“He is never distant and he is always in control.”
As the account of Jesus’ calming of the storm begins in Mark 4, we have several important details that are mentioned. Jesus and the disciples are leaving a large crowd, who he was teaching, and crossing to the other side of the sea. Mark notes that Jesus was asleep on the cushion in the boat when a tremendous storm began. Large waves were crashing against the boat and water was beginning to accumulate onboard. Throughout all of this, Jesus remains asleep on his cushion, seemingly uninterested in the dangerous fate that might occur. The disciples are a mess because they think that at any moment they could be thrown overboard into the violent sea.
Finally they woke Jesus from his slumber and asked this question, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38b). Christ is meant to be their leader and protector. However, at this moment they believe he is failing in leadership skills. It is interesting to note that they address him here as “teacher” or “rabbi” and not as Lord (the Greek word kyrios, which was the translation of the Hebrew name Yahweh for God’s name given to Moses at the burning bush, see Exodus 3:15) In their tone and address to Jesus, we see that the disciples are not convinced that he is God or that they should fully trust him to save them from harm.
Jesus stands in his place and commands the wind to be still and quiet. Immediately the waters become calm and the disciples are saved from danger. The key to understanding this important account in Jesus’ life is where he sleeps on the boat. He is sleeping, yes, but he is laying on the cushion in the boat. The cushion is the place where the captain of the ship would reside. So picture Christ and The Twelve entering the boat. They all begin working on the sails and getting themselves pushed off from the shore, towards the deeper waters of the sea. Once they disembark, everyone takes their positions. Jesus, as the leader, goes to sit on the cushion in the boat. The rest of the disciples think to themselves that this is only right and proper.
As they enter into their journey, the sun is still out but it grows darker and darker until the storm begins to hit. They all notice that Jesus is still in the captain’s seat, but now he is fast asleep. He should be the one guiding them and his aid is nowhere to be found. So, they wake him and with the power of his words he saves them from destruction. However, in the process, he does call them foolish and lacking in faith because they did not trust him.
Foolishness and trust contrasted with rightly ordered faith are constant elements of connection in Christ’s teachings. In the Gospels, faith often wavers and doubt arises in the midst of some form of hardship (illness, death, danger, seemingly insurmountable odds, hatred, etc.). Our current times are echoing with the same question that left the mouth of the disciples on the boat, “do you not care?” This common attack against Christ has echoed down through the ages on the lips of those who were afflicted and found their circumstances full of turmoil. There is a reason why the calming of the storm at sea is one of the most well-known and read Gospel passages in the Christian faith: we have all been in that boat before, we have all questioned if God cared and if he would save us from harm.
This scene is a turning point in the lives of the disciples because they saw, in dramatic fashion, that the captain was steering the ship, he was in control even though the evidence showed something otherwise. God was in the lead then, and he is now.
Let us travel through the difficult journeys that we find ourselves in (loss of a family member, ill-health, unemployment, loneliness, uncertain future, societal unrest, etc.) with the knowledge that Christ is always in his rightful position of leadership and lordship. His loving care and ability to calm the storm is not a blind act of wishful thinking, but a guarantee of faith.
Jesus gives clear instructions to his followers when they find themselves in a storm: even when it looks like Christ is not with us or has even abandoned us, he is never distant and he is always in control. In the end, Jesus Christ will always come through and will always intervene. God’s identity is the opposite of abandonment; his identity is not about leaving, it is about drawing near and calming every wave.
Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife. He received a master’s degree in theology from St. Joseph’s Seminary & College and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy at Holy Apostles Seminary & College. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.
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