Job 38:1-11; Ps. 124; 2 Cor. 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41.
Waves, [A] great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat … But [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And [the disciples] woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” [H]e roused … and rebuked the wind … And he said to them, “Why are you cowardly? Don’t you have faith yet? And they feared a great fear and said … “Who then is this? —for even the wind and sea obey him” (vv. 37-41).
The disciples’ question, “Who then is this?” directs us to the OT backgrounds for understanding today’s sea voyage; especially by two encounters with YHWH: Job’s lack of “faith”; and Jonah’s anger at God’s concern for the Ninevites.
Job complained of YHWH’s lack of concern for his weal and woe, going so far as to express a “death-wish” (Job 3). Connoting displeasure, YHWH spoke out of a whirlwind; yet still deigning to teach and re-direct Job’s creature mentality.
Job’s posture toward YHWH, was much as Jesus described Satan, acting the part of a contentious “strong-man” (cf. Mk 3:27). God takes Job to task;
“So, you would counsel me; well then man gird yourself, dress for action, [for there is only one who is my Counselor, whom I call ‘Wonderful’] … Tell me where you were when I laid the foundation of the earth … on what were its pillars sunk and its cosmic Cornerstone laid? Tell me if you have understanding.”
God then directed Job to his sea architecture, the primeval element and creation’s first womb. Theologians describe the sea, a dark place of unseen monsters and realm of demonic chaos in which absent rescue or boat, death obtains.
Threat from the Deep is why at all U.S. Naval Academy chapel Services cadets sing the hymn-prayer, “for those in peril on the sea” (LSB 717).
Yet YHWH speaks of the sea as his own; a personified, if petulant child. When the sea burst the womb, God fashioned doors to contain its “wild confusion”, binding it in a swaddling of cloud and midst. The sea and all therein belong to God.
In our Gospel Jesus and Apostles are headed for Gentile territory by crossing the Sea of Galilee. On the Sabbath before departure Jesus in Capernaum’s synagogue, exorcised a man from demon possession. The following day, in Peter’s house, signifying the advent of a new synagogue, “many” were released from demon possession; Jesus declaring himself, the “Stronger-man come to plunder Satan’s house.
After these exhausting days, Jesus sleeps in the boat that began taking-on water. Chaotic wind and wave imperiled Jesus’ nascent church. Like Job, the disciples accused Jesus of lacking concern for their welfare and life.
At Jesus’ word, wind and wave were tamed; then he chastises the disciples for their cowardly lack of faith, both in God’s providence and in him; giving the disciples to ask, “Who then is this…?” (Mk. 4:41).
On the Gentile side of Galilee, Jesus and company encountered another demoniac, stronger than the last ones, named “Legion”, denoting possession by 5,000 spirits that easily broke the man’s iron fetters.
Jesus, the Stronger-man, who had just “bound the restless wave” now released the man from his possession. “Legion” sought refuge in a swine herd, significant for the local economy. In a peek of vengeance toward Jesus, the multitude of demons consigned themselves to “the sea”, their place of destruction.
Jesus’ serial exorcisms and command of wind and wave both enlighten and obscure. YHWH challenged Job, “Tell me if you have understanding” (Job 38:4b); and so, the same question is implicit from Jesus to his disciples, and applicable to us.
This morning we entered the church-boat where we are “hill and gully [tempest] riders” over the world’s chaos. Entering the boat we intoned, “Then they cried to the LORD in their / trouble* and he delivered them from / their distress” (Introit antiphon, Ps. 107:28).
Our problem, like Job, is our failure to comprehend either the depth of sin’s distresses or of God’s even deeper love of us. Instead, we focus attention on the world’s hurly-burly, and like Jesus’ disciples we look for relief from those which plagues or threatens us, seeking disparate and momentary solutions; until the day of our passing, we chiefly think more money will do the trick.
You know the list of things that concern us; we only need look to those for whom we pray suffering maladies and tribulations in the midst of faith’s beckoning to courage. St. Paul iterates (2 Cor. 6:4, 5) the various “distresses”, we experience in faith;
So also, Job’s confusion; thinking himself “righteous” experiencing “undeserved” tribulation, without an understanding of YHWH.
For fear of death the disciples thought the sea unbridled of God, an independent agent of destruction; so, they rose Jesus from his confident slumber.
Jesus rebukes them for fear of death in his presence as faithless cowards. We don’t have faith in Jesus to avoid unpleasantness, difficulties, or enemy attack, though we pray as he wills. We don’t have faith in Jesus for avoiding death out of this life or for monetary plenty.
Faith is grounded in knowledge of the Lord, by sinking into the sea of Jesus’ Baptism, a participation in his distresses and death apart from which all else is terminal destruction.
Consider the baptism of Jonah; like Job, he thought he knew how God should be God in our lives and fled his office of preaching to the Ninevites. Jonah knew that God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, relenting from disaster (Jonah 4:4), and that, “Salvation belongs [alone] to the LORD!” (2:9c).
Still, Jonah pitted his contrary will against the Lord. God asserted himself by a sea-tempest, threatening to destroy Jonah’s boat; against God’s anger Jonah was content to slept in the ship’s-hold. Despite peril on the sea, Jonah knew that all therein are the Lord’s and of itself the sea held no terror.
The boat-crew, asked Jonah what to do; he directed they sacrifice him into the sea. They did; and the sea calmed. Jonah sunk into the “belly of Sheol” (2:2, 3), as Jesus descended into hell beginning his resurrection.
Jesus’ sacrificial offering on the cross, comprehended what neither Job, nor you and I will ever experience, utter abandon by God; and yet like Jonah, Jesus trusted that, “Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
Jonah’s fearless faith would have us trust in our Baptism into Christ’s death; despite occasional disobedience, we understanding the depth of God’s love in Christ crucified; that by his death we are new creations who, as Jonah, in the end conform to God’s will and Word.
St. Paul prayed for the Corinth church; that his sufferings and their tribulations not restrict affection for his teaching that, “for our sake [Jesus] made himself to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
“In return [we] widen our hearts” (6:13), comprehending, in and out of worldly suffering, the mind of God, especially toward those Ninevites with whom we uncharitably disapprove (Jonah 4:4; Gen. 4:6). Amen.