The calming of a storm at sea

Published June 20, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Manila Bulletin


MARK 4:35-41

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples: “Let us cross to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

The power that stills storms

Ancient cosmology understood the earth’s foundation to be resting on waters and that waters encircle the earth: “For God founded it [the earth] on the seas, established it over the rivers” (Ps 24:2). As such, life itself hangs upon the behavior of seas, rivers, and rains. Hence, the sea became, for the people in the Bible, a handy image for anything negative.

Many Bible passages use the image of the waters and the sea as metaphors for disorder, struggle, and danger (see the First Reading. In Genesis, there was the primeval waters that God tamed before creation could begin. In Psalm 93 the waters of the sea personify rebellious relationship with God; yet amidst hostility, God maintains his rule: “The flood has raised up, LORD; the flood has raised up its roar… More powerful than the roar of many waters… powerful in the heavens is the LORD” (vv 3-4). The image of the deep waters paints a difficult experience and need for God’s intervention: “Rescue me from the mire; do not let me sink. Rescue me from my enemies and from the watery depths” (Ps 69:15).

The sea was also believed to be the place where monstrous creatures reside which God overcame: “You stirred up the sea in your might; you smashed the heads of the dragons on the waters” (Ps 74:13). These Bible passages speak of a God who conquers the sea and its negative and monstrous elements. The frightening sea and its sea monsters, which no man could overcome, are no match for the power of God.

Understanding these Bible passages helps us enter into the message of today’s Gospel: there is an authority that is able to subdue and conquer the sea. Jesus’ authority over the waters mirrors God’s. Mark’s use of the image of the sea evokes the metaphor of demon and chaos that confront Jesus and terrorize his disciples. That Jesus is serenely asleep on a pillow while the storm rages plays an important part of the story. Overcome with great fear, the disciples accuse him of indifference. How does Jesus manage to stay asleep through this? Does he sleep deliberately in order to test the faith of the disciples? In this case they fail. These disciples are Jesus’ closest companions. They have witnessed his deeds and heard his words yet up to this point they still do not know who Jesus is. “They were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?’ ” (v 41). In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we find people locked in fear and uncertainty as if death knocks at our doors. We ask: Who can spare us from this disease? Is God asleep? Has God abandoned us? In desperation we find the afflicted praying hard for dear life. At last, we realize, we need God after all.

SOURCE: “365 Days with the Lord 2021,” ST. PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 632-895-9701; Fax 632-895-7328; E-mail: [email protected]; Website: