Lectionary #95, Gospel Mark 4: 35-41
Whenever I read today’s gospel passage I think of Katharina von Schlegel’s sublime hymn Be Still My Soul. Schlegel wrote, in part:
Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
If you have heard this hymn I imagine that you are as moved by it as I am: through majestic language invoking images of nature it reflects on how we entrust ourselves with deep faith to Jesus, who we believe rules over life and death as much as he rules over the waves and winds. The response which Jesus finds among the disciples in the gospel is quite different, however: He reproves them for their lack of faith. Although the sovereignty of God over creation is powerfully described in the readings from the book of Job and the responsorial Psalm, and Jesus is portrayed as the heir to this domain in the gospel, the disciples remain fearful and unsure. Jesus himself seems frustrated by this, asking them: “Why are you terrified”?
The key to resolving this fear and lack of understanding is found in today’s New Testament reading, where St. Paul tells us that we “are a new creation”. Yes, we indeed believe that God and Christ are sovereign over the forces of nature—we witness him rendering placid the turbulent waters of the Sea of Galilee—but more importantly we also believe that Christ came to announce a Kingdom that encompasses and includes this world, yet goes far beyond it: he came not to prove his dominion over the creation which he already mastered, but to transform it and make it entirely new. This is what the disciples in the boat did not yet comprehend, even as they marveled over Jesus’ command of the winds and waves. They were struggling to reconcile his feat of taming the primordial forces of the deep with what they knew of the earthly order, not realizing that the true marvel that faith reveals to us is the Kingdom of God which turns all earthly authority on its head and is powerful precisely in its weakness.
Helping us to find our place in Christ’s new creation and to stand firm in faith, Paul tells us that in Christ “all have died” and therefore we should regard ourselves no longer according to the flesh (no longer limited to the order of creation as we perceive it). Going further Paul says that through our sacramental death with Christ we have all been transformed into a new creation in him—a creation that shares in the beauty of the present world but which leads into and finds its abiding home in a realm which is not subject to the decay and woundedness that is a natural part of the life we know here below, and which has been re-made in the glorious image of the risen Lord. This is what the eyes of faith hold up before us, and this is what the disciples in the boat were not yet able to grasp.
Christ’s power over sea and sky is impressive, but pales in comparison to his command over life and death. As we stand in awe of the one “whom even wind and sea obey” let us remember that it was in the waters, not of the Sea of Galilee but of the baptismal font, that we first came to share in the death of Christ, that we might one day share in his life—he who “guides the future, as He has the past, and makes all now mysterious bright at last”.
Father Edward M. Mazich, O.S.B.