In describing this humble servant of God, Mark is not yet finished surprising us. In the middle of his book—at the core of it, we might say—he recounts several interactions Jesus had with natural forces, or the created order. I could say that each of these surprises us, but if we’re still being surprised by now, we simply haven’t been paying attention.
I’m going to present them outside the order in which Mark places them, because 4 of the 5 make sensible thematic or logical pairs.
The first such interaction Mark presents is with a storm on the Sea of Galilee. We’re all familiar with this story, of course; it appears in 3 of the 4 Gospels, and we’ve heard about it since childhood—and some of us, of a certain age, even had the help of little flannelgraph cutouts.
Jesus and his disciples are crossing the lake on a fishing boat—most likely owned by Peter and Andrew or by James and John, since both of those sets of brothers had fishing businesses. A storm arises—as storms often do on this lake—but this storm is so extreme that the disciples think they’re all about to die (Mk 4.38). Now, considering that 4 of them are professional fishermen based on this lake, men who have seen scores of storms here, we can only imagine how violent this storm must have been to convince them that they were done for.
And Jesus is asleep (Mk 4.38).
Have you ever been on a boat in a violent storm? Me neither. But I’m given to believe that a fishing boat is going to be doing quite the do-si-do on the waves in that circumstance. This is not the kind of environment where you just doze off.
I take from this fact that Jesus was exhausted. He was completely wrung out, unable to stay awake under the most anti-soporific of conditions.
He was likely as low, as weak, as he had been since the fasting and temptation in the wilderness of Judea.
With some effort, apparently, they wake him up.
What are you like when you’ve been violently shaken out of a sound sleep and are surrounded by multisensory chaos?
He stands up—in a violently rocking boat—and says simply, “Calm down” (Mk 4.39).
And he says it not to the disciples, but to the lake. Who talks to natural forces with that kind of directness and expects to be obeyed? And is obeyed?
The disciples are apparently more frightened now than they were during the storm (Mk 4.41). Just who have they gotten themselves involved with?
At the nadir of his servanthood, he speaks to the wind and the sea—the storm gods, if you will—and is immediately and visibly and unquestionably obeyed.
Mark gives us other examples (as if he needs to):
- When his disciples are in contrary winds later on the same lake, he walks out to them on the water and joins them in the boat (Mk 6.45-53). (Critics trying to “explain” this obvious miracle have suggested, among other things, that there were giant lily pads out there, which the experienced fishermen on the boat were unaware of. Do I even need to refute that idea?)
- Just before that event, he feeds 5000 men, plus women and children, with 5 buns and a couple of tilapia (Mk 6.30-44).
- Later he does it again, but this time with 4000 men, 7 buns, and “a few” fish (Mk 8.1-10).
- And just before his arrest, he curses a fig tree for being fruitless, and 24 hours later (Mk 11.12-14) the tree is morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead. (For those who aren’t paying attention, I got those adverbs from another source.)
Who has this kind of authority over powerful natural forces?
Why, their Creator, of course.