This Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mark, 4, 35-41, is a story about Jesus calming the sea and waves. This brief story is filled with meaning, as one might expect. Most notable, perhaps, is the immense power Jesus shows; no one in Jewish history had done what he did here. But, this exercise of power is part of a larger story about Jesus in which we see many manifestations of his power. Indeed, one can say that Mark wrote this Gospel in great part to reinforce the faith of those who already believed in Jesus by telling them the impressive witnesses of this power. There is no Jew, Mark’s audience should be sure, has the control over the most vital elements of this world as has Jesus. Second, Mark wants us to think about the response of the disciples who come from a most frightful experience. They know first hand that the best way to tell what they think about Jesus is to ask a question to which the only answer is: God. They, like the baptized audience of Mark, have a conviction about Jesus: however one explains it, Jesus must (here because of his power) be divine. Third, it is precisely with the immense power of Jesus on display that Mark confronts the problem of fright and trust. On the one hand, why did things get so far that only the cry for salvation could move the Master? On the other hand, is Jesus’ response, perplexing as it might be, unexpected? Can he, in the most trying of times, expect trust? This raises the question of motive. Oh, Jesus had the power alright, but what makes him use it? Perhaps Mark wants to underline to his readers that, while power is necessary for victory over evil, just as important is love, that is the willingness to use one’s power-and it will be used for those loved by Jesus. Finally, the disciples are certainly confused by the elements of this story; they are very happy to be “home” and chide themselves for not trusting Jesus. At the same time, Mark has some more stories to tell for the benefit of his reading, stories which will lead up to the most disconcerting experience of all: he who is so powerful, so wise and so holy, will hang powerless, like a fool, like a criminal. Can that experience, duplicated in times of church persecution, be explained by “power and love”? It had better be, or faith in Jesus will wither under brooding silence.
John J. Kilgallen, SJ