When I was growing up, I remember watching the “Wizard of Oz” almost every year. Do you remember it? It was a classic story, full of wonderful special effects, an excellent company of friends in Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and Toto, too, the Wicked Witch of the West and the flying monkeys were great villains, and there was the enigmatic Wizard of Oz, who was good at sending people on impossible quests and not very good at working real magic in the end. It’s interesting that the gifts he gave at the end were basically recognition for what they had already. Then after an failed balloon ride, the good witch comes back and tells Dorothy that after all the trials and adventures she’s gone through, the way back to Kansas was in the ruby slippers she’s been wearing all along. All she has to do is click her heels together three times and say: “There’s no place like home.” Mystery solved, happy ending. Although all the business about the trip seems a bit trivial, perhaps.
There’s a mystery in the Gospel of Mark, and the disciples really don’t get it for most of the story. The question is: who is Jesus? They have an idea that he’s more than just a great teacher, but figuring out exactly who he is baffles them, even after Peter’s profession of faith shortly. In today’s Gospel reading, they’re someplace they’ve been many times before, since most of them are fishermen. They’re crossing the Sea of Galilee at night in a boat, and a windstorm has come up. They happen unexpectedly in that part of the work: they can start and stop at random in that huge fresh water lake almost completely surrounded by mountains. But there’s more to the story in the culture of that time.
The sea in biblical times is the sign of chaos: the uncontrollable power of nature that can lash out unexpectedly to devastate and destroy without warning. Most of the creation myths of the surrounding countries talked about how the creator God harnessed the ocean, parting the sea to make the dry land arise like the book of Genesis talks about, and brought order where there was none before. The Disciples are worried about being swallowed up in primitive chaos, by powers beyond human control.
Jesus is asleep in the bottom of the boat. From our perspective, this should be a signal that everything’s going to be all right, because if Jesus is asleep what could really go wrong. But they’re worried about going under and they wake him up with a strange line: “Does is matter to you that we are going to die?” On a person level, that’s a bit of attitude coming out, isn’t it? On the larger scale, it’s a typical cry of those about to be inundated by chaos, and most of the gods of antiquity were indifferent to individual human survival. The disciples are desperate, so they wake Jesus up.
He doesn’t spend much time setting things right, does he? Tells the wind to be still, tells the disciples they’re worry warts, and then presumably goes back to sleep. And the disciples wonder who’s in the boat with them.
The answer should be pretty clear from the bits of cultural analysis we just walked through. Who is that can control primitive chaos? The Creator God. Jesus is the Son of God; the answer is in front of them, and they really don’t get it. The means of their deliverance from any danger is right in front of them and they don’t realize it.
There are times when Christ seems a long way away. There was a Bette Midler song, “From a Distance,” that was popular around the first Gulf War. But I think that’s a dumb song; because God is not watching us from a distance. God is right here with us right now in Christ. The one who can calm any storm that shakes our spirit is right here, right now, and in a few moments we will share His body and His blood.
It’s easy to forget that the one who guides us, who keeps us from losing ourselves in the chaos of life, who strengthens us to face anything life can throw at us, is right here, right now, and will help us whenever we are open to His help. The presence of Christ is here, and it’s the only presence that matters. It may be here in different guises, through different people, but it’s here as we rock in the storms of our life, and it’s here to calm the waves whenever we sincerely ask.