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Mark 4: 35 – 41.

Some of you will know that this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the theft of a number of art treasures from the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum. It was the night of 19 March 1990 that two thieves, dressed at Boston policemen, broke into the museum, stole 13 paintings, and literally vanished into thin air. It’s the biggest art theft in American history, and no trace has ever been found of either paintings, or the men. Still to this day, because of the terms of Mrs. Gardner’s will, which stipulates nothing can be moved or changed, you can go to the museum and see the empty frames where the paintings once hung.

One of those stolen paintings was Rembrandt’s 1633 oil on canvas painting of The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.

If you have ever been caught in a storm on a body of water, you’ll know exactly how terrifying they can be. The world seems to be moving every which way, all at the same time, and there is nothing between you and certain death by drowning except what seems to be a flimsy bit of wood or metal, even if the vessel you are on is a great ocean going liner.

The terror on the faces of the disciples in Rembrandt’s painting is clear, as they strain at the oars, or try to control the sails. Yet in the midst of this is a calm Jesus, roused from his sleep with the urgent query, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’[1] Matthew’s version of this same story has an even greater sense of urgency, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’[2]

At the urging of the disciples, Jesus woke from his sleep, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.[3]

In a moment, in an instant, everything has changed, and the fear and terror that had gripped the disciples is replaced by amazement and no little sense of bewilderment. 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?’[4]

Even though I don’t spend a great deal of my time on bodies of water, I must confess to often feeling at sea, even at times being tossed about in the midst of a storm, crying out, ‘Teacher, do you not care that [I am] perishing?’ 

The power of this story for me, is how true it is to my own experience of life. I often feel tossed about in the midst of a storm, and like the disciples, I am afraid.

For most of us, probably for all of us, certainly me, fear is a well-known emotion. We all know what it is like to live with fear, just as did the disciples. Yet into the midst of this fear comes Jesus, who speaks words of assurance and peace, not just to the disciples, but to us as well, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And when he does a dead calm follows.

I don’t know what you are afraid of today, and I am not saying that you shouldn’t be afraid, what I am saying is that in the midst of that fear, we can sometimes hear Jesus uttering words of peace. So next time your heart sinks, your stomach flips, you strain at the oars battling the wind and waves of life, don’t be afraid to cry out, as did the disciples, ‘Teacher, do you not care that [I am] perishing?’ And then open your ears. You might just hear above the noise of your fear, Jesus speaking words of peace, as you cower in fear in your storm tossed boat, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And when he does you might also find, even for a moment, that dead calm, and you will know that your life is being saved.


[1] Mark 4: 38b

[2] Matthew 8: 25b

[3] Mark 4: 39

[4] Mark 4: 41

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1 Comment

  1. James Rowland on February 7, 2020 at 08:41

    Thank you, Br. James. I appreciate your reflection “clear your ears” and listen. This takes vigilance I sometimes have and sometimes don’t have. Often only the Jesus Prayer or the Angelic Salutation clears the way. Sometimes only a deep breath.

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