To refer to a yachtsman as a fair weather sailor, is pretty much up there as far as insults go. True, I err on the side of caution, I pick my weather and tides, I know the capabilities and limitations of ship, crew and skipper (me), and as my boys say with a chuckle, “Dad always has a backup plan”. Before letting go of the mooring, I usually shoot off the Breton fisherman’s prayer, “Lord thy sea is great, and my ship is but small”.
When reflecting on the story of Jesus calming the sea in the gospel of Mark chapter 4, I decidedly felt myself aligned with Jesus’ disciples. They were a bunch of hardy Galilean fishermen, who earned their keep going to sea in small boats. Fishing for a living is hard work, and not for the fainthearted. I imagine that Rocky (Peter) and the sons of Zebedee were as tough as nails, and, unlike me, wouldn’t back down from the challenge of a bit of stormy weather.
In Mark’s story, Jesus decides he needs to cross the Sea of Galilee. His sailor disciples take him on board, and off they go. It was to be a night voyage. Jesus has faith in his crew, or is dead-tired, and sleeps on a cushion in the stern sheets of the vessel. Some very bad weather comes along, high winds with waves breaking and swamping the boat, the crew is doing all they can, but are not winning. They are about to drown. And Jesus is still sleeping. They wake him and yell at him: “Don’t you care that we are drowning?” I imagine they would have screamed: “All hands to the pumps, that means You too”, or “Man the bailing buckets!”
Jesus gets up, I imagine cranky at being woken from deep sleep, and yells abuse at (rebukes) the wind and waves for waking him up, and a great calm ensues. Then he gets stuck into the crew that is taking risks and him on a night voyage across the lake. Mark has him say: “Why are you so fearful?” The greek word here is ‘deilos’, which means ‘timid’ or ‘cowardly’. Pretty insulting words from a landlubber. He is exasperated at their lack of faith. A bizarre understanding of seamanship.
Would Jesus really have called his beloved disciples cowards? Or is this Mark putting the boot into the disciples? Mark wrote his Gospel 30-40 years after the death of Jesus. In that time there was a deep division between the Jerusalem Church led by the very same people who spent that night with Jesus bobbing about the Sea of Galilee, and Paul who had never met Jesus. Mark was a missionary companion of Paul. Although they had their differences, Mark was aligned with Paul’s teachings.
Of course, after 2000 years of theological speculation we, the readers of this story, know much more than Jesus’ disciples. We know that Jesus was truly human (his tiredness and need for sleep), as well as truly God, because this story has ‘resonances’ of psalm 107 where it says that it is God who quietens wind and waves. We know how it all worked, so why didn’t those knucklehead disciples! It is no wonder that Paul’s worldview prevailed.
No doubt something out of the ordinary happened that night. The gentlemen theologians often have difficulty with an unresolved mystery. Taking the ‘resonances’ of this story they have tied the loose ends of small ships on great waters into a wonderful trinitarian system. Be that as it may, I am with the disciples and can only stammer in awe: “Who then is this?”