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The Stilling of the Storm

Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25.

General Pericope Distinctions

In the gospel of Mark, the "stilling of the storm" and the whole sea sequence follow the day of parables. In Matthew, this story and the split sequence come in chapters eight and nine; the day of parables comes later in chapter 13. Luke agrees with Matthew in noting the presence of the disciples, Mark has an independent "they" throughout the passage and no mention is made of the disciples. Mark's command in 4:3 is omitted here by Matthew who uses it to introduce the preceding passage (8:18). In Luke and Mark, Jesus stills the storm first and then admonishes the disciples. In Matthews, the action is reversed; Jesus rebukes the disciples and then stills the storm. One of the oddest features in Matthew is that it begins the story with "the disciples" but ends with "the men."

Exegetical Interpretation

None of the synopsis' give specifics regarding the day and time when the stilling of the storm occurred. Mark and Luke simple indicate, "That day." Mark 4:35 shows that the crossing of the lake happened on the "evening" of the day when the discourse in parables had been pronounced. Luke suppressed the mention of the late hour of the day but his verse (22) can be easily harmonized if we view the first gospel as being topological rather than chronological.

When Jesus concluded His teaching, he commands the disciples to cross with Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The reason for this decision is undisclosed and can therefore, only be conjectured. Seemingly, the prevailing view assumes that Jesus was enervated and desired rest from the pressuring crowd. Walter Bundy in his book "Jesus and the First Three Gospels," suggest the possibility that Jesus may have desired seeking a new sphere for his ministry which Mark 8:35-39 seem to support.

The disciples, obedient to the command of Jesus, board the boat with Him. In the Lukan form of the story, the phrase "and his disciples" would mean the twelve and the women of 8:1-3; cf. 8:9. This is in stark contrast to the vague Markan "they" and "them."

The "other side" was the district of Decapolis, east of the Sea of Galilee. This side was more rocky and barren and not as heavily populated with people as the western shore. Thus being, it became a natural refuge from the active life of the western coast.

The sudden "squall" as used by Mark and Luke was not extraordinary. The Sea of Galilee, which is said to be approximately 685 feet below sea level, was surrounded by mountains on almost all sides. Particularly at night ("as evening drew near") a storm could develop quickly.

The Greek word employed by Matthew, "tempest," properly translates "an earthquake," while "squall" as used by Mark and Luke signifies a "hurricane."

Mark add the graphic picture of the waves breaking into the ship and mentions the dangerousness of the predicament. In contrast to the raging sea and storm outside the ship, Jesus is sleeping serenely inside the ship. Luke depicts Jesus' falling asleep before he mentions the squall while Mark mentions it after he discusses the storm. Jesus' falling asleep suggests He was subject to human fatigue and required a human necessity ? rest. There are theologians who propose Jesus wished to test the disciples' faith and others who add that Jesus' weariness may be considered voluntary because it was intended to assist the weakness of the disciples.

According to Mark, Jesus was "in the stern, sleeping on a cushion." Neither Matthew nor Luke mentions Jesus' location on board the boat. Luke omits the disciples' plaintive query about Jesus' nonchalance and apparent lack of concern about His and their welfare. The disciples awaken Jesus.

Most commentaries draw attention to the somewhat gentler versions of Matthews and Lukes' statements: "Lord, save us, we perish" (Mt. KJV), "Lord, save us, we're going to drown" (NIV), "Master, master, we're going to drown" (Lk., NIV), Master, master, we perish" (KJV). The most glaring feature is the boldness of Mark: "Do you not care if we perish" (RSV), "Master, carest thou not that we perish" (KJV), "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" (NIV).

The cry expresses fear, panic and indignation and the disciples seem to hold Jesus responsible. The storm did not disturb Jesus but it obviously did the disciples. Death appears imminent to the "chosen ones" and they resent Jesus for having the temerity to sleep during the crisis. It is at that moment that the disciples' humanity prevailed over their faith and they were overtaken with fear.

Mark and Luke records Jesus' reproach of the disciples following the stilling of the storm. In Matthew, the opposite is true. Opinions seem divided as to the exact order. Paul Ryan in "Gospels of the Sundays" made this observation.

"St. John Chrysostom, preferring the order given by St. Matthew, speaks thus: 'Before Christ would still the tempest of waters, He, by this rebuke, first calmed the souls of His disciples. He did so that they might be in a better condition to witness the miraculous exercise of His divine power, and to learn the lesson which the miracle was intended to convey.'"

Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves and all became immediately quiet. It is Mark alone who gives the actual words Jesus spoke, "Peace, be still," which literally means "be muzzled." Barclay also notes that Jesus uses the exact same words here speaking to the wind as He had to the demon possessed man in Mark 1:28.

Jesus' reprimand to the disciples was sharp and may have been tinged with anger and disappointment. The disciples' faith was insufficient to enable them to believe that Jesus, though sleeping, was still watching over them by His divine power, and could save them.

Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, will be available soon.

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