Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Proper 11, Wednesday, Year 1 - Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth & Harriet Ross Tubman

Mark 4:35-41

Alas, I don't have much to say about the amazing women who are remembered in the calendar today, other than just how proud I am to be part of a church that recognizes their contributions to our modern world and honors them with a regular religious observance.

Instead, I have another reflection on the value of reading multiple translations of the Bible. Today's Gospel passage is the familiar story, found in all three synoptic Gospels, of Jesus and the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat, only to have a terrible storm arise, threatening to swamp the boat and drown them. Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat, and the apostles wake him in terror and cry, "Do you not care that we are perishing?"

Jesus "rebukes" the wind and says to the sea, "Peace, be still." The wind dies down and the sea becomes calm, and Jesus says, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"

The reader, of course, has the benefit of knowing who it is in the boat with them and, also, of not being in a small, fragile craft in the middle of a tempest. It's easy for us to scoff and think, "Pfft, they were with Jesus, really...what did they think could happen?"

But from their perspective, they were on the verge of imminent and unpleasant death, and their leader was not only not concerned or trying to help, he was asleep. It's not so strange that they were panicking.

The lesson for us is that Jesus asks us to trust that even now, right now, Jesus is in that boat with us. And yet, do we live our lives like that? How many of us have confidence to weather the storms, as the metaphor goes, without anxiety? That's hard, because to us it often does seem that perhaps Jesus is asleep or not paying attention; we need help, we want assurance of safety, and we want it right now. The Bible asks us to believe that we do have it, right now and always. "Have you still no faith?"

Note, however, the disciples' collective response to this miracle.

The King James Version has Jesus ask, "Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?"

And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Beautiful. Why are ye so fearful?....And they feared exceedingly. So typical, right? It doesn't seem to matter how often God comes to our rescue in life, or how spectacularly obvious the intervention is, we cling to our fear. In this case, the miracle not only didn't inspire faith and confidence in the disciples, they became more afraid.

The language here matters, and this seems to be yet another occasion when the KJV, for all its shortcomings, strikes closer to the original Greek, which can be translated, "And they feared a great fear." "Fear" is the important word, we are to note that "fear" is the response to "why are you afraid"?

The NRSV, however, phrases it, "And they were filled with great awe." No!

I understand the editors' desire in many places to use "awe" instead of "fear" because this common phrase "fear of the Lord" doesn't make much sense in the context of God's repeated invitation, "Fear not." Awe, not fear, is the appropriate response in the presence of the Divine.

But the disciples do not respond appropriately; they are not filled with holy awe at the miracle they have just seen, they are filled with fear. That matters for the meaning of the story.

1 comment:

kr said...

inductive thinking: the point is at the end ;) ...

a friend had a friend who was meditating and when they opened their eyes (or thought they did) they were in infinite undefined space ... they panicked and closed their eyes and willed to reground in their expected reality/body

a friend of my mom's once levitated while praying; he didn't worry about it because he was praying/ecstatic at the time and only later realized that levitating was not a 'proper'/normal part of reality (because at that moment it was)

I read a book called The Holographic Universe which I thought did a pretty decent job of mashing together most of my experience of miracles with most of what we know about math and edge physics and a few other things, but essentially asserted that we have a huge amount more capability to define reality, or that reality is far more flexible/bigger, than most people think is possible.

I liken all of these things to the Step of Faith scene in Indiana Jones and the (Holy Grail), or the similar but failed version with Neo jumping from a tall building in The Matrix ...

How many of us are actually truly ready to live a miraculous life? 24/7? That life could be *all* miracle? I admit the idea, but I haven't stepped into it. Fear of that kind of life has caused some major and very violent backlash (see also the Hughenots, who apparently were a bunch of crazy miraculous-lifers freaking out the 'normal' people).

What is, then, interesting to me in considering your post is that these same 'fearful' disciples eventually went out and did all the miraculous stuff themselves ... I suppose it is another set of what I would call developmental description inherent in the Bible ... although I have bits and pieces of this in considering Peter's life path, I had not considered that the journeys of the others were implicit in some of the group scenes ...