Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mark 4:35-41

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year B (Most recently June 21, 2015)
 
A guest post for this week by Rev. James Rowe of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Kingston, NY

The assigned Gospel reading for this Sunday (Lectionary 12) is the powerful story of Jesus calming the storm. By itself, it is a wonderful story. But knowing the surrounding context can be quite helpful. This story begins with the little phrase "on that day, when evening had come" (4:35a) which means that Mark has set this story as a continuation of the parables of the kingdom Jesus has just spoken (4:1-34). In addition, it also serves as the introduction to story about the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20), the first Gentile encounter Jesus has in Mark's Gospel.  The calming of the storm can serve both as a reflection on what the kingdom is like and also as an introduction to what it means to live in that kingdom as disciples.

Mark's Gospel tends to use the disciples as foils to Jesus, people who witness the unbelievable in Christ again and again and still struggle to understand who he is and what he is up to. Mark 4:35-41 highlights that usage in a few ways. First, Jesus is referred to as "he" (αυτον) as distinct from the  disciples.  Second, when they wake up Jesus, they do not refer to him as "Lord" (κυριος) but as "Teacher" (διδασκαλος) which seems to imply that the disciples still do not know who he truly is. 
Finally, the question of the disciples ("Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" 4:41b) goes unanswered, both showing their unbelief and also giving us readers a question to ponder as Jesus will soon be casting a legion of demons into pigs and ultimately into the sea he has just overpowered with a word.

When it comes to preaching this text, it could be interesting to end the sermon with the same question: "Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?" We preachers tend to tie our sermons off with pretty bows and end with "amen" or some Pauline phrase, but Mark's Gospel gives us a variety of texts where the lack of conclusion opens us up to the possibility of what God is doing in the "storms" of the world and in our lives. 

Rob's response to Jim's post:
In Jim's post, he put something in parenthesis that I wanted to unpack.  He wrote, "The Greek for awake is actually 'arose'."  Indeed, the word here is εγειρω, which also means raised up or even resurrected.  Once again, a subtle foreshadowing of the unfolding mystery in Mark's Gospel.  In this passage of Jesus calming the storm, the word μεγας (mega, meaning big) shows up three times:  a BIG storm; a BIG calm and a BIG fear.  When Jesus power is revealed, it brings both calm and fear, an ironic, if not dialectical combination of emotions.  Perhaps the bigger the demonstration, the bigger the fear!  This also points to the resurrection in Mark's Gospel, when the full revelation of Jesus power is accompanied by great calm in the tomb but also also fear in the first witnesses (φοβεω, Mark 16.8).  

One other little grammar point on fear:
Cognate Accusative:  This fancy term is when the verb and object both are from the same word, like "I rode a ride."  It is considered bad English, but is quite common in Hebrew and in NT Greek.  In this case, Mark says they "feared a big fear" (εφοβηθησαν φοβον)  The weird conjugation of an aorist passive 3rd person plural makes this tough to see.  But it is really simple:  They feared a big fear!


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