The paradox and the truth
On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41 ESV)
I wonder whether Jesus’ stilling of the storm had the same impact in the past before comic and film superheroes became so ubiquitous? Today we have a veritable pantheon of beings who largely look like us on page and film but have super powers. It is a commercial and corporate industry these days – and many people have wondered if the plethora of such super beings is a reflection of our human need for rescue in a world that is increasingly seeming to go crazy or wobbly or bad. Back in ancient days you had gods, demigods, and heroes, I suppose and there was a corporate and commercial aspect also but I, somehow, have the sense that these beings were not as ubiquitous and a reference to supernatural events was more significant.
It is significant that all four Gospel accounts have stories of supernatural Jesus – and that these stories ‘made it into print’ and reprint and, more importantly, telling and retelling which suggests that they are not rejected out of hand. We remember that they are all accounts of a person who has risen from the dead and that means that people are generally interested in whatever else he has done.
So today we are in the north – away from Jerusalem. The north is more cosmopolitan. There is the Sea of Galilee and around it west of the River Jordan are Jewish towns and villages and on the east are the Gentiles. Jesus will go across the lake – to and fro – a few times in his public ministry. He has taught many crowds – chosen his apostles – created enough of a controversy that he is accused of being some sort of superior demon, his own family come for him but he redefines family, and he teaches parables and more parables to the crowds while revealing the secrets of the Kingdom of God to the Twelve but now he is tired and it is evening and he wants to go across to the other side – the eastern side, where the Gentiles are – and he falls asleep in the stern of the boat. There are other boats too. There is a storm – not uncommon on this inland sea – but there is something strange and vicious about it because the boats are sinking. Those in the boat wake Jesus and want him to do something – perhaps bailing out water? Instead Jesus speaks to the storm as one might speak to a yapping dog that just – won’t – stop – “Peace! Be still!” – how regal we might think! The Greek is ‘be muzzled’ which today we might say is the same as ‘shut up’. And it all stops – there is a great calm. We’ve had a great storm, now a great calm, and this produces – not great faith but great fear – terror perhaps as they ask, “Who is this then, that even the wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41).
The followers of Jesus today know the answer implied in the question. Only God can control the wind and the sea – so Jesus is God. Marvellous. Good answer. But what does it mean?
More importantly if Jesus is God why then do we still have storms or droughts when his followers also cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38)? I am not sure whether people have more of a problem with the miracle itself or where people jump to in their ‘logic’ or expectation of Jesus – if he can do that, why can’t he do this?
There are no simple answers but there are answers – life saving answers, life giving answers – but they involve getting our heads around a truth – we can’t understand everything (which challenges humanity) – and a paradox (that seemingly contradictory or absurd statements can be true).