Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula
You only need to read Mark's gospel once to realize that the disciples aren't among the Lord's brightest angels. They come around eventually, of course, but until then Mark portrays them in less than flattering terms. So, when someone tells you that Mark's gospel is their favorite of the four, you can bet that this person struggles mightily with being the Lord's faithful student. It might be that this gospel made it into the canon of authentic scripture precisely b/c the disciples are portrayed as men who often speak out in real confusion when Jesus starts teaching. Those of us who want to be good disciples but have problems “getting it” need role models too! Mark's gospel also gives us a chance to see and hear Jesus as a teacher thoroughly frustrated with his sometimes block-headed students. Just count the number of times Jesus says something like, “Don't you get it yet? Do you still not understand?” This morning, Mark tells us about the time Jesus and the disciples find themselves on a boat in the middle of a storm. The disciples cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” In my cranky, teacherly imagination I can hear Jesus grumbling, “How many times do I have to show them? Are they even paying attention?” Of course, what he actually says is, “Quiet! Be still!” And both the storm and the disciples are calmed.
The disciples are more than just calmed. Mark reports that they are “awed,” saying, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” Better question: who is this that the wind and sea obey but we do not? Keep in mind here the root meaning of “obey.” In Latin, “obediere” means “to listen to and comply with.” You cannot comply with a request or an order until you have listened. The disciples seem to hear Jesus, but do they listen? Truly hear and understand what he is trying to teach them. The wind and sea comply with Jesus' order to be calm without question or complaint b/c they have no choice in the matter, no decision to make about obedience. The disciples do have a choice. And so do we. This is why Jesus asks, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” To put this question another way: Why are you afraid? Why have you not chosen to trust me?
In the life of Abraham, we have an ancient example of trust. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews recounts this faith. He writes, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out. . .to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. . . By faith he sojourned in the promised land. . .By faith he received power [to have children with Sarah in their old age]. . .By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up [his son] Isaac [as a sacrifice].” Abraham listened to God and complied. He didn't know where he was going; or what he was doing. Despite his ignorance, he chose to trust and flourished b/c he did. In choosing to trust in God, Abraham realized—made real—all that he hoped for. Yes, he anguished; yes, he hesitated at times. But without evidence, without any proof of divine good will, he welcomed God's will into his life and made it his own. What the disciples lack and what we might sometimes lack is the willingness to risk our ignorance, to put our need for control in danger of being taken away.
Jesus calmed the storm, and he awed the disciples. They had good reasons to trust in Christ. So do we. Look around you. Here we are with all our faults, failures, anxieties, hopes, and our singular love for God. Here we all are giving Him our thanks for showing us the way out of the storm, for inviting us into his eternal life.