Proper 7, Year B, RCL, Track 1
1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41
Without God we find chaos. We see this in many stories of the Bible. In Genesis God creates order out of Chaos; forming the earth out of the unformed. In Exodus, chaos slowly enfolds upon Pharaoh. While Pharaoh is obstructing God plan to free the Israelites, Pharaoh’s life falls into chaos first by various plagues, losing his son and eventually, he loses his life when he falls into the chaos of mud, and water. Through God, out of this chaos, order is restored and the Israelites begin a new journey of faith.
We see a similar tale in the story in Beauty and the Beast in which a man, a prince, only looks out for his own wants and self-interests. In his depravity, he becomes a monstrous beast. When looking at this story as an allegory, the man may never have been an inhuman beast but just a beast of a man. The enchanted objects in the castle are the people whom he has belittled, alienated, and objectified. Eventually, there is no one left in his life and he becomes increasingly angry and lonely. He almost seems afraid of himself, in what he has become. It isn’t until he finds love that he is transformed from the beast back into a man. The story tells us that through love this horrible man found his humanity, becoming a prince of a man. And like this man, today we witness another man’s fall into chaos.
Early on, Saul starts as a relatively modest man. He didn’t desire to become king, but he is appointed the King of Israel. As his power rises, so does his worldly desires of grandeur and corruption. In almost equal proportions; his willingness to follow God decreases. He is told that what he is doing is against the will of God, but he doesn’t listen. In his obstinance and outright disobedience, he moves further and further away from God; until at some point, as the story says, God’s spirit left and he was filled with an evil spirit.
Evil, in this case, is not a demonic force or a supernatural being. It is the absence of God’s spirit in which Saul was left with himself, in misery; much like the prince in Beauty and the beast. Instead of an evil spirit, some translations call this spirit the spirit of sadness;[i] a state that we have put ourselves in. We also notice that this loss of spirit is not a permanent thing. It ebbs and flows and in our selection today the spirit of sadness rushed upon Saul.
God never left Saul, nor did God leave Pharaoh. But when we follow our self-interests over and over, attempting to put God out of our life, we are refusing to be in God’s presence and chaos can ensue. Let me make myself clear; God’s spirit left these people because of their continuing choices over years. Both Pharaoh and Saul made these choices by continually refusing to listen to God and the Godly people around them. If they could adjust their attitudes then they would allow the spirit of joy, happiness, and love to reenter their lives. This is vastly different from someone suffers from depression, mental illness, grief, or in any other way, God’s spirit has not left these people, nor are they being rejected. It is the illness or their psychological state that makes them feel that they have been abandoned. People in this state do not need others preaching to them on how to get God back in their life they. These people need the support of their loved ones and professionals.
Bad things happen to good people out of no fault of their own. David had spears thrown at him even though he was following God. The disciples found themselves caught in the midst of a terrible storm, even with Jesus in their boat. Just prior to our readings form today, Jesus and the disciples left a stormy situation only to find themselves in another. If we remember last week there was a crowd surrounding them. The crowd was calling Jesus a madman possessed by demons. The crowd pressed in on them so tightly that they couldn’t even eat their lunch. Today’s readings pick up in evening of that same day when they decide to escape this turbulent situation by boat.
Presumably, this evening is reasonably clear because other boats were with them on the sea. But quickly, a storm arose. The disciples are bailing out the boat, for it is being swamped. And Jesus? He is asleep, in the stern, on a pillow. When we actually think about this situation it seems quite ridiculous. Imagine being asleep in a small but heavy boat in the midst of a bad storm in which the water inside the boat is rising to the point of being swamped. Jesus’ head was on a pillow and by the sound of it, the pillow should be sopping wet. There are really two ways to go from here. One is that the disciples are overreacting and they are not perishing as they say. Through his peace, Jesus calms the storm of their overreacting minds. This way of thinking misses one of the main points of the story. The disciple’s lives are in danger.
All three of the synoptic Gospels have this story and in all three, the disciple’s lives are in peril. We have to conclude that Jesus is either completely worn out and in deep sleep from the previous storm, the storm of the people on the shore, or I suppose he could be faking his sleep so that he can observe how the disciples are reacting to their pending doom. In either case, the disciples, in their usual way, react with panic and fear. When they wake Jesus, he calms the storm and asks them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Jesus doesn’t only calm the storm but he calms their panic. Jesus is asking why are you panicking, I am with you and you do not need to be afraid.
Fear can grip our lives. The disciples were afraid of perishing in a natural disaster. King Saul was afraid of losing power. The Israelites, at times, are afraid of foreign enemies. All of these sound like common fears that we sometimes experience; fear of hurricanes, fear of immigrant, fear of terrorism. Sometimes we have done things in our lives and we are even afraid of ourselves and what we have become. There are all kinds of chaos and storms in our lives. We can become embroiled in stormy relationships and with stormy people. We may find ourselves in storms of endurance, afflictions, hardships, or calamities. No matter what the storm, panic, and fear are not going to save us.
The faith we are being called to is a faith of calm and peace; even in the midst of tragedy. These storms give us an opportunity for deepening our faith; to put our complete trust in God. When times seem bleak, not matter the reason for the storm, even in death itself, we have people who love us, and we can turn to Christ who is always with us even if he seems asleep in the boat. This is where our safety and salvation comes from. This is where we find peace out of chaos. And this is why Jesus asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
[i] Young's Literal Translation (YLT) 1898