The Jesus who stills the storm and commands calm is a Savior that most would want to follow (RCL Mark 4:35-41) but more often Jesus expresses his power in ways more subtle and indeed in vulnerable suffering. If we are to follow then we need to consider that power is not always the same as might and sometimes the storms will toss us about without apparent rescue.
I love the sea when it is wild and stormy, when the waves are huge and the power of forces uncontrollable seethe and swell. That is I love to watch from a safe place on the shore. It is another matter when we are in the midst of the storm. This week’s gospel reading is an exciting scene of storm and reassuring calm. It is a story of power and we are meant to make the connections between the voice of Yahweh, creator God, as written in the book of Job, and the actions of Jesus who exercises power over the sea and the wind.
I don’t know about you but there are times when this image of Jesus the Christ is the one I look to, the one who can command a situation to be still, who can set things right with an awesome voice, who is formidable. Who wouldn’t want to worship and serve one who is so powerful, so mighty? Surely this is the winning side to be on. This God is all powerful and all mighty.
And yet it is also a problematic image because if Jesus is this powerful how come we and those we care for suffer so much, how come we feel like we are on the verge of being swamped, how come children die of starvation, how come his disciples had such a hard time and mostly were killed for their faith? How come he who could still the storm did not protect himself from High Priests and Roman soldiers? Jesus, who we see in his power this week, is the same one who cried out alone and fearing himself forsaken upon the cross. What ever power he had he used it not as we understand power.
St Mark presents much of Jesus’ ministry as a battle between the power of evil and darkness and the power of God’s goodness in Christ. And so the extraordinary image of Jesus commanding the elements has less to do with managing nature than it has to do with portraying the gospel as a struggle against dark powers. The goodnews according to Mark is that Jesus came to liberate people from these forces. Now, in our age, we may not think in terms of demonic forces but we do see everywhere forces and influences that distort and endanger and devalue people and creation. And we still see the goodnews of Jesus Christ as being able to overcome, to liberate, from such powers.
The power that Jesus seems to exercise in the gospels is not so much the spectacular power to calm waves but the power to be beside people who are in need of healing, the outcast. The power to look within the person and to speak to their deepest need with a word of forgiveness or hope. The power of God among us is expressed in acts of solidarity with us. When we reflect on some of the most Godly lives of the last century we see that the power of God led them to places of poverty, fear, and vulnerability.
Think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer whose understanding of God as being in the centre, not the margins, of the community meant that he named what was happening in his time when few others in the church in Germany would and was imprisoned and shot just before the end of the war. Or Bishop Romareo who was awakened to the plight of the poor and the politically vulnerable and for his solidarity with the powerless he was shot while saying the mass. Or Mother Theresa who found the power of prayer led her to caring for the dying and the abandoned of all faiths.
Paul in one of his many letters to the church at Corinth lists the many manifestations of being a faithful apostle: a list of sufferings and near misses with death. Not the mighty achievements of the super apostles the Corinthians have been comparing himself with. Paul wants them to realise that Christ centred spirituality and ministry puts compassion and vulnerability at the forefront that may sometimes lead to apparent success but is just as likely to lead to suffering. Paul argues virtue out of those things which many see as his weaknesses. He points to Christ’s weakness and vulnerability as something which reflects the power of God, the power to be with us in all circumstances.
What does all of this have to do with us now, here, in the particular circumstances in which we find ourselves? I think that we can be comforted by knowing that suffering and struggle does not separate us from God or indicate that we are unloved, forgotten, judged harshly. In the good and the bad times we are loved, remembered, forgiven and desired. This is true for us as individuals, and as a faith community.
Conversely, in the good times there are no grounds for feelings of moral superiority or immunity to others’ suffering and struggle. When we are enjoying good fortune it is the right time to invest in others, to store the surplus from the good years, for the hard years to follow. Which is not to invest in our own particular barns but in others. Someone wise once said: “The only place to store grain is in the mouths of the hungry”.
If we understand from Jesus that power is the ability to draw near to those who fear they are perishing then where are we needed? Who needs our voice, our touch, our gifts? And being as needy as we are whose presence would be calm to our world? Whose voice or touch would be balm to us? Do we need to find some quiet time and sacred space so that we can rest in the presence of Christ, to be silent that we might hear his voice, still so that we can feel his touch? However little worldly power we have – and it is probably more than we think – we do have the power to draw near to one another and to be as Christ to one another. If we all practiced this then the world would be different, we would see the reign of God here and now.
And yet, if you are like me, then you will constantly find yourself running low on practical love for others. Last week would have prayed “without you we are unable to please you: mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts.” It is not from my own too-small Reservoir of love and compassion that I am called to give. Even this, love itself, must first be given us. And it is. By the one who created us, who walked among us, who dwells in us.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come still the storms that rage within and without.