Have you ever noticed that as you read and reread familiar passages in the Bible, you suddenly see something new? I’m always amazed that something I’ve covered a hundred times can suddenly have new meaning.
This happened to me recently as I was reading the part in Mark 4 where Jesus calms the storm. I’m sure you know the story:
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 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!”
I’ve read this dozens of times. I’ve heard sermons, read reviews, and discussed this passage in Bible studies. We always seem to focus on the idea that Jesus is demonstrating his divinity, and that while it’s important for us to ask him for help, we can rest assured that he’s in control of the worst situations. And those are all good points contained in this passage.
This time, for some inexplicable reason, I fixated on Jesus asking his disciples, “Do you still have no faith?”
I’ve always assumed that he was referring to their fear of the storm, and their doubt that he could get them safely to shore. To me, Jesus sounded grouchy. (Can God get grouchy?) Maybe he was really tired, and didn’t appreciate being disturbed, even for a huge storm.
I always sympathized with the disciples, out in the middle of a lake so large it was called a sea. The Sea of Galilee is 13 miles long, 7 miles wide, and only 150 feet deep at its deepest point. It’s known for sudden, fierce storms, formed as air moves over and down from the surrounding mountains. I found various accounts of ten-foot waves and nearly 70 mph gales. The disciples were in a relatively small, open boat. If I was in that situation, I’d be scared too!
But maybe, just maybe, Jesus’ response wasn’t really about the storm at all. Perhaps he wasn’t referring to their fear of drowning, but rather to the question, “Don’t you care?” Don’t you care about us? Don’t you love us enough to take care of us? In other words, they were impugning God’s character!
Denying God’s lovingkindness is a totally different issue from a simple fear of drowning. Jesus had been intentionally modeling God’s love for these, his closest friends, and yet they still had to ask, “Don’t you care?” No wonder he questioned their faith!
On the other hand, maybe he really was just sleepy and grouchy. What do you think?