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Who Is This?

We’re in the boat with Jesus.


illustration by Phil Irish

Third Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 4:35-41

Mark tells us Jesus spent a whole day in a boat. The crowd around him was so big, and so persistent. He ended up in the water. His friends pushed the boat a few yards out from shore. Jesus sat there and began to teach (4:1,2). Even on a sloping beach, do you suppose they all could see him? Let alone hear him.

This isn’t a photographic report of an event. This is a painting-with-words of a person. To say “he sat down” paints a rabbi. A teacher of wisdom. One with authority. Who knew his Bible. And his history. And his people. When Mark paints a boat he means something bigger than a Galilee boat, which isn’t much longer than a Lunenburg dory. Mark paints an Ark of a boat.

When Christians began to draw pictures to represent the church, they drew boats with cross-shaped masts. When they set apart spaces we might recognize as churches, they called the place where people gathered the navis, the boat. That’s where we get the word “nave.”

At the end of a long day teaching, Jesus says, “Let us go across to the other side.” We know the story well. A storm blows up. Not just a gusty tempest on little Lake Galilee. For Mark the perfect storm. Jesus is asleep. Why not? He’s tired. He’s surrounded by experienced sailors.

Sailors who are scared out of their wits! Jesus is with them. And they’re still not safe! They’re about to die. And this One they’re beginning to understand, starting to trust, wanting to love doesn’t care!
Out on the open sea we realize how small we are. All there is beneath the boat is deep, deep water. Chaos. The uncreated. All there was before God began to speak. In our gospel story they remember Genesis, chapter one. When they’re scared on the sea they may well fear they are where God isn’t.

Before they met Jesus, his fisher friends were on the water every day but Sabbath. Every day depending on their little boats. Taking their livelihood from the lake. Always watching for a storm.

Here they are in a hurricane. With Jesus asleep on a cushion! When they call, Jesus gets up. Rebukes the demonic wind and sea. The wind ceases, and there’s a “dead calm” (39). What does he say after that? “Calm down. It’s all right now?” No. It’s, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Mark doesn’t say what Jesus does next. I think he goes back to sleep. But his friends? Disciples. Sailors. Members of the church. Mark’s Greek says, “And they feared a great fear . . .”

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (41) This is much more than a tale about a miracle Jesus worked for his friends during an evening sail. This is gospel witness to the One who has power over the world he created. In his presence, when he is at work, we should fear a great fear.

William Willimon (Pulpit Resource) sees two kinds of fear in this story. “There’s the fear of the death-dealing storm. You get a bad report after your yearly physical, you see the towers fall, the cloud, the great crash, a world ended, the church parking lot is empty, the water and the waves.” That’s Good Friday fear. But Jesus gets up, speaks into the raging storm, and makes peace. That brings another kind of fear. Easter fear. “Who is this? Even death is subject to him? It isn’t over until he says it’s over! He makes a way when there was no way! And it scares the wits out of us.”

There’s so much fear in churches today! What scares us more? The possibility the church as we know it may die? Or the promise that, if we look beyond ourselves and our fears, the risen Christ will lead us into something new.

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