On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But 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?’ 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’
Translation: And he said to them on that day, when evening had come, "Let us go into the other side." And leaving the crowd, they take him just as he was in the boat and other boats were with him. And a great wind storm began and the waves were beating into the boat so that now the boat was filled. And he was in the stern, sleeping on the pillow, and they raised him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" And being raised, he rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be silent!" And the wind ceased, and a great calm began. He said to them, "Why are you cowards? How do you not have faith?" And they were struck with a great fear, and said to one another, "Who then is this, that the wind and the sea obey him?"
Background and situation: Our lection begins a new section of Mark's gospel. At Jesus' initiative, he and the disciples go to "the other side" of the Sea of Galilee. The "other side" was the gentile side. Granted, the division was not so neat. Jews and gentiles were situated all around the lake, in varying concentrations.
Symbolically, however, Mark clearly intends the reader to understand "the other side" as gentile, as indicated by such later markers as "swine" and Decapolis. Jesus compells the disciples to go into foreign territory to "the other side" of humanity.
Other boats?: "Other boats were with him," says Mark. Who were in these other boats? Why does Mark mention them? Is Mark suggesting that Jesus has other followers besides the twelve?
At various points in Mark, certain people are specifically said to "follow" Jesus--Bartimaeus, for example, or the un-named "young man" in the Garden of Gethsemene. To be said to follow is high praise from Mark, and quite rare.
In Mark, the disciples are never described as actually following Jesus. Indeed, we are entering a section of Mark (4:35-8:21) the major theme of which is, according to Werner Kelber, "the blindness of the disciples." The disciples never "get it" any place in Mark, but they really don't "get it" in this section.
The "other boats" are not mentioned again. Apparently, they were able to handle the ensuing storm without additional help from Jesus. Only the disciples freak out.
The storm on the sea: A "great wind storm began." In the great literature of the world, campaigns into new areas, whether physical or psychological or both, often involve obstacles which must be overcome for the mission to succeed.
The disciples are being called out from their theology and their existing worldview. They have been raised to think that gentiles are unclean and one should have nothing to do with them. The "great wind storm" describes not only the physical effect of storm at sea, but also the psychological impact on the disciples of a mission to foreigners.
The boat "was filled," which would give the impression that the boat was entirely filled with water. Yet, Jesus remains "sleeping on a pillow." The disciples "raised" Jesus and their question is accusatory: "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
In the first place, "teacher" is not, for Mark, an appropriate title for Jesus. The only people who call Jesus "teacher" in Mark's gospel are his opponents and his own disciples. Besides, the wind and storm is about to send them to the bottom of the lake. What they specifically don't need right now is a teacher.
Secondly, they essentially accuse Jesus of a failure of compassion--"Do you not care...?" Matthew and Luke appear to be bothered by this charge and they both soften it. Matthew has, "Save, Lord, we are perishing." Luke has, "Master, Master, we are perishing!"
"And being raised, he rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be silent!'" ("Being raised"--Is this about resurrection power?) Jesus rebuked the wind just as he had rebuked the demonic powers (1:25, 3:12). He says to the sea, "Be silent!", which is the same thing he had said to the demon which had possessed the man in the synagogue (1:25).
The wind and sea, as they strike at the disciples en route to gentile mission, are equated with demonic powers. The demonic powers resist the mission of Jesus to the gentiles. Yet, at Jesus' command, "the wind ceased, and a great calm began."
The storm in the boat: There might have been a "great calm" on the sea, but meanwhile, back in the boat, Jesus is upset. He addresses two questions to the disciples: "Why are you cowards (deiloi)?" and "How do you not have faith?"
The NRSV translation is somewhat off-the-mark. It has, "Why are you afraid?" Deiloi does have to do with fear, but in a different sense than in verse 41 where the disciples were "struck with great fear" (phobos).
Deiloi has to do with an inner defect. Phobos has to do with threat from some external circumstance. As Brian Stoffregan notes, "One is afraid because one lacks courage...Jesus indicates that there is something defective about the disciples--they are fearful, cowardly, timid, and lacking in faith."
The NRSV translation of verse 41 is likewise inadequate. "They were filled with great awe," says NRSV, which strikes me, frankly, as not even being particularly close. The Greek is ephobethesan phobon megan. Phobos--"fear"--is used twice. This ought to be reflected somewhere in the translation. "Fearing a great fear" would be better, or "struck with great fear."
The disciples were not, in other words, piously in awe of Jesus, as is suggested by the NRSV. They were scared out of their wits, and, what's more, ignorant as to who Jesus is: "Who then is this, that the wind and the sea obey him?"
In Mark's gospel, the disciples are never described as having faith. They are never described as following, and they never quite get Jesus' identity right--("teacher" indeed).
Our lection begins a lengthy section of Mark's gospel in which the disciples are regularly baffled and, even more regularly, flat wrong. The insiders don't get it, but, nevertheless, the mission continues.
Image: Calming the storm, James Janknegt