Connections 06.20.2021: Just As He Was (and As We Are)

Mark 4:35-41

Most modern scholars think that Mark’s Gospel was the first Gospel to be written. They furthermore think that both Matthew and Luke used Mark’s Gospel as a source in composing their Gospels.

I realize that this sounds like the kind of observation that non-experts might regard as something that only experts care about. But knowing that Matthew and Luke used and edited Mark can help us read the Gospels with greater understanding, which is something all followers of Jesus want to do.

For example, both Matthew and Luke cut some lines from Mark’s story of Jesus and his disciples’ crossing of the sea and Jesus’ calming of the storm. After Jesus tells the disciples to go with him to the other side of the lake—which all three Synoptic Gospels report—only Mark says, “And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him” (4:36). (The parallel accounts are in Matthew 5:23-27 and Luke 8:22-25.)

It’s not hard to guess why Matthew and Luke left those parts of Mark’s account out of their versions of it. The line that says that the disciples “took [Jesus] with them in the boat, just as he was” doesn’t seem to make such sense. Commentators suggest that Mark may mean that Jesus just remained in the boat from which he had been teaching. (See 4:1; Jesus does all of his teaching in 4:2-34 from the boat.) So Mark could just mean that Jesus didn’t go ashore before he and the disciples set sail. A related possibility (and this is me speaking, not some other commentator, and certainly not the Lord) is that Mark is subtly establishing the connection between Jesus’ teaching authority and his authority over the forces opposed to Jesus that the sea symbolizes.

Mark’s other detail that Matthew and Luke leave out is, “Other boats were with him.” It is again not hard to guess why the writers, compilers, and editors who produced the Gospels of Matthew and Luke left that detail out. After all, Mark never mentions the other boats again, so they seem superfluous to the narrative. Commentators suggest that the writers, compilers, and editors who produced the Gospel of Mark just found the line in the traditions they based their Gospel on and decided to leave it in. This is of course possible, but we’re still left with the question of why the tradition had the line in the first place.

As I said, I can understand why Matthew and Luke left out the line about the other boats. But I still wonder why Mark left it in. I mean, there must have been a reason. At the risk of engaging in too much speculation, I’d like to make a proposal. Before I do, let’s acknowledge a few things.

First, the Gospel of Mark includes the line about the other boats, and so it must be there for a reason. Second, other boats were with Jesus, then there were people in them (boats don’t sail themselves). Third, the story never mentions the other boats again. Fourth, unless we are to assume that the writers, compilers, and editors of Mark’s Gospel were at best careless, and at worst incompetent, then we must conclude that they intentionally left the line in. This would mean that, fifth, we are supposed to imagine the people in the other boats as silently witnessing and benefitting from Jesus’ stilling of the storm.

This leads me to my proposal: maybe we are supposed to see ourselves as passengers in other boats, only our boats are much farther away from the events on the sea than the people in the other boats in the story were. Think about it: the people in the other boats didn’t hear the disciples who were in the boat with Jesus ask him if he cared that they were at risk of dying. They didn’t hear Jesus tell the sea to settle down. But they did receive the benefit of what Jesus did.

The people in the other boats also didn’t hear Jesus challenge the disciples who were in the boat with him to have more faith. They didn’t hear those disciples asking each other, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” But we can imagine them asking those disciples what Jesus said, and we can imagine them also wondering who this one was to whose authority even the storm had to submit.

We are just as we are. We are not in the boat with Jesus. We are recipients of the witness that Jesus’ disciples shared with the people in the other boats, who shared it with people who were even further removed from the event, and so on and so on, until the good news made it down to us.

We are in boats—in places, times, situations, circumstances, and lives—that are far, far away from the boat that Jesus and the disciples were in. But we still encounter the storms. And Jesus is still “just as he was”—he is still the Son of God who has the authority, the compassion, and the love to see us through.

And we still benefit, as we are here and now, from who he always has been and always will be.

Discussion

  • Can you think of other possible explanations for why Mark tells us that “other boats were with him”?
  • Do you think the disciples should have awakened Jesus? Why or why not?
  • What does Jesus’ stilling of the storm say about who he is? About what he does here and now?
  • Why do you think Jesus asks the disciples if they “still” have no faith (v. 40)? Why should they have already developed more faith? Why should we have?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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