Sunday, April 1, 2012

This is the eleventh installment, comprising Act 2. Scene 4, in the online commentary on the Gospel of Mark, which I will blog on throughout the liturgical year. Please see the tenth installment here which contains links to the previous installment and from there you can link to all of them.

This is my division of the Gospel:

Prologue,  1:1-13;
Act  1, 1:14-3:6;
Act 2, 3:7-6:6;
Act 3, 6:7-8:26;
Act 4, 8:27-10:52;
Act 5, 11:1-13:37;
Act 6, 14:1-16:8(20).

Scene 4:

Mark 4:35-41:

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?" (NRSV)

Mark has brought us into Jesus’ inner circle: we have been disciples, hearing Jesus’ parables, listening to his explanations, but there is confusion. What do these parables mean?  To everyone on the outside, these might come as mysteries, but those of us on the inside are supposed to understand, to gain clarity listening to the Master, yet confusion reigns. “He explained everything in private to his disciples,” but I must have missed something. Yet, I would prefer not to be the confused student, the one who never understands. So, as the parables end, I remain alone with my questions.

Jesus still invites us to part from the crowd, to come to the other side, to be alone with him; we will travel across the sea by boat. We will remain insiders, and not let our questions surface: who are you? Are you a miracle worker? A teacher? The Messiah? Why won’t you just say it? What do you want? I will not ask my questions. I will keep them to myself. Just keep quiet; just follow.

A storm comes up, wind swamping the boats, and he just sleeps. The twelve could not keep quiet, someone says it, but Mark will not tell us who blurted it out. It may be to protect the one who asked it, or because it was on everyone’s mind: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (4:38).

Was he just going to let everyone die? It’s true, he saved them: “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” (4:39-40), but is that only because he was asked to intervene? But was he asked to intervene? The request was not exactly “make the storm go away,” but “do you not care that we are perishing?”  What did the disciples want, some sense that Jesus cared for them, or had their best interests at heart? He makes the storm go away, but why was he sleeping through it?

Mark makes one thing clear: it’s not just me, all of his followers are confused. His reasoning, his questions, his purpose, who he is: all of this is up in the air.  Jesus asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (4:40). There are two questions he asks, and I am not certain how they are related. Let me answer both of them: The disciples are afraid because they are about to die; and I do not know what I am supposed to have faith in, or about. Faith in what?  This is the first time “fear” has been raised as an issue at all in the Gospel and it is coupled with “faith.” Fear might not be necessary now, though, since Jesus has fixed the immediate problem, but it is not clear why faith is paired with fear. Now, it is time again to wonder along with the disciples.

The fact that Jesus stills the storm, saves them from death, is impressive – “and they were filled with great awe” (4:41) - but it just leads to another question, one filled with yearning and confusion: "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (4:41). The teaching, healings, exorcisms, the parables, all of this has led to followers who have left their homes and shared in his ministry and his life, but they have not yet figured out who he is. And Mark has drawn his readers into the same questions, yearnings and confusion: we have more than a few clues, but who then is this?

John W. Martens

Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens


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