“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”” Mark 4:35-41 (NRSV)
“Be gentle with yourself.”
These were the words spoken by one of the members of our 20.30 Something Young Adult Ministry of Emmanuel Baptist Church at our virtual “Chill After Church” this past Sunday. These are words that are both wise and timely. They are wise because it goes against the culture we live in, and they are timely because of the current covid-19 pandemic our collective nation and world is experiencing. Our culture here in the United States of America is one of constant busyness. We always have to be plugged in and doing something or we’re not really anybody of importance. Our home in New York City is the embodiment of that always doing, always on the go, busy for busyness’ sake culture. The current pandemic has only intensified this American (U.S.) culture. People are feeling pressured to develop some skill, create some business, or master some craft while we are quarantined and forced to stay home. Not only does this make the assumption that people, in fact, have more time to do those things, it also falsely purports the idea that if you don’t do those things you will have wasted the time and opportunity given. Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to promote sloth during this time or any time for that matter, but I fundamentally believe that we as believers are called to something more, something higher, than busyness for busyness’ sake. I am reminded of my favorite scripture that has been a mainstay of my email signature for years, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, NRSV).
Upon reflecting upon this, I was led to the scripture passage found in Mark 4:35-41. We can use the clues from the text to understand what the scene was like. Verse 35 gives us the detail “when evening had come,” which appears to be just a simple detail. But, when you read on to verse 36, “And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.” We know in these first two verses that it has been a long day of constant work for the savior. Everywhere Jesus went crowds followed or were formed. These were not nicely behaved crowds who practiced manners. They weren’t seated and adhering to standards of etiquette like folks waiting to get into the most popular, overcrowded restaurant in town. This was a raucous crowd who came with their concerns, burdens, and troubles. They were pushing, better yet forcing their way through in order to get to Jesus. He has healed them, cast out demons, spiritually fed them through preaching and teaching, and provided for any and every need that arose. After all this, He retreats with His disciples away from the hustle and bustle.
In their departure from the busyness of the day, scripture tells us,“A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” I appreciate this particular version of the story that is also recorded in Matthew 8:23-27 and Luke 8:22-25 because we can often feel like the disciples do. This is the only version of the story where they ask, “do you not care that we are perishing?” Many of us may even be asking that right now in the midst of the coronavirus or because of some other unrelated situation that we find ourselves in. We may have prayed about our chronic unemployment for some time and we feel as though The Lord has ignored our cries. The loss (death or otherwise) may have been so traumatic that it causes us to wonder if God really even cares about us. Our body may have betrayed us, and it makes us question what our years of faithfulness and service to The Lord was for. Regardless of what it is, the sentiment is the same, “do you not care?”
Jesus’ response to their line of inquiry is insightful for all of us. First, we must acknowledge the fact that Jesus was asleep during the storm. He was resting in the midst of the turmoil and distress. The urgency on the part of the disciples was not an urgency that He shared. Jesus demonstrates a high level of what family systems theory refers to as a “differentiation of self.” In other words, He does not take on the emotions and conflict of others/the group he was with. He was in the stern, which is the back part of a boat. This means that he was far away from everyone and everything. He was also asleep on the cushion there. Even if he wasn’t sleep, these details would point to the fact that he was resting or relaxing. The scripture also tells us that they woke him up. He did not wake up himself or panic even though he along with them was right in the middle of the storm, problem, and turmoil. All of this reminds of a Netflix feature entitled “She Did That,” which chronicles Black Women entrepreneurship and the recent surge of Black Women owned businesses. One of the Black women that was highlighted said something that was insanely profound. She said, “I don’t make other people’s emergencies my own.” She was specifically referring to not working after 5 pm and on weekends. That was a part of her commitment to selfcare. Jesus is the exact same way in this scripture. He does not make the disciples panic, anxiety, and uncertainty his own. He has been going all day doing the work of the kingdom, and this was his time to rest and relax in order to rejuvenate. He was practicing self-care! But it is not some foreign concept as God Almighty even rested after the great work of creating the heavens and the earth, “And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done”(Genesis 2:2, NRSV)
It is also funny that he does not respond to their question verbally. Verse 39 reads, “He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.” It’s not immediately clear in the text, but I am led to believe that he did not immediately get up at their request. It is true that while this was going on, he did not wake up on his own. They came to wake him up and asked him if he really cared. Personally, I have always been a heavy sleeper. And, I have the ability to fall asleep anywhere and in a variety of settings. In college, if there were somewhere for me to sit, I could easily fall asleep in a crowded, loud, behaviorally wild party or kickback. As a pre-teen and teenager, while having an alarm clock, my mother was my ultimate alarm clock. She would come into my room and turn on the light or yell from her room, which was directly across from mine, to get up. There was always a time lapse between when she told me my behind needed to get up or did something that would prompt me to get up.
