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?” (Mark 4:40-41)
After quieting the violent storm with a word, Jesus turns to his disciples (and Mark’s readers) and asks: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” (v. 40). The first disciples’ only response is: “Who then is this?” (v. 41). This passage continues to reveal Mark’s theology of discipleship. These very same disciples who have been chosen in 3:7-12, who have been given the mystery of the kingdom of God (4:10-12), and who are privileged to hear Jesus’ teachings and explanation (4:34) are here chided for their timidity and lack of trust, their lack of a deepening faith. The question of their faith is abrupt at this point in Mark’s gospel. Increasingly as Mark’s gospel continues this question of faith continues to arise.
The commonly accepted date for the authorship of this gospel is 69-70 AD. It is easy to see how Mark’s, suffering under Nero’s persecutions, needs to be assured with the story of Jesus’ entire life, death, and resurrection, and thus assured of his protection in their times of stress and confusion. He asks for more than “great awe” (v. 41) at Jesus’ stilling of the storm. He asks for deep here-and-now faith from all who struggle to understand the meaning of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in their own daily experience of Christian living.
Reflections from Pheme Perkins [The Gospel of Mark, vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abington Press,1994) ]
- The question of Jesus’ identity appears repeatedly in Mark. When the disciples suddenly show a lack of trust in God’s power working through Jesus and even accuse Jesus of not caring, readers are challenged to examine their own faith. Merely repeating the confession that Jesus is Son of God means little if Jesus does not represent God for us. A suspicion that God does not really care what happens to us will corrode our religious life. The results of such sentiments in daily life are familiar. Human relationships die when we sense that others do not care what happens to us.
- Doubts about God also emerge in times of crisis. Mark’s readers were familiar with the destructive effects of persecution. The weaknesses exhibited by Jesus’ disciples encourage later believers to persist despite doubts about God’s saving presence. In the end, they will discover the one whom the wind and sea obey.
- When the disciples say to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” their panic separates them from Jesus. How can he not care? He is in the boat with them! Jesus does not react to their panic. He speaks first to the raging elements, the wind and sea. Then he asks his stunned disciples about their faith. On the human level, we often act like the disciples. We expect others to share our panic or distress. If they seem detached from the situation, we accuse them of not caring about our suffering. Panic reactions can divide us from others who might help just as they can cause us to doubt God’s love for us