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 – NRSVCE)
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.
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.
Jesus’ “sleeping” in the boat recalls the farmer’s “sleeping” while the seed grows – see Mark 4:27. One 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.” (J R Donahue, & D J Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, The Liturgical Press, 2002,158.)
Interestingly enough, Mark has more detail than the other two Gospels: “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, Eerdmans, 2002, 147-148.)
One of the more delightful details in the Gospels is found in this story of Mark. This is the only time in the Gospel we hear of Jesus sleeping – and it is in the midst of a storm! The disciples – presumably seasoned sailors – are terrified. What are we to make of this?
In the first place, there is a world of difference between the way Jesus sees things and the way the disciples see things. Jesus represents, not only a different way of thinking and acting. This is clearly seen in the contrasting questions they ask of each other. The disciples’ question to Jesus, “do you not care?”, is countered by Jesus’ question to the disciples, “have you no faith?” In fact, Jesus’ question contains a note of exasperation: ” have you still no faith?”
In other words, faith makes all the difference in how we experience such events as threatening storms.
Consider the way that Friday of Jesus’ crucifixion would have seemed to the disciples. They certainly would not have called it Good Friday! It took the empty tomb and the appearances of the Risen Lord to change their perspective. Faith – which is an experience of knowing in one’s being that Jesus is Lord – enables us to see things as they are.