Gleanings From the Text
The location of this text within the Gospel of Mark is of primary importance. Jesus has been preaching to the home crowd throughout Galilee and has gathered quite a following. Mark 3:9 indicates that the crowds of people are growing so numerous that Jesus has his disciples prepare a boat so that he will not be crushed. For the majority of chapter 4, Mark then stations Jesus in this boat, preaching from it like a pulpit to the congregation which is safely held at a distance on the shore (Mark 4:1).
When evening comes Jesus and the disciples leave the shore in this same boat and set out to, of all places, Gentile lands. There, Jesus will surprisingly heal an unclean, unreligious, demon-possessed foreigner and send him to proclaim the Gospel to even more Gentiles (Mark 5:19-20). The movement of Jesus and his message across major geographic, cultural, and religious boundaries is the location of this pericope.
Can the mighty wind and waves that the disciples encounter on this voyage be understood as representative of challenges the church faces when it is called to expand the scope of its ministry?
An additional focal point of this text is Jesus’ authority over the created world. This miracle story echoes the story of Jonah where Jonah is aroused and called upon to pray that his ship might be saved (Jonah 1:6). The parallel between the two stories is then sharply broken in order to present Jesus as greater than a prophet (and also as one who follows God instead of fleeing). Instead of praying, Jesus himself rebukes the storm and commands the wind and the waves to be silent and muzzled. A calm then emerges that demonstrates Jesus’ control over the chaotic elements which threaten the disciples. Both Jesus’ authority and willingness to take action raise questions about who Jesus is and how we are to put our trust in him.
Food for Thought
Written initially for a church enduring stress, tribulation, and even persecution, this text provided a comforting reminder that Jesus is Lord over the Church and over all creation. In a similar manner, this story from Mark can provide comfort to our church today. Often, we can feel overwhelmed by the pressure, demands, and conflicts within our church and society. We may feel as though our small boat will be torn apart as we try to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that cross divides of geography, culture, and religion. We can find assurance in our faith that Jesus does indeed “care that we are perishing” and that Jesus does go with us even in our small and scarcely seaworthy boats.
Sink Your Teeth Into This
Last year, I had the joy and privilege of traveling to the Holy Land with Union-PSCE’s Middle East Travel Seminar. Among the most lasting impressions from the trip was the time that we spent on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It was a powerful thing to see the hillsides that Jesus and the disciples walked upon. It was both beautiful and profound to look out across this large lake and see the far shore.
As we stood there in modern day Israel looking over to the shores of the Kingdom of Jordan, professor Sam Balentine remarked, “That is all that separated the ancient Israelites from the Gentile nations.” Recognizing in this experiential way that the Sea of Galilee is only a mile or two wide in places had a profound impact on me. It helped me understand in a new way just how close the religiously “clean” and “unclean” lived.
The Israelites and Gentiles would have been neighbors, would have had to trade and interact with one another. In some ways, Jesus’ crossing over to their shores in a boat would have been utterly unremarkable. Yet, the gesture of him going to heal people across the lake, going to proclaim the gospel and share in life and ministry, was enough to cause great storms and waves in the early church.
The storms, coupled with the Gospel’s eventual spread into socially and religiously unclean lands, give me perspective on how we are called to have faith and share faith across boundaries – boundaries that may challenge or even offend our religious institutions.
Clark Scalera and Berry French are Pastoral Residents at White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC. Clark graduated from Union-PSCE in 2007, and Berry in 2008.
Hare, Douglas R. A., Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, KY, 1996.
Williamson, Lamar, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Mark (John Knox Press: Atlanta, GA, 1983.