Reflecting on Mark for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 4:35-41


The Sea of Galilee is known for the violent storms that can arise without warning, as wind is funneled through the steep valleys among the hills surrounding the lake. In this instance the gale is so fierce that it terrifies even seasoned fishermen. Waves come crashing over the boat, swamping it and threatening to sink it. Yet in the midst of this fury, Jesus is in the stern, asleep. Anyone who has ever been in a violently storm-tossed boat has reason to think that this ability to sleep through the storm was the first miracle! Jesus exemplifies the perfect trust in God that is often signified in Scripture by a peaceful and untroubled sleep (see Job 11:18; Ps 4:9; Prov 3:24).

But his serenity is not shared by the disciples, who awaken Jesus with a stinging reproach: Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? It is the first time in the Gospel that Jesus has been called “Teacher,” having just completed a day of teaching (Mark 4:1–34). This time there will be a powerful lesson of faith, learned by experience. The tone of the disciples’ question suggests that they have a vague idea that Jesus can do something about the storm, but they think he is indifferent to their desperate plight, as if he has no concern for their safety or survival. How often God’s people reproach him this way, from the Old Testament (see Exod 14:10–11; Num 14:3) to this day.

Jesus does not leave his disciples in their panic but immediately awakens and rebukes the raging elements. He does not pray that God would calm the storm, but commands it himself with sovereign authority: Quiet! Be still! (literally, “Be muzzled!”). Rebuked is the same word used to describe his casting out of unclean spirits (1:25; 3:12), suggesting that demonic powers somehow instigated the squall that threatens to deflect him and his disciples from their mission. In the Old Testament the sea is often viewed as a symbol of chaos and the habitation of evil powers (Job 26:12–13; Ps 74:13–14; Isa 27:1). Jesus exorcises these adverse forces of nature with the same authority with which he freed human beings from demonic oppression.

Instantly the howling wind subsides and the choppy waters become calm. The wording parallels Ps 107:28–29: “In their distress they cried to the Lord, who brought them out of their peril, Hushed the storm to a murmur; the waves of the sea were stilled.”

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.