Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (June 23, 2024)

Gospel: Mark 4:35-41

passage from Mark isn’t entirely accurate. Now I’ll freely admit I don’t know enough about the art of translation to understand why things are done the way they are, but I do know that some translations deprive us of wonderful little glimpses into the original text. So before continuing I’d like to read you these verses once again, but this time taken from the Greek in which Mark was written.

And He says to them on that day, evening having come, Let us pass over to the other side. And having dismissed the crowd they take Him with them, since he was in the boat. Also other boats were with him. And a violent storm of wind comes, and the waves were breaking over the boat so that already the boat is being filled up. And He was in the stern on the cushion, sleeping. And they awaken Him and say to Him, is it not a concern to you that we perish? And having been awoken He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, Silence, be still. And the wind abated and there was a great calm. And He said to them, Why are you fearful? Have you still not faith? And they feared with great fear and were saying to each other, Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey Him?[1]

Again, slight – but important – changes, and among these changes there’s one word on which I’d like to focus: silence. In our translation, “Peace! Be still!” but in the Greek, Silence! Before getting to that, a few considerations.

First, when Jesus was awakened, he wouldn’t have been hearing just the cries of those in his boat. Remember: there were other boats. We don’t know how many; the passage doesn’t say. But let’s hypothesize for a minute. First, consider the size of the boats. In 1986, one dating back to the first century CE was unearthed on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Measuring 27 feet long and seven feet wide, it would have held up to 15 people (including those rowing it). There was of course nothing tying it to Jesus or the disciples, but it’s representative of the boats they would have been using.

So we have one boat with Jesus and (presumably) his disciples – so we’ll say 13 people. Next, let’s imagine each of the other boats was carrying a full complement of 15, and we’ll say there were four other boats. So for our example, not counting Jesus, there were 72 people crossing the lake – 72 people fearing for their lives – 72 people crying out. It could have been less; it could have been far more. But regardless of the number what we have is the same: the roar of the wind; the crashing of the waves; the cries of those making the journey.

The word “peace” doesn’t quite measure up to what happens next – but the single word of Jesus in the original Greek does. It’s a word spoken not just to the elements but to the people. It’s a word spoken to the totality of creation bound up in that moment.

A moment of chaos. A moment of noise.

And over all of this, above the cries and the waves and the wind, the voice of Jesus.

Silence!

And there’s silence.

I don’t think “great calm” fully describes it. I think it was total, complete silence. It was the silence that existed before God ever spoke the first word of creation in Genesis. It was the silence experienced by Elijah at the mouth of the cave on Mount Horeb after the earthquake and fire and wind had passed. It was the silence we find later in Revelation, the silence in heaven after cries and shouts of praise to God from an innumerable, endless number of heavenly beings are suddenly stopped. And the silence here, surrounding the boats floating on the lake. It was a silence so complete, so total … so deafening.

In the storm we see a type of undoing of the world – in the words of Laura Smit, “the collapsing of the waters above and the waters below into one mass of water. It is an undoing of the first act of creation, which begins with the dividing of the waters.”[2] For the disciples, it’s not just the collapse of the world around them; it’s the collapse of the world within them. It’s the collapse of their confidence. It’s the collapse of their knowledge – a knowledge of the lake that, as fisherman, many knew intimately. It’s the collapse of their faith. The world around them in those moments was louder than they could imagine; the collapse taking place within each of them was just as loud.

But in the silence brought by Jesus, re-creation begins. The waters were again divided. The collapse of the world surrounding the boats was reversed. The collapse of each person in each boat was halted. This isn’t a moment referred to as a healing, but I think that’s what it was: the voice of Jesus ordering silence so that a healing of mind, body, and spirit could take place … a healing of the elements and of humanity.

We’re all in boats tossed on the sea. Life batters us with strong winds. Unexpected events and those feelings we try to keep buried – illness, loss, death, fear, uncertainty, doubt – crash over us like wild, uncontrolled waves. Like those disciples, we may look for Jesus and discover he’s not appearing how or when we expect – sleeping calmly in the back of the boat while we’re in the front battling life. In those moments, I think, this passage is a reminder that we shouldn’t necessarily look for Jesus but should instead listen for Jesus.

Listen for his voice above the wind. Listen for his voice above the waves. Listen for his voice above the noise in our heads that deafens us to all else. Listen for the voice that brings new moments of creation from the chaos and confusion of our lives.

Silence! Be still!

Amen.


[1] Mark 4:35-41. Bible Hub Greek Interlinear Bible, https://biblehub.com/interlinear/mark/4.htm.

[2] Laura A. Smit, “Mark 4:35-41: Theological Perspective.” Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, p. 386 (Kindle edition).