Asleep in the boat

24 June 2018
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 7B (RCL)

1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49
Psalm 9:9-20
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

The bulk of Mark’s Gospel (from 4:35 through 8:10) is organized around a repeated pair of miracles; a sea crossing and a feeding in the wilderness. This pattern should be familiar to readers of the Old Testament. Moses led the people across the Red Sea and fed them with manna in the wilderness. And just so we don’t miss the connection, Jesus’ first miracle after disembarking from the first miraculous crossing is the destruction of a demon named Legion (a unit of the Roman army) in a herd of 2000 pigs drowned in the sea, just as Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the sea.

The miracles sandwiched between the sea crossings and the feedings involved the restoration of the marginal or unclean to ceremonial purity. In the first instance, it is the Garasene demoniac (Legion), Jairus’ daughter (12 years old), and the woman with the flow of blood (persisting for 12 years – get the connection?). When Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter, he says to those around her, “Give her something to eat.” When the disciples ask him to send the crowd in the desert away to buy food, he says to them, “You give them something to eat,” using exactly the same vocabulary as with Jairus’ daughter. This is about crossing dangerous social boundaries to table fellowship, and joining the people on the desert way. In the second instance, the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter is healed, after a tense exchange between her and Jesus, in which she responds that even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.

In the second instance, Jesus is not in the boat, and when he comes to them walking on the sea, they think they are seeing a ghost. This is a post-resurrection appearance retrojected into the Gospel narrative. After Jesus’ death, the community had to negotiate allowing Gentiles into table fellowship. In Matthew’s account, Peter says to Jesus, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water. He steps out, but when he sees the storm, he begins to sink. I think this is Matthew’s reference to the Antioch incident that Paul relates in the second chapter of his letter to the Galatians. At first Peter ate with Gentiles, until certain men from James arrived, and he drew back.

In our circumstance, we might ask, who are those seeking to cross those boundaries into table fellowship, and what is the storm we are facing? It doesn’t take much imagination to see it on our southern border. And in the midst of this crisis, are we leaving Jesus asleep in the back of the boat? What would it take to wake him up (resurrect him, in the Greek)? What does it mean that we are afraid of perishing?

In the reading from 2 Samuel, we have the familiar story of David and Goliath. I think this story suggests the surprise of Judah/Israel finding itself a power player among the empires of the time. Who were these scrappy, insignificant people, and how did they manage to overthrow the Philistines? The story of the Exodus and entry into the land is really the story of a nomadic people moving into the interstices between the city/states of the time, and eventually taking over. There is a similarity in this process to the mustard seed of Jesus’ parable last week. I wonder how those of us who disagree with this administration’s policies (and with capitalism in general) might find ourselves as David. The story at least gives courage.

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