August 2009 - Vol. 32

The Stilling of the Storm at Sea: 

Lord of the Wind 
and Waves

A Scriptural reflection 
by Jeanne Kun

The untroubled sleep of Jesus and his sovereign authority over wind and wave are a powerful invitation to recognize in him the one who can do all things.

—René Latourelle, SJ, The Miracles of Jesus and the Theology of Miracles
Both human and divine
At Jesus’ initiative the apostles set out across the Sea of Galilee to the eastern shore, six or seven miles distant, as the sun was setting behind the Galilean hills (Mark 4:35). Tired after a long day of preaching and teaching, Jesus slept soundly in the stern of the boat, oblivious to the rising squall. This is the sole instance recorded in the gospels of Jesus sleeping, an image that vividly illustrates his humanness, as well as the hiddenness of his divine nature, which is a dominant theme in Mark’s gospel.

Experienced fishermen that they were, Jesus’ disciples were badly frightened by the violence of the storm. Following their master had gotten them into this life-threatening situation, and a reproachful tone is heard in their anxious cry as they woke him:, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). Melo, the Greek verb used in this complaint, can also be translated “Does it not matter to you?” The same verb is found in Martha’s question, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” (Luke 10:40). In both instances, Jesus’ response was the same: to calm the turbulence of troubled hearts and the storms that raged around him.

The waves are his creatures
With a mere word of command—“Be still!” (Mark 4:39)—Jesus subdued the wind and the sea, showing his power over natural elements. Just as God brought the waters into being (Genesis 1:6-10), tamed roaring waves (Psalm 65:7), and parted the Red Sea before Moses and the Israelites (Exodus 14:21-22; Psalm 77:16, 19-20), Jesus exercised authority and showed mastery over the storm-tossed waters of the Sea of Galilee. “The waves are his creatures and behave as such by offering him the fealty of obedience,” notes Scripture commentator Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word).

In ancient times, the wind and sea were often seen as symbols of chaos. The way Jesus rebuked the elements may also imply that there was an evil force behind the storm, for he calmed the waves with the same command that he used to silence unclean spirits (Mark 1:25; Luke 4:35). It is noteworthy that this miraculous event occurred while Jesus was crossing the lake to pagan territory—the country of the Gerasenes—where he was extending his ministry to gentiles and was soon to confront the unclean spirit “Legion” and heal the man possessed by a demon (Mark 5:1-13). In each of the synoptic gospels, the report of the stilling the storm leads into a sequence recounting Jesus’ authority and power in exorcising evil spirits, curing the ill, and raising the dead (Matthew 8:28–9:31; Mark 5:1-42; Luke 8:26-56). René Latourelle notes that “Jesus is victorious over death, sickness, sin, and the forces of nature, simply because in his very being he is God-among-us. It is not more difficult for him to control the wind and the sea than to prevail over sin and death” (The Miracles of Jesus and the Theology of Miracles).

Who Jesus really is
When the terrified disciples woke Jesus, was it only to reproach him with a cry of desperation because they thought they were doomed? Even if their cry expressed an expectant faith that he could do something to save them, their understanding and faith were still deficient: For they did not yet realize that their teacher was the Son of God and that therefore they were safe all along. Finally, the disciples’ fear of the storm turned into awe at Jesus’ tremendous deed, and they wondered, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). Jesus’ display of power awakened them to the mystery of his transcendence and identity.

The question of who Jesus really is is a recurring theme in the gospels (Luke 5:21; 7:49; 8:25). It is also a question each of us must answer in the depths of our own heart, especially when we are faced with the need of a savior in the storms of life.

Jeanne Kun is a noted author and a senior womens' leader in the Word of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. 

Excerpt from Mighty in Power: The Miracles of Jesus, The Word Among Us Press, Copyright © 2006. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The Storm at Sea by Rembrandt

Mark 4:35-41 
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care if we perish?" 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?" 41 And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?" 

In the Spotlight: 
Wisdom from the Church Fathers

He who was sleeping was awakened and cast the sea into a sleep. He reveals the wakefulness of his divinity that never sleeps by the wakefulness of the sea that was now sleeping. He rebuked the wind and it became still. What is this power, or what is this goodness of Jesus? See, he subjected by force that which was not his. Our Lord showed that he was the Son of the Creator by means of the wind of the sea and by the spirits and demons that he silenced.
— Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron

We are also sailing on a voyage, not from one land to another but from earth to heaven. Let us prepare our power of reasoning as a pilot able to conduct us on high, and let us gather a crew obedient to it. Let us prepare a strong ship, the kind that the buffeting and discouragements of this life will not submerge, or the wind of false pretense raise up, but will be sleek and swift. If we prepare the ship, pilot and the crew in this way, we will sail with a favoring wind and draw to ourselves the Son of God, the true Pilot. He will not permit our ship to be overwhelmed, even if countless winds blow. He will rebuke the winds and the sea and will bring about a great calm in place of the tempest.
— John Chrysostom, Commentary on St. John

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