Jesus calms the storm in Mark 4

The lectionary reading for Trinity 3 in Year B is Mark 4.35-41, the account of Jesus calming the storm. It is a fabulous story both full of little eye-witness details, and yet at the same time impossible to read without feeling its symbolic significance. Unlike Matthew, Mark does not bridge the literal story to its symbolic reading, but the story is so vivid he can leave that to us!

Like many other stories in this section of the gospel, Mark’s version is longer and more details than either Matthew’s or Luke’s. The account in Matthew 8.24–27 is part of a carefully structured ‘ministry’ section of three sets of three incidents; Jesus’ teaching parables about the kingdom do not appear until Matthew’s third ‘teaching’ section in chapter 13. Luke follows Mark slightly more closely, in having this episode in Luke 8.22–25 following on from the parabolic teaching, but with the episode about Jesus’ true family intervening rather than earlier as it is in Mark (and later in Matthew).

It is worth noting from the outside the range of details that Mark includes, which the other two accounts omit.

It is the same day as his parabolic teaching about the kingdom.
They set out in the evening.
Jesus suggests they go ‘across to the other side’ (which Luke includes, but not Matthew).
They left the crowd behind.
The disciples took Jesus ‘just as he was’.
There were other boats with the boat the disciples were in.
The waves were breaking over the side of the boat (mentioned in Matthew but not Luke).
Jesus was asleep in the stern and with his head on a cushion (this is one of my favourite eye-witness observations in the gospels: where had the cushion come from? Did someone, perhaps Jesus, think to pick one up as they got in the boat?!)
Jesus’ specific words in his ‘rebuke’ to the wind and waves: ‘Peace! Be still!’
Jesus’ two questions to the disciples, including ‘Why are you afraid?’
We need to read this short story slowly and carefully in order to notice all these details—which is, of course, another good reason to learn Greek and read the Greek text, since this forces us to slow down! And it is a reason to ensure that whoever does the public reading of this passage does it carefully, slowly, with understanding and with appropriate drama.

What does it mean to be the ‘church’?

I write a column for Preach magazine, in which I explore a significant word or phrase in the Bible and the ideas that it expresses. I have written for them on the phrase ‘Word of God’, on the theme of ‘Mission’, on the meaning of ‘Apocalypse‘, on the ministry of ‘Healing’, on the question of ‘Welcome’ and on the biblical understanding of ‘Justice’. Here I explore what the Bible means by the term ‘church’.

‘Churches forced to close during the pandemic!’ ‘Churches re-opening for worship!’ Such headlines demonstrate the confusion that many experience—within the ‘church’ and outside it—as to what ‘church’ actually means. Our English word ultimately derives from a Greek term kyriakos, meaning ‘of the Lord’, and you can see the transition in the Scottish term ‘kirk’. But the words in the Bible that are translated ‘church’ are quite different—and that is where the confusion arises.

Congregation of Israel

You might think that the term ‘church’ only occurs in the New Testament, but that is not quite true. The Old Testament frequently refers to the qahal of Israel, which the Authorized Version (quaintly to our ears) translates as ‘the congregation of Israel’. Most modern translations render it ‘the community of Israel’, ‘the assembly’, or simply ‘the Israelites’. 

But the Greek version of the Old Testament translates this with two different terms: synagoge (mostly in the Pentateuch) from which we get the term ‘synagogue’, the gathering of Jews for worship; and ekklesia (mostly in the historical narratives), which has come into English as ‘ecclesiastical’. The wisdom book Ecclesiastes is sometimes known by its Hebrew title Qoheleth; the ‘teacher’ in verse 1 is a person who gives teaching to the qahal or the ekklesia, hence the book’s title. 

Did Jesus laugh? Was he funny?

For some time, I have been intrigued by the question of whether Jesus was funny. In his teaching, did he tell what we might call jokes, and did his listeners find themselves laughing when they listened to him? There are many prima facie reasons why we might suppose Jesus was funny. If Jesus was fully human—indeed, … Continue Reading

Seeking tax justice

In this guest post, Dr Justin Thacker asks why we are so reticent about tackling issues of structural economic justice and highlights one way we could do so on Sunday 6th June – Tax Justice Sunday For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords…who executes justice for the orphan and the … Continue Reading

Does ‘Israel’ have a divine right to the land?

A few years ago, Martin Saunders (of Youthscape) wrote an excellent article highlighting four issues which often prevent evangelicals from understanding what has been happening in the Israel/Gaza conflict—and these problems come up each time the conflict hits the news. First, he comments ‘It’s not as simple as good guys vs bad guys’, something which … Continue Reading