On Sunday, I preached on Mark 4:35-41, a very familiar text to many that have grown up in the church. However, I took it in a direction that maybe you haven’t heard from a pulpit before. So here’s a few thoughts on it. But first, the passage:
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But 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?’ 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’
Many of the sermons preached on this topic have revolved around either that the miracle proves that Jesus is the Messiah and/or that Jesus is God, or the metaphorical sense of the passage that there are many storms we encounter in life and we need to have faith through such instances. However, what struck me about this passage was the disciples response to Jesus. After Jesus rebukes them for being afraid and having little faith, we read that the disciples were filled with great awe. If we turn to the Greek however, we read something slightly different: “They feared great fear” or “They feared with great fear”. Not only is Mark relaying to his readers that the disciples were afraid by the usage of the verb “to fear”, but he emphasizes the “fear” aspect by using a noun form to modify the verb form. They feared with great fear. Namely, they feared Jesus with great fear. This is what puzzles me about the passage. The disciples are first afraid of the storm, Jesus rebukes both the storm and the disciples, and the disciples walk away from the incident still afraid. Only now, they are afraid of Jesus, not the storm.
Thus, maybe, faith is not the absence of fear, but rather the very presence of it. Maybe a true faith must hold an aspect of fear in it to be any sort of faith at all. But the fear must be directed towards the only one worthy of our fear, namely God. From the story as Mark recounts it, Jesus doesn’t rebuke the disciples for being afraid of himself, only when they are afraid of the storm. Maybe for faith to be faith, we must have a fear of God, not a fear that paralyzes us to the point where we no longer act out of this faith, and not a fear that quickly is transformed into legalism, where our faith becomes a checklist of things to do to escape this God-figure, but rather a fear that locates us in a proper place in comparison to God. A fear that allows us to be humans, rather than gods. This fear places us in perspective of God, which never allows us to be gods but it also doesn’t allow us to be animals. It’s a fear that makes us human.
In faith, we need fear. A fearless faith is a faith absent of God.