Gospel: Mark 4:35-41

In Awe of Great Power

When was the last time you felt great awe? Why did you feel overwhelmed?

Humanity suffers from a common aliment. It is the illusion of control. People like to be in charge of the situation, other people, even nature itself.

When people lose control, they can react in different ways. Some panic, others hunker down and wait out the trouble. In every case, the large ego based upon the illusion of control deflates. Humility fills the void. If the beaten person is honest, he or she will admit that a greater power is in charge. The beaten person feels small, helpless.

The truth is, we can't do it alone, no matter what we do. We need God. The followers of Jesus learned that fact in the narrative of the wind storm.

Popular Translation

35 That evening, Jesus told his followers, "Lets go to the other side of Lake Galilee."

36 Leaving the crowds behind, they sailed along with Jesus. Other boats accompanied them. 37 Suddenly, a strong wind began to blow into a squall. The waves crashed against the boat and spilled inside. The boat quickly filled up with water. 38 With his head on a cushion, Jesus was fast asleep in the stern. They woke Jesus up and complained, "Don't you care we're about to die?"

39 Now that he was awake, Jesus shouted at the wind, "Be silent."

The wind stopped. There was a great calm on the lake.

40 Jesus turned to his followers. "Why were you so afraid? Why didn't you have faith?" he asked them.

41 They were in awe of Jesus. "Who is this that wind and lake obey him?" they asked each other.

Literal Translation

35 On that day, when it was evening, HE said to them, "We should travel across to the other side." 36 Leaving the crowd, they took HIM along, as HE was in the boat and other boats were with him. 37 A great storm of wind happened and the waves split into the boat, so that the boat already was filled up. 38 HE was at the stern (with HIS head) on a (sailor's) cushion sleeping. They roused HIM and said to HIM, "Teacher, does it not concern YOU that we are perishing?" 39 Having been throughly roused, HE stopped the wind and said to the sea, "Be silent. Be quiet." The wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you cowardly? Do you not yet have faith?" 41 They feared a great fear and kept saying to each other, "So, who is this that the wind and the sea obey him?"

4:38-39 "They roused...Having been throughly roused" The verb "rouse" is literally "raised up." Since the word "sleep" was a metaphor for death in the early Christian community, this story paralleled the Passion. With the death of Jesus, the followers were gripped with fear. When the Lord arose and conquered nature, peace returned.

4:41 "They feared a great fear" This is a Semitic phrase that indicated great awe.

After a day of preaching about God's kingdom, Jesus told his disciples to travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee by boat [35-36]. Traveling the "Sea" at dusk was dangerous. The rising heat from the water caused the cool air from the land to rush through the canyon creeks that fed the lake. The resulting winds caused sudden and violent storms on the "sea." As either fishermen on the "sea' or Galileans that lived near by, the disciples of Jesus were well aware of this fact. Why they traveled at this time was a mystery; why they were caught unprepared for such a storm was a greater mystery. This fact makes the disciples' fear shameful and cowardly [37-38].

In the midst of the storm, Jesus slept (i.e, the disciples felt Jesus was distant). The disciples implored him to act [39]. When Jesus did act, there was a decisive result and a rebuke: "Don't you have faith yet?" [40] In the end, the disciples pondered the source of Jesus' power.

On one level, this story has been a favorite analogy for apostasy and faith in times of persecution. The ship represents the Church and the storm represents the stress the Church faces. Fear, cowardice, and despair result, as the faithful cry out: "Where are you, Lord?" When the stress abates, the faithful wonder why they reacted so desperately.

On another level, the story reveals the divine power of Christ. Psalm 107:23-32 (NAB) stated

Some went off to sea in ships, plied their trade on the deep waters.
They saw the works of the LORD, the wonders of God in the deep.
He spoke and roused a storm wind; it tossed the waves on high.
They rose up to the heavens, sank to the depths; their hearts trembled at the danger.
They reeled, staggered like drunkards; their skill was of no avail.
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.
They rejoiced that the sea grew calm, that God brought them to the harbor they longed for.
Let them thank the LORD for such kindness, such wondrous deeds for mere mortals.
Let them praise him in the assembly of the people, give thanks in the council of the elders.

Only the Creator has power over nature on this scale. While the ancient Jews might believe in spirits within nature, only God could command storms. In the person of Jesus, the disciples saw the power and presence of God. Jesus had control over nature itself.

When has the Lord seemed distant? When has he shown great power in your life? Was the feeling of distance followed by a feeling of awe? Explain.

The Catechism Connection: Power of God, Power of Evil, and Divine Providence.

These readings stress three points: the power of God, the problem of evil in the world, and divine providence. First, God's power is unlimited. He shows us his all-powerful nature in our creation. God created the universe "ex nihilo" (that is, "out of nothing") because he desired to show his glory and share his life with us, his creatures (CCC 317, 319). But his power does not end there. God empowers us to turn away from sin and live with him (CCC 315); this is salvation. Both creation and salvation show us that, with God, nothing is impossible (CCC 276).

But, why does God permit evil to remain in the world? From the Christian viewpoint, we can ask: "Why did God allow his Son to die on the cross?" Reason cannot answer these questions, but faith can. We believe Jesus died on the cross in order to rise from the dead. In the same way, we believe that God allows evil in the world so a greater good can result. This is part of God's plan for us. (CCC 324)

Finally, we call God's action in the world: "divine providence." From the beginning of time to its end, God guides all creation with wisdom and love. We take part in divine providence when we trust in God's will for us (CCC 321, 323).

We humans like to think we are in control, but we are really not. We have freedom within the limits of nature, social construct, and personal character. But we do not have absolute power. Only God is all-powerful. The question that faces us is simple: are we willing to trust God to be in control of our lives?

If we are, we will stand in awe, for he will show us his power.

Trust in God's providence is called hope. How can I show others my hope in God's plan? How can I help others to hope in God?