Pentecost 5.18 “Not Much Fussed” Mark 4:35-41
So my question, and the Tuesday morning Bible Study (my own personal Sanhedrin) told me not to go there, but I really can’t help it, is this: “what happened to the other, little boats?” Do you ever wonder? I wonder. I mean: it was a real big storm. The disciples (in their likely larger, more capable fishing craft) barely survive the storm, and that only by Jesus’ divine intervention. Do you think the other, little boats made it? That’s what I think about when I think about this Gospel. Now, the Tuesday morning group, with one voice, said “Pastor! They made it. Of course, they made it! Jesus wouldn’t let them go down. It’s not even a question!” Well, it is, for me…
Years ago, I was coming back from a hospital visit, it was about dinner time, and I happened to have my golf clubs in the car (as I always did then, a bad habit I’ve now broken—too much temptation) and the driving range I was passing called to me, loudly. A quick bucket before dinner, I thought. Work, then play. I was wearing my clerical collar, and there was a storm coming in. Lightning was flashing above my head, thunder crashing, the rain just starting. This range had a metal awning under which you hit. There’s one guy hitting next to me, and the pro comes out and goes: “Hey, guys. Dangerous cloud to ground lightning, metal awning, you might want to pack it in. I’ll give you a rain check.” And I smiled and looked at him (he knew me) and I said: “I’ll be fine.” He glanced at my clerical and laughed and said “Yeah, I guess you will be.” The guy next to me said “We’ll be fine.” I turned to him and said ominously: “I’ll be fine. I can’t guarantee the zone of protection will cover you…” He got this concerned look, picked up his bag, and left. I happily hit the balls he left behind. And I notice in our Gospel that it says the disciples’ boat made it, but it doesn’t say if the zone of protection extended to the other, little boats. Hard to find a passage that clearly answers my question…
Jesus certainly loves all people. But, I notice in the Old Testament, that those Philistines who greedily grab onto His ark, who touch His stuff, fare poorly (see 1 Sam. 5-6!). In the Gospels, I see He definitely loves some more than others—namely, the disciples who follow by faith. The ones in it only for the Bud Light? He seems, how shall we say it delicately? Less fussed about their well being. Even the disciples don’t find Jesus overly concerned for their physical safety. While the storm is raging and the boat sinking, Jesus is sleeping in the stern, on a pillow, unfussed. And they wake Him (annoyed) shouting: “Lord, do You not care that we are perishing!??!! And what I love best about this Gospel is that no answer from Jesus is recorded, save that of the Southern Text tradition (preserved in a marginal reading in the NIV, I think?) where Jesus goes: “I care that I’m missing My nap!”
The disciples are not greatly reassured by this. Another time, Jesus will tell them not to worry about people who can only kill them. And they’re like “only kill you? Only kill you!!!!??? That’s what we’re most afraid of! That’s why we follow You: to avoid the whole death thing! And Jesus tells them there’s far worse things than dying. Having soul and body destroyed eternally in hell is the worst(!), the only thing we need really be fussed over. And this makes the apostles uneasy. Jesus cares. Jesus loves you. But safety not guaranteed for any of us! Christianity is Risky Business. Jesus’ idea of love and care is clearly different from our own. A pastor I knew reported how he’s all collared-up on a plane once, and two women sitting by him exclaim: “Father! We’re scared of flying but we feel safe since you’re on the plane”, “Why?” he asked. They said: “Because God wouldn’t let the plane crash with you on it!” He replied: “Jesus loves me and wants me in heaven. This plane could be the way to get me there today.” Crash catechesis ensued.
I notice in the Gospels that, like many famous people, Jesus spends a lot of time trying to give the crowds the slip. He’s been mobbed for the whole day, teaching by parables (which He only explained to His disciples). At evening, He’s tired and He tells the disciples “Let us cross over to the other side”. This was one of His favorite tricks. As the light is fading and the crowds are teeming, Jesus slips into the boat (I sometimes wonder if Peter, John, James, and Andrew were lottery pick apostles only because they had nice boats and experience sailing the Sea of Galilee?). Anyway, the crowds give Jesus a very rough time, generally, even accusing Him of being in league with Satan. He brushes off such barbs sardonically and warns that those who don’t want to hang out with Him forever don’t have to worry: they’ll get their wish, though it won’t make them very happy. I notice Jesus never chases after anyone who spurns Him. Even the rich young ruler who wanted to follow Him, but couldn’t because he had too much baggage (whom Jesus is said to have loved!) goes away sad, but Jesus doesn’t chase after or go “Wait, a minute! Let me try to persuade you otherwise…”
Which brings us back to where we started: with the other little boats caught in the storm that evening, and what ever happened to them? We’ll probably never know. But the picture in my head is of each little boat going down, one by one, until only the apostle’s boat is left, filling rapidly, while Jesus sleeps soundly. We never hear from the other little boats again—you probably noticed. It would be a good reason why the disciples wake Him going “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” This lack of concern they would have seen not only in His sleeping, but in the other little boats going… down; together. Mark has the disciples with a strong, “And I alone am left to tell the tale…” thing going on, to my (overly literary?) ear.
But to support this (somewhat dark?) picture: I do know that many people in the Gospels volunteer to follow Jesus, flocking to Him for favors, chasing after Him in little boats (like paparazzi). Yet none of those folks ever is shown sticking with Jesus. The only disciples that are confirmed as sticking with are the ones that Jesus calls to follow (usually against their better judgment). The most I’d concede is that if the other little boats aren’t at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee, they seem to wash up on a different shore than the apostles…
“Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” Instead of an answer, Jesus arose, rebuked the wind and wave with a “Peace, be still!” (which just might be a shot fired right over the disciples’ heads). He says to them only “Why so fearful? How is it that you have no faith!?” Which shows what Jesus really cares about…(!)
This I can tell you for sure: Jesus does not care about your perishing the way you care about it. He cares both more and less. The physical aspect of death, the suffering, the fear, does not fuss Him all that much. That dread disease or that plane ride might well be His way of getting you to heaven today. Which, actually, would be great for everyone concerned! Jesus really cares that you, by Word and Sacrament alone, as the Spirit’s Gift, come to faith in Him, because then nothing can shake you—all things work together for everlasting good for you; and Peace, surpassing understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.