Storms: as he was

Jesus-boat-storm2Commentary: 35 On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, “Let us cross to the other side.”

As Stoffregen asks: Why do the disciples cross the lake? There are several possible answers: (a) to get to the other side or (b) as recorded in the text, Jesus told them to cross over. Even though (b) is the correct answer, (a) raises the curiosity: what is on the other side? Gentile (unclean) territory indicated by “unclean spirits,” “swine,” and “Decapolis.” Many scholars hold that this trip across the lake represents the Gentile mission for Mark. The storm at sea represents the storms in the early church as they sought to carry out Jesus’ command “to go to the other side” or “to make disciples of all nations.” It may be noted that the area where the people of God sit while in church is properly called the “nave,” from the Latin “navis” = ship.

36 Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him.

In the tradition it is thought that the Gospel according to Mark, in a manner, captures Peter’s stories and remembrances. This account bears the marks of the personal reminiscence of one who had experienced the event. The precise mention of time, the unneeded reference to the other boats which were present, the vivid detail that the boat was “already filling up,” the precise location of Jesus’ position (“in the stern, asleep on a cushion”), the harshness of the rebuke implied in the disciples’ cry of indignation and terror as well as their subsequent bewilderment, combine to suggest an eyewitness report.

The expressions “just as he was” has raised a speculation or two in the millennia. There is nothing particular about the underlying Greek. Many scholars offer that given Jesus is soon asleep, “as he was” was bone tired. Another suggestion refers to the beginning of Mark 4: “On another occasion he began to teach by the sea. A very large crowd gathered around him so that he got into a boat on the sea and sat down. And the whole crowd was beside the sea on land. 2 And he taught them at length in parables, and in the course of his instruction he said to them…” (Mark 4:1-2). In other words, he was already in the boat, and now finished teaching parables, Jesus sat down and the shoved off for the other side.

37 A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up.”

Given the fact that at least four of the disciples were professional fishermen and must have experienced such storms before, their terror indicates the severity of the incident. The Sea of Galilee, surrounded by high mountains, is like a basin. Sudden violent storms on the sea are well-known. Violent winds from the southwest enter the basin from the southern cleft and create a situation in which storm and calm succeed one another rapidly. Since the wind is nearly always stronger in the afternoon than in the morning or evening, fishing was done at night. So when a storm arises in the evening, it is all the more dangerous. Especially during the night, even experiences fishermen are not able to “read the signs” of things such as encroaching whitecaps. The squall that hit likely struck as am unexpected, fierce gust of wind they fell upon them, driving the waves over the sides of the boat, which was being swamped with water.

In this first storm scene (see 6:45–52 for a similar account), Jesus gives his disciples an opportunity to show that they have come to know him for who he really is. They have shared in the secrets of the kingdom (4:1–34), and they have been with him as he healed all sickness and drove out demons (chs. 1–3). Now they are with him on the raging sea, and he sleeps: Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion” (v.38)

Notes

Mark 4:35 other side: For most of our parishes, we don’t have to go anywhere to “get to the other side.” The “Gentiles” have moved into our neighborhoods — but what a storm it usually creates when a parishioners makes an intentional effort to reach out to the unchurched — to the people who are “different” than they.

Mark 4:37 a violent squall came up. The Sea of Galilee is surrounded by hills except in the southern area, where the Jordan River exits. With certain wind patterns, air can funnel up into the lake and get trapped, creating quick and violent storms (lailaps megalē anemou suggests a sudden tornado-like whirlwind descending from above). That apparently happened in this case. Key biblical scenes involving storms and seas include Exod 1Mark 4:21–31; Ps 107:23–32; Jonah 1:1–16; Acts 27.

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