Jesus rises up. Matthew uses egertheis, which conveys not simply standing, but rising to his full height to confront the storm. He “rebukes” the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” The word Mark uses for Jesus’s rebuke (epetimēsen) is the same used for his commands to evil spirits, and Jesus’s phrasing is similar to the way he rebuked the demon in the synagogue at Capernaum : “Be silent, and come out of him!” At once there is a “great” calm. The Greek megalē is the same word used for the “great” wind, highlighting both natural danger and Jesus’s power over it. We can tell that the disciples are terrified, because Jesus says to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” A more literal translation of Mark’s Greek— pōs ouk echete pistin—may better convey Jesus’s amazement at the disciples’ reaction: “How is it that you still have no faith?” Their terror is not surprising. We’re so used to some Gospel stories that they can seem predictable. But sit on the narrow wooden seats next to the disciples, and Jesus’s power will render you speechless. And the disciples are frightened by not simply the miraculous—or what might seem magical— power, but what it meant.
Controlling nature was the prerogative of God alone. The creation story in Genesis recounts God’s dividing of the waters, separating the rains above and the seas below, and also exerting power over chaotic nature. 10 Jews aboard might have remembered one of many psalms on that same theme: “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” The next line is stunning: ephobēthēsan phobon megan. They feared a great fear. Fear of the storm has morphed into fear of God, the awe accompanying a display of divine power, a theophany. When they next open their mouths, I imagine them having a hard time getting the words out: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” The carpenter who just offered homey parables on the shoreline reveals a supernatural command over the waters. Jesus is mighty in word and in deed. I can only imagine the disciples sitting in stupefied silence as the voyage continued, now over calm waters.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, 4/22, we drive to Jerusalem and will make stops in Jericho and Bethany. A new video and reflection should be up around 4pm ET on this site. See you back then!
Excerpts from Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin, S.J.