Jesus calming 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!

Although there is a clear link at the beginning of this story with the teaching in parables that has gone before (‘On that day…’) our chapter divisions hinder rather than help us here. This is the beginning of a quite long section, between the teaching of chapter 4 and the next section of teaching in chapter 7, when Jesus is at the centre of a serious of dramatic and dynamic miracle stories. This section includes six of Jesus’ best-known miracles in the gospels: the calming of the storm; the deliverance of the Gerasene demoniac; the raising of Jairus’ daughter; the healing of the woman with an issue of blood; the feeding of the 5,000; and Jesus walking on the water.

Together, these stories depict Jesus as dynamic and powerful, the agent of God’s miraculous power.

The general impression that the segment Mark 4.35–6.56 makes is that Jesus is a highly successful worker of deeds, wondrous and beyond normal human ability (Hedrick, quoted in Mary Anne Beavis, Paideia, p 88).

And yet there are two complementary themes that are present throughout. The first is the fear and unbelief of both  the crowds and the disciples. Despite the strong distinction between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ in the first part of Mark 4, being on the inside does not actually mean that the disciples understand Jesus any better than the crowds. Fear is repeatedly presented as the opposite of faith, and in contrast to this Jesus repeatedly enjoins people to ‘have faith’ or ‘believe’, whilst commending those who have ‘strong faith’ (Mark 5.34).

The second complementary theme is the humanity of Jesus, who is tired from a busy day, frustrated by the disciples’ lack of understanding, and yet is also able to turn from the pressure of the crowds to attend to a particular individual before him.

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).

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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 … Continue Reading