Monday, June 15, 2015

Piety and Panic

For this week's exegesis, please visit my page here from three years ago. I've updated it slightly.

Also, you can find my essay entitled "The Politics of Chaos" here.

Here are some random thoughts, on which I'd love your input if you are so inclined.

1. What I hope not to do in my sermons is to depict the disciples as whining in the maelstrom while Jesus is just placidly trusting God. People really do die in storms at sea.

2. It is tempting to pair the story of Jesus calming the sea to the story of Jonah to compare and contrast. Both Jesus and Jonah are asleep during a raging storm at sea. I wonder if the fact that Jesus is asleep says less about his disposition or fatigue in the story and is more of a device to make this an echo of the Jonah story. However, in Jonah's case his transgression against the will of God is the cause of the storm. In Jesus' case, the storm comes up without evident cause and the issue is whether Jesus cares or not. The RCLectionary, however, pairs this story with the encounter between David and Goliath - a different kind of story involving fear and panic.

3. The image of the disciples wakening Jesus in my head for many years was similar to when Dorothy wakes up from her concussion and everyone from her Kansas farm were gathered around her bed looking down at her. If these are modest fishing boats - not big Yankee Clippers made to sail across the ocean - I would guess that I have to have a more disturbing image than that. Jesus is not far away, but right there where they can yell their inquiry while the disciples are throwing over extra cargo or battening the loose stuff, etc. to survive. It is not really the time for processing Jesus' feelings. It's time for panicked cries for help.

4. The disciples' question intrigues me: "Do you not care that we perish?" I can hear it two ways:
A. "What? You can't sleep through this storm while we try to keep the boat from capsizing! If this boat goes down, we're all going down. Do you not care about that?" In that sense, the disciples' tone reflect their care for Jesus as well as for their own survival.
B. "Oh, it's fine for you! You can do things that we can't; you have some special ring of protection that lets you sleep in a time like this. But, what about us? Don't you care about the rest of us?" In this case, the disciples are still asking a reasonable question, even if it does sound a tinge whiny.
The difference would be whether the "we" is "You and us alike" or "Us, not you."

5. I've often been intrigued by the complex image of a parent, whose child just almost ran out in front of a car or almost fell down a flight of stairs, etc. A loving parent might scream some of the most ugly words at a child in a moment like that. I remember my mother yanking my arm and smacking my bottom with each word: What. Is. Wrong. With. You? when I did something like that. I generally feel that, under calmer circumstances, a mother ought to refrain from yanking, smacking and questioning a child's sanity. But, in that moment, those ugly words and all the physicality were actually how my mother was expressing love in a frightened, panicked way.
In the same way, I think it disingenuous for a pastor, on a calm Sunday morning when everyone is quietly listening, to treat the disciples' words as the silly expressions of those who don't really trust in Jesus' love. I think perhaps we ought to imagine ourselves and our entire congregation in an airplane that has lost its engines when we preach this text. Then we can explore panic and pious together.


  1. Thanks for your work. My greek is pretty poor but your exegesis and translation notes are always helpful. I'm still wrestling with this text and I've chosen Job 38:1-11 as a pairing in Hebrew Bible (Track 2 RCL). This pairing highlights the real danger and real suffering that breeds the disciples fears and complaints. Job's complaints are pretty reasonable. The disciple's complaints are also more than reasonable. Your notes above are helpful and the piece that I think I need to add as I unpack this reading for myself and my parish is Jesus' location. Jesus is present with them in the boat. They may have chosen to bring him along (as the text implies that they brought him and not the other way around) but regardless, God is still present in the midst of danger and pain. There is no satisfactory answer to the question of God allowing the chaos and pain of the world. But somehow part of the response seems to be that God is present with us. That might be a stretch for exegeting Job (though I think it's arguable) but it's certainly not for Mark. I'd go even further though and say that this becomes our prototype for our place in the midst of the suffering of the other. Not to offer pious platitudes that God is in charge but instead to be really present in the midst of chaos and suffering, holding in our own hearts that God is in charge and, somehow, all shall be well. Thanks again!

    1. Thanks for your generous comments and for sharing your insights into Job and the presence of the Holy even in our chaos. Wonderfully stated.

    2. Oh, my gosh. Have I lived that "What. Is. Wrong. With. You." moment as a child. Made me laugh out loud and tear up at the same time. As a mother now, I get the love/panic mom moment I never appreciated when I was the smackee.

    3. Oh, my gosh. Have I lived that "What. Is. Wrong. With. You." moment as a child. Made me laugh out loud and tear up at the same time. As a mother now, I get the love/panic mom moment I never appreciated when I was the smackee.

    4. Jennifer, I keep reading your comment over and over because I resonate with it also from the other side of the fence, as a father of four. And I like that you used "smackee."


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