affected 40 million people in South Asia. Entire villages across Bangladesh, India and Nepal remain submerged under water since the floods began in mid-August. In India alone, UNICEF estimated 31 million people were affected by the floods, losing their homes, livelihoods, cattle or property. And, in another kind of storm, wildfires are raging in the western part of the U.S.,- California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, have been battling a record number of fires – some big ones since July! That means loss of acreage and buildings and possibly of national parks, but also means terrible air quality. Last Wednesday, the particle concentration in the air was higher than the monitoring device was could even measure. Add to all of that a strong earthquake off the southern coast of Mexico which has caused damage and loss of life in Guatemala AND the security breach at Equifax that has put 143 million people at risk, and loved ones fighting cancer, depression, addiction, - and I think many of us may have looked up toward heaven recently and said – something like, "Hello? Are you asleep on the job? Don't you care that all these people are perishing? Do something!" Or maybe it's just me.
I suppose there's comfort in knowing that the disciples panicked in that storm. And, of course, there's comfort in the promise that Jesus didn't stay asleep. He woke up and calmed the storm and saved them. I trust the promise of Isaiah and the Psalms and from this story and others in the gospels that God is with us when the waters rise around us, that Jesus doesn't leave his disciples alone. But, I confess, reading that Jesus stopped the wind from blowing for himself and his disciples, actually makes me a teeny tiny bit annoyed right now. If I had lost a loved one to wind or water or flames, I might want to say to Jesus, "that's great that you saved yourself and your disciples from drowning, but apparently my family and friends weren't worth you waking up for."
It may be tempting to say something like that to the Jesus who was napping in that boat on the Sea of Galilee, but it really isn't possible to say them to the Jesus who hung on the cross and died for us. That's the thing about what the disciples said. They have NO idea just how concerned Jesus is that they are perishing, that we were all perishing. That's the whole reason Jesus was even here. Because God loves his people enough to go to desperate measures to rescue them from sin and brokenness and death. So "do you not care?" is definitely the wrong question.
So is there comfort or a helpful lesson in this passage of scripture or not? I think there is! Even though Jesus was snoozing on a cushion, this passage reminds us that Jesus is with us in all of the storms of our lives. It tells us that, rather than panicking, we should look to Jesus for the answer, for guidance. Focus on Jesus, not on the storm.
Do you remember one of Anne Tyler's early books - "The Accidental Tourist'? It was also made into a movie. There's a scene in the book that connects to this passage well: Sarah and her husband, Macon, were driving home from the beach. Macon was driving and Sarah sat next to him with her head sort of leaning on the side window. The sky grew almost black and several enormous drops spattered the windshield. Sarah sat straight up. "Let's hope it doesn't rain," she said.
"I don't mind a little rain,'' Macon said.
The drops on the windshield grew closer together so Macon switched his wipers on. "Can you see alright?' Sarah asked. "Of course," Macon said. "This is nothing."
They got behind a trailer truck whose rear wheels went out arcs of spray. Macon swung to the left and passed. There was a moment of watery blindness till they had passed the truck. Sarah gripped the dashboard with both hands. "I don't know how you can see to drive," she said.
Macon replied, "Well maybe you should put your glasses on."
"Putting on my glasses would help YOU see?" Sarah asked. "Not me, YOU," Macon said. "You're the one looking at the rain on the windshield instead of at the road."
The disciples were a lot like Sarah. They focused on the storm rather than on the truth that Jesus was with them on that lake and on every road they would ever travel.
Yet I think there is something more going on in this passage of scripture that I'd never seen before. I've always just accepted the "Jesus sees us through the storm" message here. But when I studied the passage I found a couple of interesting things. One is that when Jesus tells the storm to be still, the greek words literally tell us that Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Silence, Muzzle it!" Or, put a muzzle on it! That's a little more forceful than the usual translation of "Peace, Be still!" And then, when Jesus askes the disciples why they are afraid, he doesn't use the word for normal fear — which shares a root with phobia. Instead, he uses a word that means full of dread, fainthearted, or timid. "Why are you full of dread?" That is close to afraid. But what if we read it as "why are you fainthearted?" or "Why are you so timid?" He then asks do you still have no faith? - that word actually means — persuasion. As in, have you not yet been persuaded that God is powerful? Are you not persuaded by the truth? But if you just replace faith with persuasion, it could kind of go either way. "Have you still no persuasion?" Either way meaning, persuasion about God and God's power. But what if we read it as their own persuasion — or persuasiveness. What I'm getting at is that when you take the timid or fainthearted meaning in the word translated "afraid" and combine it with the "persuasion" meaning of the word translated as faith, I wonder if part of what Jesus is suggesting is that, not only are the disciples not persuaded, convinced of GOD's power. They also aren't persuaded of their own power. OR they haven't yet realized their OWN power of persuasion.
When Jesus uses that word for faith elsewhere in the gospel of Mark, he's talking to people who have done something courageous in order to get help for themselves or for someone else. Like when the friends come carrying the paralytic and lower him through the roof where Jesus is teaching and Jesus saw their faith (persuasion), he healed the man. And the woman with the flow of blood which comes up soon after this story, she reaches out and touches Jesus' robe and he later tells her that her faith, her persuasion, has healed her. And later, Jesus tells his disciples that if they had faith (persuasion) they could tell the mountain to throw itself into the sea and it would. AND when the crowd of 5,000 is getting hungry and the disciples tell Jesus about it, he says to them, "You give them something to eat."
I am not saying that the friends or the woman were the source of their own healing. It was the faith God gave them, their confidence or their being persuaded that God is all powerful and that Jesus was God's son, that led them to do something bold because they expected healing, expected, trusted, knew Jesus could do something to help them.
So when I go back to Jesus wondering why the disciples are fainthearted or timid in their fear, and compare them in this scene to these others who took bold, unconventional actions, I think Jesus, in part, is telling the disciples that not only have they missed God's power, but they have missed their own power, or the power of their faith. And part of that power — as Jesus shows them, is telling the forces of destruction to be quiet — to MUZZLE IT! I wonder, if like when he told them to feed the 5,000 — which they couldn't figure out how to do, by the way, Jesus wished the disciples had told the wind to shut up and told the sea to put a muzzle on it. He tells them that the faith they've been given, the persuasion that God is powerful, is itself a powerful tool in the world. Being persuaded that God DOES care and does love and does use his power for the good of his people, should, then, make the disciples, make US persuasive, bold, unconventional in our lives and in the face of whatever challenge is in front of us. If the disciples had been bold, rather than timid, THEIR voices of faith and trust would have been louder than the wind. MUZZLE IT! I so wish translators would use that! Faith makes us bold enough to have our voices, our hope, our trust, our convictions that God is in charge and is working in the midst of all storms, LOUDER and bolder than the powers of sin and destruction and despair.
What does that look like? The Day of Caring.
-Rev. Kim Olson