Posted by: gaylejervis | February 17, 2011

WHY ARE YOU AFRAID?

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other,”Who is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey Him.” (Mark 3:37 – 41)


Does this passage have something to say to the chronically ill?  It may not if the main interpretation is that the disciples should have exercised their faith in Jesus Christ and then the storm would have stopped!

These men were terror struck during one of the unpredictable storms that could come with no notice on the Sea of Galilee.   And even if they had never faced first hand the terrors of the sudden storms on these waters, they had heard stories.  They may have known men who died in these storms.  Hence, it was a very real fear that their lives were in jeopardy.

These seasoned fishermen could easily have concluded that only their skills could help save them.  And initially that may have slowed their approach to Jesus as they were trying to steady the boat  themselves.  However, when their situation was worsening, they eventually approached Jesus.  Now this is where these men are often chastised in sermons.  “They should have approached Jesus sooner.”  “They should have realized that Jesus could calm the storm.”   There is a saying that the test for an insane person is that he keeps doing the same thing and expects to see a change.  These disciples were no fools!  They finally approached Jesus.  Therefore,  even though they should have approached Jesus sooner,  they were still smarter than many people who become paralyzed in their fear and become completely immobilized.  And yet Jesus is going to speak to them rather harshly.  Why is that?

The disciple’s angry accusation when they speak to Jesus reveals that there is something deeper going on than merely they needed to exercise more faith in order to stop the storm. Yes, they were afraid of the storm, but were they also shocked that they could be in the center of this life and death circumstance when Jesus was with them in the boat?  Were they stunned that bad things could still happen to them in Jesus’ presence?  Had they begun to see Him as their Talisman, their good luck charm?   Did they feel like Jesus had abandoned them?  Did they think that Jesus was indifferent to their fear? No wonder they approached Jesus in anger!

Now those emotions are feelings that most of us who have experienced chronic pain can understand!  As Barbara Brown Tayor author of An Altar in the World writes, “One night of real pain is enough to strip away your illusions about how strong you are, how brave, how patient and faithful.”  We can replace the word “pain” with “fear” and we can begin to experience how the disciples were feeling.  Up until now, they were beginning to feel pretty safe and secure hanging around Jesus.  They may have even thought they had a good understanding of what Jesus was saying and what He was expecting.  They were just exuding in patience and believing that exercising faith is easier than they thought. Suddenly all of those illusions were drowning!!

As Taylor writes, “You do not need a torturer standing over you to recognize the direct link between pain and truth. Pain is so real that less real things like who you thought you were and how you meant to act can vanish like drops of water flung on a hot stove.”  Their fear for their lives was intensified as they faced a terrible truth:  If by some miracle they survive this storm, they may endure other storms!  Jesus was not going to protect them from tough circumstances!  They had completely lost their bearings on who they were and how things were supposed to unfold in life.

Wow!  That is something a chronically ill person understands.  We don’t understand quite as well the teaching that the storm would have stopped if they had just had faith in Jesus.

And yet, if these speculations have some merit, why did Jesus respond rather testily when he said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”   Was Jesus angry that they had been so slow in approaching him?  Was He angry that they had approached Him but in fear? I hope not since we are told to approach Jesus honestly and in whatever state we are in.  It would be terrible if I need to hesitate approaching him until I can approach Jesus without fear.

I find it reassuring that Jesus calms the storm even when the disciples showed a lack of faith.  I need to know that I don’t have to perform in a certain manner in order for Jesus to respond to my fears.

But that still doesn’t explain Jesus’ accusing question.  Did He think they should have just called out to God and let him continue sleeping?   Or is He angry because their faith couldn’t stand the test of great peril?  We see in the book of Acts how their faith grows exponentially so that   it does stand the test of persecution and eventually their violent deaths.

Here is my question then.  Often this passage is used to tell us how we must trust Jesus and how he will calm our storm. No question it is telling us of the divine power present in Jesus’ person. However, could it also be telling us that even when we believe Jesus is absent, He is present during our storm?  Could it be telling us that sometimes the storm will continue indefinitely, but He is still present?

Does it seem like an afterthought that Jesus calms the storm?  That it isn’t the main focal point of their lack of faith?  He was merely revealing His Divine Power to remind them that whether they are in a storm or in a calm, He is Present.  Now that is something I can appreciate!

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Responses

  1. Thank you so much for your thorough analysis of this passage. It is truly interesting to gain more insight into a passage that usually gets glossed over as having only one dimension.

    • Thanks Lisa for your comment. Also, thank you for getting me thinking about this passage!!

  2. As I pursue (though admittedly not very well) the practice of Lectio Divina, I find that it is seldom that passages are only what they seem at first reading. I’ve thought, too, there is something there in the storm being calmed as a last thing.

    Your observations are very thought provoking – thank you for sharing them here!

    I’ve been thinking a lot about another passage and feel connection here…the loaves and fishes. He has the disciples *bring* Him what gifts they’ve been given -and uses them to feed huge numbers, being concerned about them going hungry and not making it home (I doubt that only physical hunger and their dwellings was all He meant.)

    Though it’s hard to see it when we’re in the midst of the storm, the midst of the suffering, I think it is indeed a gift and if brought to Him, will be made into far more.

    I’m often comforted at the thought that He doesn’t ask me to do anything He hasn’t done already.

    Pondering – thankful for your post.

    Peace.

    • I said “seldom”…I should have that I doubt any passage has only one layer of meaning. Hence the practice of lectio.

    • Thank you for your comments. I admit I don’t often see my illness as a gift! However, I appreciate your intuitive comment that it can only be regarded as a gift if we bring our suffering continually to him so that He can make it into something “far more”. Too often I complain to Him about my illness and ask Him to take it away rather than laying it at the foot of the cross as my gift to Him. Thanks for good counsel.


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