Monday, June 15, 2015


Rembrandt Christ in the Storm on Galilee
The brief but striking episode recorded in Mark’s Gospel for this Sunday -- in which Jesus appears to control a storm at sea with a simple command -- is usually referred to as a ‘nature’ miracle. But, as so often in the Gospels, this ‘miracle’ should be understood as a ‘sign’ rather than a ‘wonder’. What matters is what it says, not what it accomplishes.

Storms are natural metaphors. They easily transfer from the world of nature to human life, and can thus be used to signify, and communicate, a climax in the strains and stresses human beings experience. This use of the image is common in the Bible – in the Psalms – for example -- and sometimes the metaphor and the literal event are inextricably interwoven – as in the story of Jonah.

In either case, the natural event of the storm is to be read as a symbol. It reveals something about Jesus and his relationship to God. The punch line, of course, is the stilling of the storm, at which point the terror of the disciples is changed, not into grateful relief as we might expect, but into ‘awe’ at the person of Jesus – "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?". Their allusion to divine power is made even more evident by the thematic Old Testament reading from Job in which God's awesome power includes 'stopping the proud waves'.

Seascape, the Poplar - Gustave Courbet
Seascape Gustave Courbet
But in a way, the key moment in the Gospel episode is to be found a few verses earlier, when Jesus lies sleeping on a cushion. It is in response to their frightened accusation "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" that he stills the storm. The enormous gap between his relationship to God and theirs is thus revealed not only by his extraordinary power over the storm, but by his ability to sleep in the midst of it.
This is where we find an important resonance with the accompanying Epistle. The 'hardships and calamities' that Paul recounts to the wayward church at Corinth, include the storms he experienced as he sailed on his missionary journeys. While the disciples, though they had Jesus with them, were fearful, Paul having encountered the Risen Christ, could declare that even when calamity left him with nothing, his faith in Jesus Christ meant he had everything.

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