Whereas, I was a kid who, while being a heavy sleeper, was not necessarily motivated to get up for school or even church, Jesus is truly depleted from the days work. He may be 100 percent God, but he is also 100 percent human, and we have limits. Nevertheless, his response is one of action, as he literally quiets the storm while simultaneously quieting their fears and questioning of him. He then hits them with a question of his own, “He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”” Jesus is after all, the master of answering a question with a question. We are told in the concluding verse, “And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”” He renders them speechless. This is literally a drop mic moment where they are left with no response. They just talk amongst themselves about who this man is.
We can chalk this up, so to speak, to this being an earlier journey (ch.4) the disciples had with Jesus, but what is our excuse today? We have all of scripture, two thousand years of Christian witness, and our own testimonies but we still feel as though God has disappeared. We still feel as though The Lord has potentially left us to fend for ourselves. Ultimately, we still ask the question, “Teacher (Lord), do you not care?
In this post resurrection season (after Easter and before Pentecost Sunday) and reality (Jesus’ actual crucifixion and resurrection 2000 years ago) and in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic we may be asking that very same question. We may be asking what it all means when it seems like God is allowing a virus to overtake us. We may ask what it means when we are under inept leadership whose priority is the bottom-line and not the bodies piling up. We ask what it means and does God even care when we are experiencing our own health troubles, financial insecurity, familial turmoil, toxic work conditions, problematic living conditions, struggles in school, abandonment, and more. We may be asking, in light of the current pandemic, what are we supposed to get out of this. What is that more that Rev. Stefan referred to at the beginning of this devotional?
I believe this passage of scripture contains all of that.
For those of us asking what we are to gain in this time of forced stay at home, we should look no further than Jesus Himself. He outlines for us what we are to do. This is a time for replenishment and rejuvenation. Jesus does this same disappearing act throughout the Gospels. He appears to be indifferent to what is going on, but that is furthest from the truth. He is practicing self-care. He doesn’t only sleep, but he prays and meditates, seeking the calm that is so essential to our sanity and growth. He is seeking relationship with God and understands the importance of setting that time aside to do so. There will always be another distraction, a fire to put out, and something in need of your precious time and energy. So, regardless of what is happening, He understands that his relationship with God and the need to properly rest and replenish in order to properly do God’s will is top priority. How many of us can honestly say we understand and make that priority number one? Yeah. That should be our focus in this season – growing in relationship with our God and taking care of ourselves.
That is the more!
Additionally, when we grow in this area of our lives, we’re able to understand the character of God on a greater level than before. Relationship does that. Instead of taking on the stress and anxiety of our situation that leads us to feel as though God has left us hanging or, worse, that God doesn’t care, we should take on the disposition of God. The disposition of God is what Jesus displays. That disposition is one of being cool, calm, and collected. It is the “differentiation of self.” The Lord is the ultimate differentiator of self. Therapists have to practice this as it relates to their patients in order to effectively counsel them. The ultimate wise counselor that is our Lord may seem like He’s indifferent to our concerns at times, but that is not true. God is right there with us. God may not have the same reaction as we do, but that’s what makes God, God. It is analogous to a parent who witnesses their child fall. Oftentimes the child is waiting to see what the parent’s reaction will be. If it is one of panic, then the child will panic and cry. It intensifies what is already not an ideal situation. Can you imagine if our Heavenly parent reacted to some of the things we experience, in the same way that we often do? That’s not anyone or any force that we would or should have our faith and trust in. Thanks be to God that isn’t the case!
The character of Jesus in Mark 4:35-41 models for us how we should handle our current isolation. This is a time for us to take care of ourselves and grow in relationship with God in the ways that God has been desiring for us to do so. Remove the distractions. Don’t make other people’s emergencies your own. There is always something to do, but this is about your sanity and relationship with The Lord. His character also gives us a window into the character of God, as he was/is God in the flesh. That character is one of calm, levelness, and peace. What appears to be God disappearing on us or leaving us hanging is God providing us with reassurance. We are assured that God has everything under control. God is on the job, and what seems like a dire emergency to us is merely a passing storm that God can quiet with a mere word!