Lectionary Year B
June 25, 2000
Mark 4:35-41

Step V: Hermeneutical Bridge


Please note that this contribution was made by a different contributor than steps I-IV and the Contemporary Address (Step VI).

I tend to look for things in a text that take me by surprise. The "hos en" ("as he was" v.36) is most interesting to me. I don't really know what it means, and the commentaries I have checked are silent on the issue. The phrase may mean tired, hungry, exhausted, in the condition that he found himself after a long day. It may be an idiomatic expression for "directly"-- as in they went from the preaching site to the boat without stoping. It is interesting that the disciples "take Jesus with them" even though it is his instruction that they go to the other side (of the lake). How often do people "take Jesus with them" without his instructions?

However, as I hear the phrase, the hymn "Just As I Am" comes to mind. We are sometimes told God loves us just as we are, but God loves us so much he doesn't let us stay that way. We love to assume that God in Jesus takes us just as we are, but do we accept the reverse. Are we willing to take Jesus (God and man) just as he is?

And how about the disciples? We are told that they took him "just as he was," but they are not satisfied with a Jesus who can sleep in the back of the boat in the middle of a storm. "Do you not care?" Why aren't you concerned? How can you be the way you are?

The interplay between taking Jesus "the way that he is" and Jesus "as we want him to be" will be the launch point for this Sunday's sermon.

If you play with the phrase "to the other side" out of context, many might think that Jesus was ever going to "the other side" as he dealt with tax collectors, sinners, foreigners, Samaritans, etc. Even in context, crossing over the the east side of the lake to the country of the Gerasenes-- to a land of pig farmers-- might have had this very connotation in the eyes of some.

The other thing that I found interesting is that most of the text is narrative, and as so, to a large degree speculative. As we take this text as canon, most of it is through the interpretive framework of the narrator. We are told not only what happened, but how it is to be understood.

It is very clear from the gospels that Jesus was addressing the wind and waves. The climax comes with the disciples question: "Who is this that even the wind and waves obey?" (The identity of Jesus is a major theme of Mark and this story does not stand in isolation.) However, if this set of events happened as described and we were eye and ear witnesses (without benefit of interpretive narrative), "Silence, be quiet" might be a little confusing. Picture it as a scene in a movie: Jesus is asleep in the back of a boat. A storm comes up. The disciples panic. They rush to Jesus ( which probably didn't happen given a small boat with at least 13 men reported to be aboard. It is not the Queen Mary where everybody can gather around a person on the stern. More likely, in their panic they turned towards Jesus and whoever was near shook him or yelled in his ear.) Jesus wakes and his first words are "Calm down. Stop making this noise!"

To whom is Jesus speaking? The storm or one of the disciples. The first command is in 2 person singular imperative, the second as 2 person singular perfect passive imperative. The narrative suggests (in Mattthew, Mark and Luke) that "the disciples" came to him. If they were all shouting at once, it could be assumed that commands to the disciples would be in the plural. However, there are other occasions where the concerns of all the disciples were communicated to Jesus through one spokesman--often Peter. The question in my mind is, "Which is more natural in a panic situation: to address the problem or to suggest that the panicked individual calm down." Often times, when panic arises, we humans tend to either over estimate it or fail to react properly. The same words used to calm the storm might well have been addressed to a panicked disciple who wakes Jesus in an hysterical fit. One of the things that we are told about the Sea of Galilee is that storms are quick to come and quick to go. If a squall line blew through and passed, the disciples' panic and Jesus tells them-- perhaps a non-fisherman in the boat who has never seen such as this to calm down-- and the storm then passes-- it all makes sense without any miracle, save the calm of Jesus in a troubled situation.

This is speculative given the context and interpretation given to the event by Mark. It is clear that from this episode, the question of who Jesus was in relationship to God was lifted up a notch. This story is also repeated concerning Jesus command over nature in the other synoptics. However, the stories do not agree. In Matthew, Jesus' first address is to the disciples and then to the storm (where the exact words are not used.) If Jesus' first concern were to address the disciples, might these have been the kind of words he used to get their attention (or at least the attention of the one shaking him) before addressing the issue of their faith (prior to calming the waves)?

I as a pastor do not have the ability to stop storms or even bring rain to West Texas. What I do have (sometimes) is the ability to interrupt the panic of individuals in times of crisis, calm them down, help them address the situation as it really is (not as they fear it might be) and weather the storm with them. There are times when the proverbial boat IS sinking. Sometimes the results of life's situations are death, the loss of the farm, etc. Jesus has weathered even such storms with and for his disciples.

In terms of pastoral guidance, I think that it is helpful to consider this text as one in which Jesus' words have a double meaning. It would be a stretch to unambiguously declare that the words were addressed to a disciple, but I do believe that a case can be made that they might have been.

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