On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Jesus crosses to the “other side” twice in Mark’s Gospel - here in chapter four and again in chapter six. Both crossings are similar in nature. Each time Jesus and his disciples attempt to cross to the “other side” they are met with resistance. Each time Jesus interacts with the elements of that resistance and calms them.
The story of the sea crossing has been interpreted as a miracle for as long as it has been told. I do not desire to dismiss this interpretation. I want to offer another way of knowing this story.
There are several key symbols in the story that point to an alternative understanding.
The sea is a place of mythological chaos throughout the Bible. From the creation story in Genesis, to the crossing of the Reed Sea in Exodus, the sea is the location of primordial chaos. It represents all that stands against the creative order of God. Here it could represent a threat to Jesus’ ministry - the established order resisting the new social reality called the kingdom of God.
The “Other Side”
The vague description of the “other side” could be dismissed by blaming Mark for not paying attention in geography class, but this would be to miss the social-geography he has developed. So far in Jesus’ ministry he has worked with his own people - the Jews. In the crossing of the sea to the other side, Jesus and his disciples will move into Gentile territory. It was to move into unclean space. It would be new territory for spreading the kingdom of God.
When Jesus and his disciples do make their attempt, they are met by a storm. Here the metaphor could point the any resistance encountered as Jesus seeks to move in the kingdom of God into new territory. It could be the hesitation of Jewish disciples who had grown up on myths of what happened on the “other side.” It could be cultural prejudice. It could simply be fear of the unknown.
The storm rages against the movement of Jesus' ministry. This is a clue for us. It is honest about the resistance we will encounter in our journey as disciples of Jesus Christ. A resistance that comes from within ourselves, and without.
We struggle with external resistance to new ministries, to changes in our current way of life, and from systems and structures that seek to maintain power and "the ways things are."
We struggle with internal resistance when we encounter something that does not fit within our current worldview or cultural understanding.
We are socially indoctrinated with constructs that guide our lives and when they are challenged the storms begin rage.
Jesus is in control throughout this story. He demonstrates his trust in the kingdom of God and God's presence with his ministry. He holds power over the storm, calming the chaos that threatens to destroy his ministry, his life, and the lives of those who follow him. He draws the disciples into new social space, pushing the boundaries of their expectations and experiences. We can expect the same as modern day disciples.
Jesus draws us into a way of life that challenges our assumptions and understandings about how God is at work in the world. The power of Jesus is present with us in these moments of anxiety and uncertainty. He calls us forward, empowering us to live into the new social reality called the kingdom of God. It changes us and the world around us. Life does not look the same on the "other side."
Questions for Modern Day Disciples
- Where do we encounter resistance in our following of Jesus?
- What is the “other side” in our life or context?
- What storms rage in our following of Jesus?
- How does Jesus help us to overcome the storms?