24 June 2012

Mark 4:35-41

"Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (v. 41)


"Who is this man?" is the question that comes over and over again in the first half of Mark's Gospel. Jesus' authoritative teaching, his power to heal and forgive sins, and now his ability to invoke God's power in nature: all of these attract attention but are also profoundly puzzling. This is Mark's way of using dramatic irony. Readers of his Gospel who were already familiar with the story of Jesus would already know that it ends by confirming that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, God's anointed, the Son of God.

The story describes a typical Galilee fishing boat, about eight metres long. At the end of a day of preaching, Jesus falls asleep in the stern and does not waken even when a sudden storm springs up out of nowhere and threatens to swamp the boat. His calm trust is contrasted with the rising panic in the disciples. While Jesus the landlubber is unperturbed, the experienced fishermen, who ought to know how to cope, are terrified. A word from Jesus is all that is needed to bring calm, not only to the wind and waves, but also to the hearts and minds of the disciples.

As modern readers we can often find it hard to deal with so-called nature miracles. This would not have been a problem for Mark's first readers. For them, everything was ultimately under the control of God and it was not at all surprising that there were rare and extraordinary events that showed God's power in an especially clear way. This was not magic - the use of incantations and ritual to manipulate events - but the sheer power of God working through one who was uniquely in tune with God's will. Many early Christians saw parallels with the story of Jonah (Jonah 1), whose ship almost founded because he had turned his back on God's will.

To Ponder

What storms do you and/or the Church face?

Where have you seen God's power at work to still your storms?

Who is Jesus for you at such moments?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain but since 2004 has served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. His ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.