(a Lection Reflection on Mark 4:35-41)
I have a guilty habit to share: I enjoy reading adventure novels. Jason Bourne, Dirk Pitt, Jack Ryan — I buy them in paperback, and usually read them in a couple of days. They’re brain candy, empty calories, but I still get a kick out of them.
The heroes in these books share at least one thing in common: they’ve learned to manage their fears. Over and over again, when faced with situations that would paralyze most of us, they are able to think through their options, make a plan, and execute that plan. And, of course, they ultimately come out on top. (Hard to have a series if you kill off the hero.)
So here’s my question for this week’s Gospel lection:
Is Jesus calling us to be superheroes?
I mean, look at verse 40. Having just calmed the storm, Jesus turns to the disciples in the boat and asks “Why are you so fearful?” The Greek work translated as “fearful” is the word δειλός. It is only used in three places in the New Testament: in this verse, in the parallel account in Matthew, and in Revelation 21:8, where it says that persons who are δειλός will be cast into the lake of fire.
If you look up δειλός in a Greek-English dictionary, it’s even worse: “cowardly, craven, fearful, yellow, recreant, chicken-hearted.” Essentially, Jesus is saying something like “Why are you such cowards?”
Wow — that’s pretty brutal. “Hey Jesus, don’t you get it? The boat was taking on water, and we were about to sink. We could have all drowned. Frankly, Jesus, we think anyone with any sense would have been terrified.” And yet, Jesus calls them out.
So let me ask again: Is Jesus being unreasonable? Is he calling us to be superheroes, able to quelch our fears even when facing death? Is that the lesson here?
In a word, No. Jesus is calling out their fear, not because being afraid in that situation was wrong, but because the way they handled their fear showed a lack of faith … or even more, a misplaced faith.
Let me be clear. I’m not talking about “amount” of faith. Let’s not get into the trap of “if you only had a little more faith, you could have overcome.” No, the question here is “where are you putting your faith?”
Superheroes, by and large, put their faith in themselves. They are able to overcome on their own — that’s why they are superheroes.
We, on the other hand, are called to put our trust in God. It is not our own abilities or our own strength that we stand on; it is the fundamental belief that “God knows, God cares, God can act.”
Look at verse 38. When the disciples wake Jesus, what do they say? Do they say something like “Jesus, this storm is bad, and the boat is sinking. We know you’ll have an answer, so what should we do?” THAT would have shown faith.
Instead, they shake him awake, shouting something like “Jesus, what’s wrong with you?!? Don’t you know WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!”
Jesus didn’t expect them to stand steely-jawed and silent in the face of the storm. He simply expected them to manage their fear by knowing that he was there, and that he was able, and that he would act.
We are not called to be fearless. We are called to face our fears by knowing that someone greater than our fears is present, and that Someone cares and can act.
The superhero stands and faces his or her fears alone. The Christian faces his or her fears knowing that someone even stronger is standing beside them or behind them. They take their fears to God, and manage those fears by doing so.
And wait for the answer.