Falling asleep in the middle of chaos/problems has never come naturally to me…nor do I think it comes naturally to most people. In today’s reading from St. Mark, Jesus takes a nap while crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat with the disciples. Then the storm brings high winds and rough seas, the boat fills with water and the disciples panic, waking Jesus to ask if he cares if they all drown. Instead of answering, Jesus speaks to the wind and the sea, calming them. In the safety and stillness that follows, Jesus asks the disciples why they were afraid and whether they have any faith at all. Instead of answering the question, the disciples respond with another question, asking who Jesus is that the wind and the sea obey him.
Nature can be terrifying because it is so clearly beyond our power to control storms, typhoons, tornadoes, hurricanes. The disciples are literally in danger from the wind and rain, these forces of nature, and it challenges them to trust in Jesus – to trust in Jesus’ trustworthiness and protection. He seems to be sleeping, but he wakes quickly to answer their call for help.
In many passages of scripture, when humans perceive God to be inattentive or far off, they feel that God is indeed sleeping. Jesus does mediate God’s loving concern to the disciples by waking up to calm the storm. Seeing Jesus asleep in such a crisis, the disciples feel neither Jesus nor God is paying attention to them. St. Mark’s gospel was written for a community besieged by persecutions. St. Mark’s audience, community, may well have identified with the disciples’ outraged cry that Jesus wakes up and shows his concern, and most likely have been comforted that Jesus responds as they asked.
But! It is easy to misread Jesus’ question, “ Why are you so afraid? Have you no faith? Notice that Jesus calms the storm before asking the questions.
Lessons of the story. The fact that the Master is aboard their little boat does not prevent a wicked storm from brewing up. The apostles strive to cope with the storm on their own but it proves too much for them. They awaken the Master and he speaks to the wind and there comes a great calm.
If only it were like that in real life! If only the Lord would intervene when we are caught in the middle of some storm, and with a simple command, restore calm to our troubled lives! Let’s take a closer look to see if we can grasp what the story is really saying to us.
We encounter various kinds of storms – bad situations of one kind or another which disrupts our lives and sometimes even threatens to sink us. But this should not surprise us. The mere fact that we are trying to follow Jesus is no guarantee that we will be spared the storms.
Christ never promised his followers that their lives would be a Caribbean cruise. Rather he hinted we would have to pass through stormy waters. Therefore, when the storm hits us, we shouldn’t feel that God has abandoned us…much less that he is punishing us for our sins.
In some of these storms we may feel that we can no longer cope on our own. Our own resources and strengths are clearly not enough. The waves of anger, fear, pain and despair rise up and threaten to overcome us. It is then that we must believe that Christ is with us and that his help is available to us.
If our faith is strong we will know that Christ is sleeping in our boat, that all we have to do is call to him in faith and prayer. With his help we will survive any storm. Our fears will subside and peace and calm will return to our troubled hearts.
And if we should be faced with death and there is no escape for anyone – then we should realize that Christ is there to help us negotiate the dark and threatening waters of death. What St. Mark is really saying to his community, today we are the community, make sure that Christ is a familiar traveling companion of yours on the journey of life..
He also asks each of his followers to do the same for each other. To make ourselves available to another person who is caught in the middle of the storm of their life. We have no magical words to offer, really, nothing except our presence and our availability. And these are indeed precious moments – these are the things that calm the storm – no magic words, but loving, supportive and calming presence.
Lastly, a disciple is grateful when the storms of our lives are calmed. A perfect reason to come to mass and say – THANK YOU.
A final word of wisdom: The storm, the people that you get along with and don’t get along with, your work load and responsibilities, your sick parents, your sick children, whatever it is – will be there when you wake up from your sleep. Life is hard and rest is critical, for Jesus and for all of us.
Lesson – God is near – just reach out.