Read: Mark 4:35-41
A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 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?” 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 (Mark 4:37-39, NRSV).
James and John stared ruefully into their half empty glasses. Being brothers, they were used to companionable silences, but this wasn’t one of them. They were still trying to puzzle out the events of the night before, and the silence hung sullenly between them. James finally blurted out, “I thought he was talking to us.”
“What?” asked John, startled out of his stupor.
“I thought he was talking to us. You know. When he sat up and shouted, ‘Peace, be still!’”
“Ha!” barked his brother after a suitably stunned silence.
Heads turned, and curiosity stilled the conversations of the other seaside diners. James hissed, “Be quiet. I don’t want to attract too much attention. Besides, it was a perfectly reasonable assumption. We’d just shaken him out of a sound sleep. And then you had to get all hysterical and accuse him of not caring that we were about to sink like a rock.”
“I was not hysterical. And I had to shout to be heard over the wind. And we were about to sink like a rock.”
“Hush!” hissed James again, trying to check his brother’s temper with his own. They weren’t called the “Sons of Thunder” for nothing.
“All right,” conceded John more quietly. “I guess I did go a little overboard when I asked him whether he cared.”
“I wish you wouldn’t talk about going ‘overboard,’” teased James with just the suggestion of a smile. At last the tension between the two was stilled.
The waitress brought their fish and chips. After an appropriate blessing, they munched companionably for a few minutes before John continued with a question. “What was the scariest part for you?”
“Funny you should ask,” mused James, pushing the crumbs around on his plate. “I know I’ve always had nightmares about drowning in a storm, but that wasn’t actually the part that got to me the most. It was when I realized that he hadn’t been shushing us at all. It was when everything went suddenly, deafeningly silent, and I looked around and realized that it was the storm he’d been shushing.”
The hairs on the back of John’s neck were standing at attention. “I know what you mean. That’s exactly what I was thinking. What’s scarier, after all—a storm at sea or someone who can calm the storm? With only a few words, no less!”
Both brothers were silent again. Finally James ventured, “What have we gotten ourselves into here?”
“Another good question, Brother,” responded John. “This is the first time we’ve had a nice, quiet meal in weeks. We’re traveling constantly. And sometimes I feel more like a body-guard than a disciple.”
“You’ve got that right,” replied James. The crowds are incredible…always pressing closer and closer. The only way to keep him from getting crushed is to put him in a boat just offshore. And sometimes I wonder whether that will protect him. It’s amazing what people will do just to be near him.”
At this comment they both smiled, realizing simultaneously that the observation could apply to them. They’d got to considerable lengths to be near him, too.
“It was a fine career in fish management we had going for us,” remarked John wryly. “Do you ever regret walking away from it?”
“Not ‘regret’ exactly. But I wonder a lot. Not just about whether we’re right to keep following him, but about who in the world he really is.” James paused for a moment before continuing in a hushed voice. “All day I’ve been remembering those verses from Psalm 89: ‘O LORD God of hosts, who is as mighty as you? You rule the raging of the sea…’”
“‘…when its waves rise, you still them,’” John finished the quote for him. The two sat staring at each other for a while, neither daring to follow the connection to its impossible conclusion.
John cleared his throat abruptly and pushed back his chair.
“No. Wait,” insisted James. “Who is he? What do you think, really?”
John answered vaguely, “I’m not sure. I’m not sure of anything these days, except that I’d follow him anywhere.” Then he turned on his heel and walked toward the door.
“Trust John to leave me stuck with the bill,” muttered James, throwing down a coin and rushing to catch up with his brother.
Ponder: What is the hardest thing about following Jesus for you?
Pray: Give us courage when we are afraid, gracious God. Help us to trust you even when we don’t fully understand…even when we can’t see what the future holds.
This reflection is a lightly edited version of a devotional originally published in Life after Grace: Daily Reflections on the Bible © 2003 Carol M. Bechtel. All rights reserved.
“Practicing the Faith” Series
This series explores some of the things that Christians can expect once the first blush of belief has worn off. Contrary to the mistaken assumption that once we are “saved” we can sit back and relax, these reflections explore the hard work that awaits the believer on the other side of baptism. However, characters from Genesis to Revelation illustrate that practicing the faith is not just a responsibility but also a reward.
All of these reflections are “encore” performances from a book I wrote early in my career: Life after Grace: Daily Reflections on the Bible © 2003 Carol M. Bechtel. All rights reserved. I have edited them lightly, and chosen them with the current context in mind. I hope they have stood the test of time.