Mark mopped up the last of the olive oil in the bowl before him with a piece of flatbread. The meal tonight had largely consisted of bread and vegetables. The availability of meat – and now grain – in the marketplaces of Jerusalem was on the decline. Rumors were spreading that grain was being diverted to storehouses in anticipation of a siege. Mark suspected the rumors were true. Savoring the taste of his family’s oil on his tongue, he rose to address the ecclesia.
“Sisters and brothers, tonight’s story is one I heard so many times from Peter in his prison cell in Rome. He’d always end with a wry smile and a sigh at his own lack of comprehension at something so central to Jesus’ teaching. But Peter was not alone among the disciples in that lack of understanding.” At this, Mark shook his head. “And it is something G_d’s church continues to struggle with to this day.”
“One day, when evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ And leaving the multitude, they took him along with them, just as he was, in the boat; and other boats were with him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up.'”
Yiftach’s companion snorted. “‘Let’s go over to the other side.’ Ha! I don’t know why anyone would want to get in a boat on Galilee other than to catch fish. And what’s he doing heading off to gentile territory?”
“What indeed?” responded Mark. “Now, Jesus himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they awoke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ And being aroused, Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Hush, be still.'” Mark looked directly at Yiftach as he continued, “And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.”
Yiftach’s companion snorted even louder. He got to his feet, and tugged on Yiftach’s arm. “Come on, we don’t have to listen to any more of this nonsense.” Yiftach shrugged off his friend’s hand. He looked up at him and said, “I know we don’t. But I want to.” His companion looked at him in disbelief, then turned sharply on his heels, and strode across the courtyard and out of the gate. His mocking laughter echoed into the night.
All eyes were on Yiftach. His eyes were on Mark. “I have cousins who fish on Galilee. Like me, they don’t know too much scripture. But they learned Psalm 107.” His eyes took on a distant hue. “‘Some go down to the sea in boats…there they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed.’ My aunt prayed that psalm every time her boys took to the boats.” He paused. “Her prayer was not always answered.”
Simeon spoke into the hush that Yiftach’s words evoked. “We are not a sea-faring people – we leave that to the Phoenicians. The sea has always symbolized the dark power of evil to us. Its chaos threatens G_d’s people and G_d’s purposes. Jesus’ words and work provoked those same forces of evil: they constantly threatened him. What confidence must he have had in G_d that he could fall asleep on a pillow as they headed out across the sea?”
“Apparently enough confidence to believe G_d would still the waves when he spoke to them,” said Yiftach, his struggle to accept Mark’s account writ large across his face. Mark nodded slowly. “You are not alone in questioning what happened that day. Peter was there, and if it were possible, he would tell you that the twelve had questions before and even after this happened. Indeed, Jesus said to them, ‘Why so afraid? How is it that you have no faith?’ And they became very much afraid and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?'”
“Who indeed?” Yiftach wondered…