And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
(Mark 4:41, NRSV)
One of the themes of the Gospel of Mark is that the disciples simply don’t get what’s going on. In fact, they go from not understanding Jesus to outright denying him. It isn’t exactly a flattering portrait. One scene in Mark that brings this out particularly well comes in Mark 4:35-41.
Jesus was teaching “a very large crowd” by the Sea of Galilee. He steps into a boat, sits down, and from that position begins telling them a parable about seeds (4:1-9). Apparently, some of the crowd leaves and all that remain are his disciples and a few others (4:10). These represent the inner circle, the ones to whom “has been given the secret of the kingdom” (4:11). Jesus then explains the parable about the seeds to the inner circle, explaining that it is the key to “all the parables” (4:13). He then tells them more parables: about a lamp (4:21-25), about a growing seed (4:26-29), and about a mustard seed (4:30-32).
|With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples (Mark 4:33-34).|
So the disciples are the recipients of the meaning of the parables while those on the outside are not. You would think that they would start to grasp the situation they were in and who Jesus really was.
After a long day of teaching, Jesus tells his disciples that they should hop in their boat and travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which would place them in the region of the Decapolis.
As they are travelling, “a great wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped” (4:37). The disciples, concerned with their fate, head to the stern of the ship and find Jesus fast asleep.2
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they ask him. He does. He wakes up, and rebukes the wind: “Peace! Be still!” Immediately the storm dies down and the Sea of Galilee is calm. But this scene is not simply about Jesus’ authority to exorcise the storm from the sea.3
It is about the disciples reaction to adverse events. He asks them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
This pericope serves a number of functions in the Markan narrative. First, it illustrates Jesus’ authority over the Sea of Galilee. Second, Jesus uses exorcism language to deal with the tempest as a prelude to the exorcism he performs of the demon-possessed man of Gerasene. Third, it serves as a reminder that discipleship involves more than just knowing Jesus. The disciples lacked faith and faith for Mark is vital for the Christian community. The tumultuous events of the Jewish War are either ongoing or in the background of Mark’s writing so they know that in times of adversity they must trust Jesus knows what he’s doing.
Despite being part of the inner circle, despite being with Jesus virtually non-stop, and despite seeing him perform a miracle of the magnitude of controlling natural forces, the disciples still can’t figure him out. The scene ends with the disciples asking, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
But the reader knows. This is Jesus the Messiah, son of God (Mark 1:1).
1 Lane Dennis, executive editor, ESV Study Bible (Crossway Bibles, 2008), 1,894.
2 Some of the imagery used by Mark here is borrowed from the book of Jonah.
|4:37 “A great windstorm”||1:4 “A great wind, and…a mighty storm”|
|4:37 “The boat was already being swamped”||1:4 “The ship threatened to break up.”|
|4:38 “He was…asleep”||1:5 “Jonah…was fast asleep”|
|4:38: “They woke him up”||
1:6 “The captain came to him”
3 Robert Guelich notes that the language Jesus uses to rebuke the storm closely parallels the words he used in the exorcism of the demon in Mark 1:25.
|“By having Jesus address the elements as though they were demonic, a theme that appears in Judaism (e.g., 2 Enoch 40:9; 43:1-3; 69:22; 4 Ezra 6:41-42; Jub. 2:2), the story underscores the nature of the struggle….” (Guelich, Mark 1 – 8:26, WBC [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989], 267).|
3 thoughts on “Musings on Mark: “Who Then Is This?””
As you probably know, what Mark leaves implicit—”this is God’s son”—Matthew puts in the mouths of his disciples.
Interesting that Mark has two sea storm stories and two feeding stories that are seemingly supposed to interpret each other. The disciples are astounded by Jesus’ walking on water because “they did not understand about the loaves” (Mark 6:52). How are the two connected? The only thing I can think is that these miracles are supposed to invoke the Exodus story: if he can feed people in the wilderness then he can deal with the sea.
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Yeah, I have not settled in my mind what is going on with “they did not understand about the loaves.” It’s obviously playing on the secrecy motif/the disciples misunderstanding. But it’s just…odd.