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Why are you afraid?

“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” asks Jesus when awoken by the disciples in the middle of a storm. (Fifth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 7 (12). Mark 4:35-41.) Most of us have a long list of things that make us afraid and we feel it at every level: in our own hearts weary and anxious within us, for our families and friends, for our communities of faith and our next door neighbours, for strangers in places of conflict and war, and for our struggling planet.

You may like to read what I wrote in response to this gospel story and the Job reading in 2021.

At a practical level the disciples had every reason to be fearful – they were in a terrible storm, the boat was already taking water, and their friend and teacher Jesus was asleep, seemingly unaware or not caring that they all were at risk of perishing! I would have been waking Jesus up too and begging for some sort of intervention.


This, and many biblical stories, require us to make a decision about how we read Scripture. Do we stay with the literal or surface level story or do we read more metaphorically allowing levels of meaning to speak to us? For myself it is not one or the other. I am interested in finding out as much as possible about the likely historical event and the community that remembered and nurtured the keeping of the story because it spoke such important truths to them. I am also very interested in exploring what ancient stories might teach us today about eternal truths and how to live our lives full of loving-kindness, joy and justice. That is, I believe Scripture to be filled with layers of truth and life including the inspirational kernel of real people and events and moments at the centre of the story and continuing to unfold in our own time and situation. That is, I believe that cosmic truths speak through specific stories and situations and thus invite us out to play in a glorious universe of God’s making.


So what does Jesus mean when he asks “Why are you afraid?” and “Have you still no faith?” Is Jesus using the scary situation as a test which the disciples fail (as they fail so many of their ‘tests’)? Or is Jesus using the situation as a naturally occurring opportunity for growth and learning and deepening their understanding of who they are with and what they are about?  If we believe in layers of meaning then maybe there are layers of questions too.


The story starts with Jesus asleep in the boat upon a cushion (a lot of detail for Mark?!) suggesting a deep peace in him that was not disturbed by the storm. And when he does wake he stills the storm and the elements obey. We are surely meant to understand that Jesus is the son of God, of the Creator, and therefore the created world recognises his authority and obeys. The disciples having experienced both the storm and the peace and stillness that Jesus commands know that they are in the presence of someone much greater than themselves!


But what else might be happening? If Jesus is not only divine (the Son of God) but also human (the fully human one) then his ability to sleep during the storm may also point to his ability to be fully present in two realities at once. The reality of the storm (after all once awake he does still the storm rather than telling the disciples to overcome their fear of it) and the wider more universal truth of peace and rightness in the state of God’s world. Jesus is somehow in the boat with the disciples (and does care about the risk of perishing) and Jesus is also present in a reality beyond, deeper than, more than, the temporary disturbance of weather patterns on the surface of a lake. Jesus is already alive to the kingdom of God on earth, to the way that things are meant to be in a world of peace, love, hope and joy.


Maybe this is what we are seeing in the story of  David the young man who takes on the giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17) with a confidence that the world in which God delivers victory to Israel no matter how downtrodden and outnumbered, is already present and can be trusted and lived into? (Given current conflicts and atrocities carried out by all sides we need to be careful not to read that Israel is always intended to be the winner but rather that with God the downtrodden are precious and have reason to hope.)


So how might this approach be read in our communities and into our times and circumstances? Like the disciples I find much to be afraid of and pray that saving grace might still the storms we face. And for moments I am able to glimpse, as I believed Jesus lived in fully, the vision of the kingdom of God here on earth now. For moments I think I see a way, a time, and a will to live in the light shed by the dream of God for us all. For moments I believe it is not too late. But of course I see all too clearly and urgently the storms that seem to prevail. So how are we to live in both realities in a way that makes any sense?


As an introvert I need to start in my own heart and move outward towards the shared world. For some you will need to start in the outside seen world and work inward. Or in no particular order! So we need to develop the capacity to see both worlds clearly – the world as it is, beautiful and broken; and the world of God’s dreaming or the kingdom. We need to be able to hold both in our hearts and minds caring for both – for the world that is and for the world that is to come.


We need to develop the habit and courage to tenderly respond to the storms that frighten, where possible bringing peace and stillness. And we need to discern the green shoots of the kingdom and attend to the new growth, nurturing God’s dream for us that is entrusted to us. We need to seek out good news stories and amplify them. We need to offer our labour, prayers and money to those causes that radiate God’s way of being community. We need to applaud joy and love where ever we see it. And we need to support and encourage those who are exhausted and disillusioned by their battles and campaigns. We need to seek out the company of those that also share the vision to strengthen and encourage. And we need to keep on loving and sharing with those who haven’t caught the vision of another way of being – yet.


Like the disciples we cannot help but call out in our distress at the height of the waves and the noise of the wind. And also like those first disciples we need to keep answering the questions of Jesus: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” again and again until we can answer that ‘Yes I am afraid, but Yes I can see the kingdom, I can see a way of being, in which we all live in the presence of love and joy and justice. And I pray that the kingdom come on earth, your will be done here as it is in heaven.’

Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come still our storms with your voice and vision.


This is my work but of course I am influenced by all that I have read and heard. This week I am particularly grateful to:

Marcus J Borg, Meeting Jesus in Mark, especially “Chapter Two: Parables and Miracles”, SPCK, New York, 2011

John T Squires, An Informed Faith, “Diminutive David and the giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17; Pentecost 5B). 

Paul Turley, Talking about the Text – Two old guys trying to make sense of the lectionary text for the coming week. Video appearing on Facebook group Transforming Worship - Uniting Church in Australia who gave a wonderful “hook” about Jesus living in two realities.


תגובה אחת

Rachel-Anne Sambell
Rachel-Anne Sambell
18 ביוני

😍 Love this, Rev Sue. Lord Jesus, still the storms within me.


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