The storm-tossed situation of the boatload of disciples fits well with what we know of Galilean patterns of severe weather and first-century Palestinian fishing boats. The Sea of Galilee sits cupped in a bowl of mountainous highlands. The contrast between the warmth of the sun- heated water and the coolness of the evening air sometimes induces surprisingly turbulent waters that threaten to swamp the gunwales of even the sturdiest Galilean rowboats.
So the disciples likely experienced the kind of scare portrayed in this Sunday’s Gospel more than once. But Mark's narrative carries far more meaning than a mere report of a storm, more even than a once-upon-a-time miracle acount. Mark is portraying what life can be like in the Church after Easter and hinting at the divinity of Jesus.
In the art and literature of the ancient Mediterranean world, a boat or ship was a common symbol for community, especially a community at risk. It is an image we evoke spontaneously when, finding ourselves in a group experiencing a shared threat, we say, “It looks like we're all in the same boat.” Mark has carefully tied this episode to the day of parable teaching, in which Jesus has spoken of the reign of God spread by the sown word of the gospel. Following Jesus' commission to cross to the other side—which in the story line of Mark would be the side of the Gentiles—the disciples take Jesus with them anda violent storm blows up. Though Jesus is with them, the fact that he is, like Jonah, sleeping through it all leads them to feel he is out of touch with their crisis. They wake him up, addressing him as “Teacher.”
Mark's language for describing Jesus' actions is carefully chosen. Rising, he "rebuked" the sea. "Rebuke" is precisely what the Teacher did to the unclean spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mark 1:25), and it is also the language of Ps 106:9, which speaks of Yhwh rebuking the sea during the Exodus event. The command to be quiet is literally, “Be muzzled!”—the same command Jesus used to address unclean spirits (Mark 1:25 again). Jesus challenges their lack of faith and they respond in words that acknowledge Jesus as far more than a sleepy teacher: "Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?"
This question opens the horizon to the divinity of Jesus. For, as exemplified in Sunday’s first reading from the “whirlwind speech” of God to Job, mastery of the waters of chaos is a dominant image of the Creator in the Hebrew Bible. See, for example, the creation account of Genesis 1, the book of Jonah, and Ps 65:8; 89:10; 107:25-32. (This last passage portrays the Lord calming the sea when frightened sailors cry out in distress.) The message is clear: the power of the Lord Jesus to save is nothing less than the power of the Creator and Lord of heaven, earth, and sea. Our redeemer is our Creator. If in our Church life we seem to be at sea, our boat shipping water, the Lord apparently napping, fear not. We are all in the same boat, and it is being watched and cared for.