Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for the Twelth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) (23 June 2024)

Gospel for the Twelth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) (23 June 2024)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 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 4:35-41 – NRSV).

Introductory notes


This same story is recounted in Matthew 8:23–27 and Luke 8:22–25 – reminding us of the dependence of both Matthew and Luke on Mark.

“The calming of the storm is full of vivid details, many of which are flattened or omitted in the versions of the story in Matt 8:23–27 and Luke 8:22–25. Mark’s version is replete with eyewitness characteristics: the hour of day (v. 35), the reference that the disciples took Jesus from the boat in which he was sitting (v. 36), the presence of other boats (v. 36), the boat’s drawing water (v. 37), Jesus’ sleeping on the cushion (v. 38), the disciples’ sarcasm (v. 38) and Jesus’ rebuke (v. 40). Moreover, the description of the disciples’ fear in v. 41 is redundant in Greek (smoothed out in the NIV, “they were terrified”), reflecting an underlying infinitive absolute in Hebrew. Particulars such as these are evidence of firsthand narration, and Peter is again a likely source. These historical details are not related randomly and inchoately, as one might find in a diary entry, for example. The story exhibits sophisticated theological thought and reflects in particular the influence of Jonah 1 and Ps 107:23–32. The calming of the storm illustrates Mark’s larger purpose of interpreting historical events theologically so as to show Jesus as God incarnate and his significance for discipleship” (J R Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002, 147-148).

Mark tells a very similar story in 6:45-52. In this latter incident however, Jesus is not asleep in the boat but comes to them across the water, emerging from the very heart of the storm as it were.


Let us go across to the other side: Jesus’ mission had begun on the shore of Galilee when he called the first disciples – see 1:16-20. There are two things to note in this statement signalling an important development. Firstly, it announces, as it were, that Jesus is on the move. He belongs to no particular place and yet every place. His preaching will take him beyond the boundaries of Galilee, and eventually, through his disciples, to the whole world. Secondly, this is the beginning of a number of crossings of the Sea of Galilee, from the west – mostly inhabited by the Jews – to the east – mostly inhabited by the Gentiles. This crossing takes him to the east in 5:1; he returns to the west in 5:21; another voyage from west to east begins in 6:45; the return to the west is in 6:53. He then makes a journey on land to the north that eventually terminates in the east in 7:31 and returns to the West in 8:10. There is another voyage to the east as part of his visit to Caesarea Philippi in 8:13. He returns to Galilee by land in 9:30. An earlier reference comes to mind: “‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons’” (1:38-39).

And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him: What are we to make of these details, that “they took him as he was” and that “other boats were with him”? We are left to wonder.

A great windstorm arose etc: Perhaps we are to think of Jonah here? (See Jonah 1:4-6). Perhaps too, Jesus’ “sleeping” in the boat recalls the farmer’s “sleeping” while the seed grows – see Mark 4:27. “As Jonah retired to the bowels of the ship and fell into a deep sleep (Jonah 1:5), Jesus is also described by Mark sleeping on a sailor’s cushion in the stern of the boat. Ironically, the only place in the Gospels that we hear of Jesus sleeping is during a storm. The scene depicts his complete trust in God in the midst of adversity, like the farmer in the preceding parables (4:3–9, 27) who trusts God’s providential working over all obstacles and adversities. As in the Jonah story, the disciples, some of them veteran seamen, are terrified by the ferocity of the storm. The captain of Jonah’s ship upbraids Jonah for sleeping while the crew is perishing (LXX, apollymi); likewise the disciples reproach Jesus, “ ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown (Gk. apollymi)?’ ” Matt 8:25 softens the reproach to a prayer, and Luke 8:24 to a plea for help. The rudeness of Mark’s wording reflects the way frustrated and desperate people speak (cf. Luke 10:40) and is probably a verbatim reminiscence of the disciples’ response in the crisis. A later editor is not likely to have made Jesus the object of such a reproof. The divine humility of Jesus is made evident by his tolerance of the reproaches of his disciples. That same humility will be evinced later when verbal reproach turns to outright abandonment (14:50)” ( J R Edwards, op cit, 149)

Another scholar observes that “an untroubled sleep is a sign of trust in the power and protection of God (Prov 3:32–34; Pss 3:5; 4:8; Job 11:18–19). The almost comic contrasts among the deep sleep of Jesus, the raging sea, and the terror of the disciples heighten the power of the word of Jesus” (Daniel J Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, The Liturgical Press, 2002,158).

Peace! Be still!: Jesus speaks to the wind as “someone” he knows. There is an unmistakable reference to Genesis here. In the beginning “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind (ruah) from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). Thus, God brings cosmos from chaos. One of the creation stories focuses on the creative power of God’s “breathing”: “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7); Ezekiel is drawn into this creative “breathing” of God: “Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live’.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude” (37:9-10); Wisdom reminds us: “they failed to know the one who formed them and inspired them with active souls and breathed a living spirit into them” (15:11).

The ruah – “breath” – of God plays such a creative part throughout the Bible. In the Septuagint it is translated as pneuma, in the New Testament it is pneuma which is translated in Latin as Spiritus and in English as Spirit.

A very human Jesus

In today’s Gospel – Mark 4:35-41 – we have an account – one of two that Mark relates – of Jesus with the disciples, out on the lake in a storm. The details of this account and the fact that the story is also found in Matthew (8:23–27) and Luke (8:22–25), suggest that we are dealing with an historical event. One of the details is remarkable: Jesus is asleep! There is no other occasion in the Gospels where we are told that Jesus is asleep. What might we make of this detail?

Recall what Mark has already told us in the first chapters of his Gospel. After Jesus’ baptism (1:9-11), “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness (and) he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him” (1:12-13). Following this ordeal, “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news’” (1:14-15). There is a sense of urgency. Jesus is facing a huge task!

Then, with the first disciples (1:16-20) he begins a hectic round of teaching and healing. He is plunged into the tough reality of human beings confronting evil, dealing with illness and alienation, longing for redemption. Immense expectations are evoked: “They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee … they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons” (1:27-28 & 32-34).

Clearly his family was deeply concerned about him: “He went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind’” (3:19-21).

The opening sentence of today’s Gospel is suggestive: “he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was”. Is it not reasonable to interpret Jesus’ request – “Let us go across the other side” – as his desire for a break? And so “they took him with them in the boat, just as he was”. Jesus is exhausted. He needs solitude and rest. The constant interactions with needy people, all of them expecting some special attention and action from him, would surely have taken its toll. No wonder he was asleep!

Is sleep perhaps part of Jesus’ mission? There are times when we all must trust God to take care of the world while we rest too.