First reading: 1 Sam. 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49; Ps. 9:9-20 or 1 Sam. 17:57-18:5, 10-16; Ps. 133 Alternate: Job 38:1-11; Ps. 107:1-3, 23-32 • 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 • Mark 4:35-41
We are not the masters of the sea. The Israelites, a landlocked people, understood this instinctively. They feared the sea’s unpredictability, its uncontrollable force. Most of their neighbors believed that the world had begun in a watery chaos, that life could thrive only when a bit of ground had been wrested free from the monsters of the deep. The Israelites believed that the true God brooked no rivals, but for them the sea retained some hints of those nightmarish associations. In a time of increasingly violent weather patterns, perhaps we can better understand their intuitions.
Only God controls the sea. Only he can set its limits, his pointed question to Job implies. Its walls and doors are his work, and its proud waves obey his commands. To us the sea seems wild and cruel, but before God it is like a child, wrapped in the swaddling clothes he has chosen. The psalmist praises God’s “wondrous works in the deep,” his power to stir up a mighty wind and thundering waves (107:24). Yet his power to still the sea seems most divine. “He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”
On a dark and stormy night, Jesus’ disciples are terrified. Some of them, at least, had been trained at the sail and tiller. But even these seasoned fishermen have been driven to despair by this storm’s power and force. “Teacher,” they cry, “do you not care if we perish?” He rises, calm amid the waves, and commands them: “Peace, be still.” At once, all is calm. “Who then is this,” they ask, “that even wind and sea obey him?” This is no ordinary miracle. The one who closes the doors of the sea is here, in our boat. And he commands the great calm, the eternal shalom. As the angel of the Lord told Enoch in a mystical text of Jesus’ own time: “He proclaims to thee peace in the name of the world to come, for from hence has proceeded peace ever since the creation of the world, and so it shall be forever and ever.”
He has granted us, too, a share in that peace. Our boat is small and the seas are rough. But the master of the sea is with us, and at a word he will speak peace. Have we left him to sleep in the stern, or does he command our way through the shoals? He is with us, but how often do we fall into faithless fear? Let us, St. Augustine urges, awaken him by prayer: “When your anger is roused, you are being tossed by the waves. So when the winds blow and the waves mount high, the boat is in danger, your heart is imperiled, your heart is taking a battering.” Why? “Because Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten his presence. Rouse him, then; remember him, let him keep watch within you, pay heed to him.”
Look It Up
Read Heb. 13:20-21. How is the stilling of the storm a foretaste of the resurrection?
Think About It
The disciples left Jesus asleep because they trusted in their own experience. What does this story tell us about the perils of neglecting regular discipline as we grow in the spiritual life?