Who Then Is This?

Today we rejoin Ordinary Time in the Sunday Lectionary cycle. The reading from Mark’s Gospel describes Jesus stilling a storm on the Sea of Galilee. He and his disciples (some of them professional fishermen) are traveling by boat from their home base on the western shore to the eastern shore when a sudden storm blows up and they are in danger of drowning. Yet Jesus sleeps through it all! When they awaken him, he addresses the sea as if he were casting out demons: “Quiet! Be still!” The amazing result is that the wind immediately falls off and the sea becomes calm. When Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith, they ask in their amazement, “Who then is this, whom even wind and sea obey?”

In the Old Testament and elsewhere the wind and sea often symbolize the powers of chaos, evil and death. To be in a fierce storm at sea, buffeted about by waves and in danger of drowning, was an experience of extreme terror. Indeed, when Jews and their neighbors in antiquity reflected on God’s action in creation, an important motif was God’s power to impose order upon the chaos of the sea. According to Genesis 1, at creation the world was a formless waste, and God’s achievement was to put order into it.

The reading from Job is part of God’s speech from the whirlwind near the end of the book. For many chapters Job had been lamenting his sufferings and defending his innocence. When God finally speaks, God asks Job, “Who shut within doors the sea?” This is one of a series of questions intended to remind Job that Job is not God the creator and that some mysteries are beyond human comprehension and control. The obvious answer is that God, not Job, shut the sea within doors. In other words, imposing order and limits on the sea is something that only God can do.

The verses from Psalm 107 describe another storm at sea. The description allows us to experience with the sailors being pushed around by wind and waves and to share in their terror at the prospect of drowning. Again, God is the only one capable of stilling the storm: “He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze, and the billows of the sea were stilled.”

According to Mark, by word alone Jesus returns the sea to its natural order and saves his followers from drowning. Thus Jesus does what according to the Old Testament only God can do. He is someone in whom divine power is at work. He is the presence and agent of God among us.

In the reading from 2 Corinthians, Paul celebrates the saving significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and our participation in it. In doing so he evokes the image of a new creation. No longer enslaved to sin and death and doomed to follow the promptings of the “flesh,” we can enjoy the freedom of God’s children through the one whom “even wind and sea obey.”

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