Not Just a Three-Hour Tour

Photo credit: <a href="">Abdul Rahman</a>

Mark 4:35-41

That day, when evening came, he said to his students, “Let’s cross to the other side.”

So they left the crowd and took him in the boat, just like that, with other boats following. A gale arose, and the waves crashed over the boat, swamping it, but Jesus slept on a mattress in the stern. So they woke him up and said, “Teacher, aren’t you worried about going down?”

He got up and told off the wind, saying to the sea, “Settle down and be quiet.” The wind stopped, and a dead calm set in. And Jesus asked them, “Why are you worried? Where’s your confidence?”

At this, they were afraid, and they wondered, “Who is this? Even the wind and sea take orders from him.”

You can find the story of the perilous sea crossing in many ancient traditions. Jonah and the Whale. The Odyssey. St. Patrick’s crossing. King Arthur and the Lady of the Lake. Beowulf and Grendel. The Native American legend of Lelawala. The great flood legends of Gilgamesh (Assyria), Manu (Hindu), and Noah.

But they’re not confined to ancient times. Some of them are fairly recent. The Old Man and the Sea. Life of Pi. Gilligan’s Island.

Even (on the West side of the Atlantic) the myth of American formation is replete with perilous crossings. Christopher Columbus. The Pilgrims. The Middle Passage.

And, while all of these have some historical geographical connection to the sea, none of them is really about the sea. They’re about people’s perilous journey to become what they’re meant to be. Jung identified the journey with an individual’s journey into the discovery of the subconscious. But, beyond the psychology of individuals, these myths also have a meaning that impacts the cultural character of the communities that share them.

In Jesus’ and the disciples’ case as told by the Mark tradition, they’re about integration of Jewish and non-Jewish people into a single community, and more broadly, the universal scope of the gospel’s invitation. Jesus leads the disciples to “the other side” of humanity, not to convert them, but to include them. And the disciples’ resistance to radical inclusion is the storm that threatens to sink the boat (which in the New Testament is always a symbol of the church). Then and now.