Before moving on with our reflection, let us try to put ourselves in the situation of those men. It had been a long day. A large crowd had followed Jesus on that side of the lake, and he taught them a lot of things about God’s kingdom using a number of different parables. Now, in the evening, he gets in a boat with his disciples and asks them to take him “to the other side”. It was a strange request, as the other side was where the so-called pagans were. What was the point of going there at night? Then he grabbed a cushion and went to sleep at the stern of the boat, precisely at the place where the steering device of a boat lies, letting them do the hard work. Then a storm rose, and water started flooding the boat. In spite of this – I imagine that the water reached Jesus, and his cushion got soaked – Jesus slept. That’s when the disciples turned to him, in a mixture of anger and disbelief, and asked him that question.
Clearly, these are little details which show us that Mark wants to give us some important message, rather than an accurate account of the event. The boat is often used as a symbol of the Church. The first message of this story is that this boat is not meant to stay inside the port, or simply where the believers of Jesus are. Jesus asks the disciples to go to the other side, the side of the non-believers. Jesus’ Church is an evangelical Church. It’s reason of existence is to go out and bring the message of God’s kingdom to “others” as well. This is the task of the disciples of Jesus. He asks them to take him there, while he calmly slept on that same boat. Then there is the storm. In real life, it is highly unlikely for a big storm to happen on that small lake. Yet, the gospel wants to remind us that as the Church goes out on its mission to reach the others, storms are to be expected. Moreover, in moments like this sometimes Jesus seems to be absent. Yet, he is always on the boat, never abandoning it and never allowing it to sink. At the right moment he calms the storm so that the boat can peacefully continue on its journey.
The same dynamics happen in our personal lives, because each and everyone of us is a part of this Church. Each according to our own personal vocation, we share the Church’s mission of bringing the Good News to “others” whom we happen to meet in our lives. As we go along trying to live our lives as good Christians, we often encounter storms in our lives. We go through times when we think God is not listening, or that He does not care. Like the psalmist, we cry out, “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.” It is a cry that comes out from the heart, maybe a broken heart, and Jesus can never remain indifferent to that.
At the end of the story Jesus rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith, asking them “why are you afraid?” The lack of faith Jesus refers to is not because they asked the question, but because they let themselves be overcome by fear. “Do not be afraid” is one of the most common expressions to be found in the bible. The believer is encouraged not to be afraid not because he will not encounter problems or have difficult moments in life. Rather, it is because he knows that, during those moments, Jesus is present and will never allow him to perish under the stormy waters. As Saint Paul would say, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”