Fr Andrew's thought for the week - 20 June
I have no idea if it was a change in Bible version or what, but I have never really noticed a small detail in today’s Gospel. The cushion. The story is familiar. Slightly paraphrased: After a full day of teaching a crowd by a lake, Jesus said, “Let’s go to the other side.” So, Jesus and the disciples climbed into a boat and headed out. A storm came up. The disciples, capable fishermen, familiar with water, woke Jesus screaming over the squall, “Do you not care about us. At all?!” Jesus got up, told the storm to settle down, and then in the eerie quiet said, “Why were you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Terrified, the disciples asked each other, “Who is this? Even the weather obeys him.” I noticed the cushion in Mark’s gospel. “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.” (Mark 4:38)
How many times have I heard or read about Jesus and the storm and never noticed the cushion?! In the past, when I read this story, I think I was giving all my attention the disciples. I still do I suppose. There are the disciples panicking, bailing water, hustling, and screaming. And Jesus is on the pillow, asleep! I think I would be shaking him awake too wouldn’t you!? The reaction of Jesus is surprising too isn’t it. He calms the storm, but then chides the disciples. Just what is Jesus trying to say by both words and actions? There is a message in there somewhere, deeper than the obvious. Perhaps Jesus is giving us an example to follow. As I was preparing to write this, I read in a commentary about the psalm which in some lectionaries accompanies this reading, it is Psalm 131 The Revised Standard Version calls Psalm 131 “A song of quiet trust.” 1 My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. 3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore. This in turn made me think of Isaiah’s words (Ch30 v15) In quietness and trust is your strength The story of Jesus and the storm, Isaiah’s words, and Psalm 131 have been whirring round in my mind since I read them together. Jesus calmed and quieted the storm and then he asked the disciples why they were afraid. Did they have so little faith? In the psalm David calmed and quieted himself and asked Israel to put their hope in the Lord. Isaiah, in a time of great danger & tribulation, counselled quietness and trust.
All three mention calm and quiet
All three point to faith—hope—in the Lord
All three create space for chaos, be it an unexpected storm or matters that are too great for us to understand
All show that calm can be a response to chaos
Mark could have easily left out the cushion. Like Matthew or Luke, he could have simply said, “Jesus was sleeping” which would have still stood out as an unusual response to a violent storm. But he added the detail about the cushion. In some versions it is a pillow – a pillow you sleep on. Was this a deliberate move by Jesus? Did he take the pillow to make a point? In the psalm David tells us he has calmed and quieted himself. Too often, we think we need the storm to stop for us to be quieted and calm. But part of the good news Jesus came to proclaim is that external circumstances do not have to dictate internal responses. Of course, we will still be influenced by life. We will be rocked by the storms. Jesus did not levitate in the boat, separated from the reality of the storm around him. Having emotions in chaotic situations is good and a normal response. Dealing with chaotic situations is good and a normal response. But being calm in chaotic situations is also good and a normal response, especially for we, who put our trust in God. Perhaps Jesus is asking you, “Will you join me on the cushion when chaos comes?”