This coming Sunday is the gospel of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. “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?” (Mark 4:38) While the storm raged, Jesus lay sleeping in the stern upon the cushion that was customarily kept under the coxswain’s seat for those who were not involved in the actual sailing or fishing. The other’s aboard are having a much different experience. Given that at least four of the disciples were professional fishermen and must have experienced such storms before, their anxiety/terror indicates the severity of the incident. The usual pattern for a deliverance from a storm at sea involved a plea to the deity for help, but Mark’s version lacks such a formula. In Matthew the disciples’ words to Jesus to fit the anticipated pattern, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matt. 8:25). In Mark, however, their cry carries an edge – rebuke? Disbelief? Incredulousness? It is hard to assign a meaning that leaves the disciples other than accusing Jesus of being indifferent to their plight.
He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. (Mark 4:39) It is such a sparse telling of the story that it is not hard to imagine Jesus awaking, being somewhat chagrined (a good night’s sleep is hard to come by), glancing to the storm, wondering what all the commotion is about, and directing the sea to “Quiet! Be still!” As suddenly as the storm had come it had subsided, subdued by Jesus’ sovereign command. (Clearly the text says Jesus is speaking to the sea, but I have always sort of wondered if he was also speaking to the disciples. After all, Jesus was asleep and doing just fine on that cushion.)
However one imagines the scene, the question of what was involved in the stilling of the storm cannot be avoided. Jesus’ power and sovereignty was demonstrated in the stilling of the roaring sea and the silencing of the howling wind, strongly echoing God’s intervention in to history with the parting of the Red Sea. And at the same time the cosmic overtones should also be attended to. The same language used when Jesus rebuked and silenced the demons is repeated here with respect to the sea.
When Jesus calms the storm, he speaks to the wind as though to a demon (cf. 1:24). Just as the sea monster in ancient mythology represents the powers of evil, so also the raging storm here reflects all the powers of chaos and evil. Jesus’ power and sovereignty are evidence that he is stronger than the inherent evil represented.