Mark accepted and retold all sorts of stories about Jesus doing and saying things that exceeded everybody’s expectations. After all, if you’re part of a community that stakes its entire life on the outrageous story of the living, humanly divine and divinely human presence of an executed criminal, you’re not going to hesitate to pass along other stories you’ve heard that reflect this outrageously pivotal story.
As a 21st-century Christian, I have all sorts of reasons to question the details of this week’s particular “stilling the storm” story. I know that Mark’s standards for fact-checking are not the standards most of us would use today. And yet I still belong to this community that stakes its entire life on the outrageous story of the living, humanly divine and divinely human presence of an executed criminal. So while I and many other thinking Christians would not unquestioningly accept that Jesus actually stopped a raging storm simply by speaking, I do live by a story that’s far more outrageous than this one. And I join with these disciples in the boat in asking, “Who then is this?”
I mean, really! Much more astonishingly than stopping a storm with a simple command, who then is this whose life still animates my life and the life of my community, despite a shameful execution? How could any truly human life do that? How could this human life somehow be one with God’s own life, the life whose power insistently draws all things (even storms) toward reconciliation? How can I not wonder at this? How can I not wonder at myself for staking my life on this? And yet I do. And so, eventually, did Jesus’ first followers.
“Who then is this?” In this episode Jesus’ followers are awestruck at his ability to put a stop to the forces of destruction simply by speaking. He seems to have power OVER these forces. But Mark’s longer story shows how Jesus did NOT put a stop to the forces of his own destruction, at least not in any way his followers expected of him. Instead of power OVER these forces, we might say that Mark gives us a glimpse of power UNDER them. Jesus lets the forces of destruction do him in, and then his God-saturated life demonstrates God’s power under them by refusing to remain done in. That’s resurrection.
Which story is harder to live by—a brief story hinting at power-OVER or this longer story of power-UNDER? Honestly, we prefer the power-OVER story, don’t we? But that’s not the story Mark‘s whole Gospel gives us. Mark’s power-UNDER story leaves us not just awestruck but utterly baffled. Who then is this who refuses to play power games by our rules? Who then is this God whom this loser’s life embodies?
This power-under One is the God who may well leave us asking, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Lots of us have been asking this question in the past year. Even as growing numbers of us are getting vaccinated, we have seen a lot of perishing. And nobody has woken up to make it all go away with a single command.
If we keep entreating the power-over God to step in and make all this go away, we’re going to feel utterly abandoned. Has God gone to sleep and forgotten about us? Was God never there to begin with?
But if we start awakening to the power-under God whom Jesus’ executed life embodies, there’s no reason to feel abandoned. The forces of destruction will not magically disappear. They are as resilient as this rapidly mutating virus. Nevertheless, our lives are filled and surrounded by the Life that is always more resilient than these forces can ever be. They will not have the last word. And we are never abandoned.