From the Gospel of Mark:
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Mark 4:35-41 (NRSV) – March 21, 2014.)
Mark, who is usually so taciturn and parsimonious with his descriptions, goes into rather great detail telling this story of Jesus calming the sea. A detail often overlooked is the second sentence of verse 36: “Other boats were with him.” (When Luke tells the same story in chapter 8 of his gospel, he leaves out this detail.)
One presumes that these other boats were being as tossed about, as beaten by the waves, as nearly swamped as that in which Jesus and disciples found themselves. One presumes that they also experienced the dead calm when Jesus rebuked the winds and commanded the say, “Peace! Be Still!” Unlike the passengers in Jesus boat, they would have had no idea what the cause of the sudden stillness might have been.
It’s interesting that this story is paired in the morning with Psalm 69, in which the rising waters of a swamp are used as a metaphor for an abundance of “lying foes” (v. 5) and “those who hate me” (v. 16), while in the evening the psalm appointed in Psalm 73, in which the source of one’s trouble is internal rather than external, arising from envy of “the wicked” who seem to have more than they deserve:
When my mind became embittered,
I was sorely wounded in my heart.
I was stupid and had no understanding;
I was like a brute beast in your presence.
(Ps. 73:21-22, BCP 1979, p. 688)
Are our lectionary editors suggesting that the raging storms in our life are as often caused by our own internal mechanisms as by the machinations of others? I think they are. Are they encouraging us to believe that Jesus can calm all chaos, both internal and external? I think they are.
And that little-noted half-verse in the gospel story reminds us that chaos and disruption, whether brought from outside or created from within, never affect only one person or one small group. Chaos and confusion are like the storm-tossed sea that disrupts everything around; the raging storm may have been centered on Jesus’ boat, but “other boats were with him” and just as certainly in danger of being swamped. And when it was stilled, the other boats also benefited. So it is when our lives (or those of others around us) are beset by chaos and trouble, external or internal, and when those troubles end and a calm settles unexpectedly on all about.
I’ve experienced those times when, all of a sudden, what had seemed a raging, chaotic mess simply resolved in a moment and settled into something manageable. It occurs to me now that it may have been because a storm, internal or external, in someone else’s life was calmed in ways and by means unknown to me. So this morning I give thanks for the stilling of the seas in others’ lives and for the undeserved calm it brings into mine.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.