When was the last time you were afraid – truly afraid. The kind of fear that sucks the very breath from your lungs, causes your face to go pale and your hands to shake. I’ve had a few of those instances in my life and chose to forget them the best I can. Learn from them yes, but forget them.
As Mark concludes a rather brief account of Jesus curriculum in parables, he relates a story that apparently was painted in very vivid words from Peter. Words that did not fail to make an impact on Mark. The story is one we’ve all heard and often focus on Jesus’ calm in the midst of the storm and the disciples lack of faith. However, there is more to the story than that – much more.
We know that Jesus and the twelve disciples, plus others perhaps (And other boats were with them) set out across the Sea of Galilee. As is common on that body of water, a storm develops and the boat is quickly filling with water. All the while, the disciples are in a panic and Jesus is in the rear of the boat sleeping. Once the disciples wake him with their castigation that he does not care that “they” are perishing, Jesus speaks stillness to the storm. And, there is calm. Now that there is calm, the real chaos begins. Let’s just outline what happens:
- Jesus rebukes the storm and there is calm
- Jesus asks the disciples “Why are you so afraid (deilos – timid or fearful)? Have you still no faith?”
- The disciples don’t answer either because they understood the questions as rhetorical or
- “They were filled with great (megas) fear (phobeo) and said to one another ‘Who is this…?’
Now it is one thing to yet be timid in their faith. It is quite another to be wet-your-pants afraid of what you have just witnessed and wonder, colored with that same fear, who the hell is this that just did that!?
Perhaps all too often we couch the disciples response in some type of awe. They were so taken back by what they witnessed that they were in awe of Christ and were overcome with reverence. I suspect that is just a bit more watered down then the text states or even implies. These men have left everything – in a heart beat – to follow the Christ. Yes, they knew some of his ministry, his claims, his power, they even witnessed things miraculous – but this! They never expected it, not at all. Yes, they sought Jesus when in a panic. Perhaps for comfort, consolation, or some sort of strange misery-loves-company agenda. Once they woke him, I suspect they had no clue what the Christ might do, if anything. Then once they witnessed his response. They were not ashamed of their little faith. They were scared spit-less at what they just witnessed. They were stunned that this man, who they had committed their life to, was a man that even the wind and sea obeyed.
Fear is not unusual for the disciples or for others who encountered the Christ. In Mark’s next story of the “Legion” the people see the man healed and are afraid. When Jesus talks about his impending death and resurrection the disciples are afraid to ask him about it (9:32). Are they afraid because of what he might say in response to their questions or are they afraid because of what he said?
Fear can teach us a lot. The old saying that a cat will only step on a hot burner once may be true. Fear can often protect us in that manner. But then the cat will never step on a cold burner either. In that sense, fear can keep us from learning and growing – from stepping out. It is one thing to be timid and be anxious about certain things. It is quite another to be afraid. I suspect the disciples were never the same again after that experience. What they had gone through was true “shock and awe.” They had been frightened to the depths of their soul. They had seen a side of the Messiah they had not expected. They will recover. They may not forget, but they will recover as we do when dealing with our own fears. But perhaps it will be a while for they get in a boat again without wondering.