by Hugh Farquhar
The Gospel Reading in the Lectionary for next Sunday is Mark 4:35-41.
This Gospel Reading is a storm story. Mark says that it was “a great wind storm.” “The waves beat into the boat so that it was already being swamped.” It pitched and tossed in the heaving sea, and its occupants experienced the chill of human fear.
Jesus was sleeping. In their consternation the disciples woke him and spoke harshly to him, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” They had sacrificed a lot to follow him and where was he when they needed him? Asleep! “Do you not care?”
Sometimes, when the storms swirl around me, it seems like I’m on my our own. I wonder if God cares. An old Gospel hymn puts the question:
Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades into deep night shades,
Does he care enough to be near?
Joyce Rupp, who has been an inspiration to me for many years, wrote in Praying Our Goodbyes, “God of my life, I am lost at sea; the wild winds and pelting rain of my troubles are threatening to submerge me in their power. I am tossed to and fro by the struggles that come upon me every day . . . In my distress I cry out: Are you asleep in my boat of life? Do you care that I am battling the storm with every breath I take?”
These are human questions. Fear can shake our confidence. “Fear has a way of shoving its way through all the wisdoms we’ve learned” (Rupp). Fear wants to shrink our spirits so that it can take over and steer the ship of our life.
Jesus immediately rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace, be still.” The wind ceased and there was a dead calm. Surely, he was saying it to the disciples as well. Then he said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
I don’t think that there was anger in his voice, or annoyance, or disappointment. Indeed, I have wondered if Jesus might not have said these words some time later when they were all reflecting on the experience. I think Jesus was gently challenging them to go deeply inside themselves, to get in touch with the foundation of their fear, and to place it in the context of their experience of him.
The point of the story is not that if you have faith, you will never be afraid. The point of the story is that when fear overtakes us, we’re not left to or own devices. We need to do some of the work ourselves but there is always that One with us in the boat to help us. Fear may make us shudder and shake but we need to remember that, however it may seem to us at any given time, God does care and is “an anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll.”
I do not know where else one can go to hear an authentic voice saying in the midst of one’s fear, “Peace! Be still!”
Hugh Farquhar is Minister Emeritus at St. Paul’s United Church, Riverview, N.B. and teaches Biblical Studies at Atlantic School of Theology, Halifax, N.S.