Jesus stills a storm

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The World Behind the Text

The world of the author’s community

See general introduction to the Gospel of Mark.

The world of the text

Characters & Setting

Lake Galilee is a key feature in all the synoptic Gospels which follow Mark’s lead and record the events of Jesus geographically (see author introduction.) That this passage occurs around lake Galilee indicates that Jesus is in the north of Palestine, near his hometown.

The Lake has many names It is. called the Sea of Galilee, Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1), the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1; 21:1), and sometimes simply “the lake” (John 6:16). In the Old testament it is called Kinnereth (Num. 34:11; Josh. 12:3).

Lake Galilee is an inland lake, one of the world’s lowest-lying bodies of fresh water. It is heart or harp shaped, approximately 53 km in circumference, about 21 km long, and 13 km wide. Although it is fed by some underground springs, most of its water arrives through the Jordan River, which flows from modern day Lebanon in the north to Israel and Jordan in the south.

The lake’s location, surrounded by hills, makes it subject to sudden and violent storms as the wind comes over the eastern mountains and drops suddenly onto the sea. Storms are especially likely when an east wind blows cool air over the warm air that covers the sea. The cold air (being heavier) drops as the warm air rises. This sudden change can produce surprisingly furious storms in a short time.

Some of the Galilean fishing boats were quite large. A first century fishing boat found in the mud of the shore of the lake was nearly 2.5m wide and over 8m in length. It had a sail and 5 crew. It could hold up to 10 passengers or a ton of cargo.

Lake Galilee
Boat on Lake Galilee

Text & Textual Features

This passage has a defined narrative structure; beginning, middle and end. The problem is eveident in the title: the storm…or is it the fear of the disciples on the boat?

The phrase ‘the other side’ is important. It represents both a physical movement but also a movement in thinking and action. The other side of Lake Galilee is the moving to the eastern shores of the lake, where Gentiles lived. This is a move to the “other side”—the Gentile side, the country of the unclean.

This passage can be coupled matched with the account of the deranged man from Gerasene. Together these two passages beautifully highlight Jesus’ influence on both the internal world and the external world. The two stories can reference each other.

Ideas/phrases/concepts

This passage recalls a number of other which mention storms, often a symbol of chaos and destruction: the primeval narrative of creation (Gen 1:2, 6-8) and the Flood (Gen 6-9).

The phrase “rebuking the wind” is also found in Psalm 106  where the Creator God rebukes the waters of chaos and also God rebuking the waters of the Red Sea (Psalm 106:9).

The image of Jesus calming this storm provides a contrast to these earlier passages and highlights the power of the word of God found in Jesus.  It invites the reader to trust in God.

‘Faith’
This is the beginning of references to faith throughout Mark’s Gospel. Mark ‘s presentation of Jesus challenges the reader to think about faith beyond the intellectual, but also a bold trust in God.

‘Why are you so fearful?’

Mark’s 12 do not understand Jesus and his mission. Here again they fail to see what is being asked of them and respond in fear. For fishermen who would have been very used to storms on the Lake this reaction seems particularly inappropriate. Their fear is of what they are being asked to believe, seen in both the sleeping and acting Jesus.

Questions for the teacher:

What is the text saying? What am I wondering about the text?
How can you enable your students to engage with the actual text? What might they wonder about?
What of this information is important to share with the students?

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher:

Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.

How do you respond to the text?
What does the text tell us about the world that God desires? What might the Holy Spirit be asking you and asking us to do?
In what ways do you hope your students will respond to the text? What do you want them to know, believe and do?

Meaning for today/challenges

Jesus does not contrast faith with doubt but rather faith with fear. There is a type of faith that that sits harmoniously with doubt. This kind of doubt is an important part of leading us into a deeper insight and wonder, which are key elements of an open mind. On the reverse side of this doubt is a type that plays on fear and generates cynicism and despair.

The phrase ‘Be not afraid’ occurs often in the gospels and the voice of God in the Old Testament. It reminds us that fear can be  a trap. It is this fear that causes humans to hoard: possessions, status, conquests, pleasures, accomplishments and the esteem of others. We cannot necessarily escape this fear, however we can choose how to respond to it. Trapped in this fear we have no room for God. We can squeeze God out of our life.