Our Gospel today is one of three “boat scenes” that can be found in the first half of Mark (cf. 6:45-52 and 8:13-21). The evangelist uses the experience of being in a boat to teach us something about the journey of faith and Christian discipleship. A small boat on a vast and sometimes dangerous sea, at the mercy of the unpredictable elements, is an image of the Christian community, the Church. To make progress on our journey, we must grow in our understanding of Jesus Christ and our faith in him.
This Gospel reading is short, only seven verses, but it includes four questions, which can guide us as we ponder the fundamental elements of the journey of faith. The first question is the one that the frantic disciples ask Jesus: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” These seasoned fishermen know that they are in danger. A violent storm has engulfed them, and large waves are starting to swamp their boat.
Sometimes our life is beset with such storms, times of danger, confusion, pain and anxiety. To make matters worse, at such times it can seem to us that God is paying no attention to us. He is asleep! We may be tempted to conclude that he does not care about us. Fear threatens to paralyze us and cripple our faith. The better way to respond, the way finally chosen by the disciples, is to call on the Lord in our fear. The disciples do not express much faith; they even judge Jesus for lacking concern; but at least they call on him. They put into practice what the Psalmist says: “They cried to the LORD in their distress; from their straits he rescued them.” This tells us that the first step in our faith journey is to recognize that we need help and to turn to the Lord, no matter the circumstances.
The second question in the Gospel is put by Jesus to his disciples: “Why are you terrified?” He has just calmed the storm, producing an amazing change by the power of his words. It seems that he is asking them why they are still afraid, now that they are no longer in danger. Perhaps the more complete form of the question could be: “Why are you terrified when I am here with you?” The implication is that they should not have been so terrified in the first place; they should have put their trust in him. The Lord puts this question to us today. He asks why we are terrified. Do we trust in his presence and his power to save us? We who journey by faith should be able to proclaim with deep conviction: “God has visited his people” (Gospel Acclamation). We learn that an important step in our faith journey is to recognize and rejoice in God’s constant presence.
The third question is closely related to the second, in a sense a continuation of it. Jesus asks: “Do you not yet have faith?” We cannot be true disciples without faith! Today’s second reading reminds us of the effect that genuine faith has on our behavior. Once we “come to the conviction that one died for all,” that is, that Jesus Christ died for us, we no longer “live for ourselves.” Rather, we live for him “who for our sake died and was raised.” This conviction of faith is based on the “love of Christ,” which now “impels us” much more powerfully than fear does.
With the lens of faith, we can see Jesus Christ “asleep on a cushion” not as a sign of his neglect but as an image of his sacrificial death that saves us all. We are not dying without him; he has already died for us, ahead of us. Our faith journey takes us into the mystery of suffering and death, into our union with Christ’s suffering and death when we ourselves are suffering. Pondering Christ’s power over the forces of nature inspires our faith, but pondering the way of the Cross is key to the process of maturing in faith.
The final question in the Gospel comes once again from the disciples: “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” They are now no longer questioning whether Jesus cares; rather, they are in awe of God’s marvelous ways. They have moved from primal fear to fear of the Lord. Recognizing God’s absolute power over nature is part of the journey of discipleship. In today’s first reading, the Lord speaks to suffering Job about his authority over the waters of creation: “Who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands? When I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door?” The disciples surely know this passage. When they see Jesus display such power right before their eyes, they realize they are encountering divine power at work in him, on their behalf, and they are moved to faith.
This faith is related to another virtue which unlocks its full potential, the virtue of obedience. We note that in the last question, the disciples’ awe of Jesus’ display of power is accompanied by a recognition of obedience on the part of the wind and the sea. A fitting extension to the final question in the Gospel is this: “If the wind and the sea obey the Lord, shouldn’t I obey him too?”
In my faith journey, do I turn to the Lord when I am beset with anxiety and fear? Does the love of Christ impel me much more powerfully than fear? Do I believe that the key to the process of maturing in faith is the way of the Cross?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.