Monday, October 31, 2005

Asleep At the Wheel: The Gospel of Mark and Polytheism

Polytheism is a word we do not think about to often. The word means “many gods.” The term suggests that an individual believes and worships more than one God or Lord. We do not meet many people who are polytheists, here in America, so most of us understand worship as a one on one relationship with a god or divine being. Balance is a word we do understand. Balance means that everything is equal, in harmony, or in order.

In Mark 4:35-41 Jesus sends the disciples across lake Galilee to the other side, at night, by faith. The lake of Galilee is nestled below a range of hills that, due to their position on the lake, create a wind funnel. The wind will blow violently causing waves which can catch a fisherman, in the middle of the lake, off guard. If he is not ready, it will be a scary experience. I live in Portland, Oregon and we have similar winds that whip down the Columbia River Gorge that can knock anyone off their feet when a quick gust hits in the winter. Fishermen in Galilee were used to this. They expected this. But not at night, in the middle of the lake, when you couldn't see.

Contrary to the movies, the wind and waves were not a hurrican with rain, lightning, thunder, and tornado. What happened was that the qind quickly came, shook the boat, the waves came over the small craft, and then it quickly subsided. Yet this time was different.

Jesus called the disciples to go out over the lake at evening. This was an act of faith. The last place you wanted to be when this wind hit. And even worse, when it hit, Jesus was asleep at the stern (where the control stick was). What was the disciple's response? "Teacher, don't you care that we drown/perish?" Jesus had asked them to do what no fisherman would have done. Jesus had called them to trust him at the helm. It was Jesus' idea to go across the bottomliss lake and saddle up for the Great Adventure! Now he was silent, asleep, still at the helm. Sure--he doesn't care!

And Jesus' response: "Shut up and put a sock in it," (loose Greek translation). Then came the challenge: "Why are you afraid/cowardly? Do you still not have faith?" All the work that Jesus had done meant nothing now that they were scared. All the healing, the parables, the teaching was worthless. "He sleeps, he doesn't care." "He's in control, but he lets us suffer."

In a world of polytheism gods had to be awakened. You can see the struggle that the Jews had with believing in one God even in the language they used. The Hebrew word qum appears all through the Psalms. Rise up, wake up, get up. The belief was that God was way away in the heavens asleep. God had to be awakened to come down and deliver us. Elijah tells the prophets of Baal that their god must be asleep or off in the toilet. "Wake up," meant, "You don't see us," "You don't care about us," "We're here, you're there, we suffur, you don't care." Even though God lived among the people they struggled to see that Yahweh was there among them. Silence did not mean that God didn't care.

But God told a polytheistic society, or one struggling with polytheism, "Just because I am silent doesn't mean I don't care." God sees, God hears, God waits, but God still acts. Jesus sees, Jesus hears, Jesus waits, but Jesus still acts. Have faith, don't be afraid, all obeys Jesus. Jesus still sees, still weeps, still rejoices, still responds, still hears, still loves, and still is in control. Silence doesn't mean God is dead--it means that God waits.


Johnny said...

This sounds like a teaching that could be used in sexual abuse counseling or one way (obliviously not the only way)to help the woman who asks "where was God when I was raped."

KMiV said...

Yes Johnny,

I use that quite often.