Why are you afraid? Lectionary Reflections on Proper 7, year B

This week’s readings.

Two familiar stories this week: David and Goliath and Jesus calming the storm. In spite of their familiarity, strange things lurk in them. In the story from Samuel, it is Goliath himself who is strange (Samuel Giere, on workingpreacher.org, links Goliath to those other strange beings, the Nephilim, mentioned in Genesis 6 and elsewhere in the Biblical tradition). His height and power frighten the Israelites but David saves the day.

The gospel story picks up where last week’s reading ended. After Jesus spends the day teaching the crowd (the series of parables recorded in Mark 3), Jesus tells his disciples that they will cross the lake. As they do so, a sudden storm comes up, threatening the boat, while Jesus sleeps peacefully. The disciples waken Jesus, he calms the storm, and they continue to the other side.

Mark’s telling of this story draws parallels to other stories in the gospel. He writes that Jesus “rebuked” the storm, suggestive language that calls to mind Jesus’ exorcisms. At several points in Mark, the disciples are said to be full of fear, and there remains a sense of fear, or at least awe, at the very end, when they ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

We may occasionally fear the sorts of things mentioned in these stories–an encounter with a much more powerful adversary, or an experience with a hurricane, tornado, or blizzard that makes us fear for our lives. But we also live with other fears, and sometimes they are much more profound, and more debilitating than the fear we experience from a storm. In the latter case, adrenaline rushes help to see us through.

But what about those other great fears–the fear of economic insecurity, unemployment, loneliness? David announced that his victory over Goliath would prove God’s power, and so it did. But who will announce to the world, or to us, that our faith in God can conquer our fears? Jesus said, “Peace, be still” as he calmed the storm. Those ought to be words of comfort to us as well, when our minds and hearts race as we fear for our lives, livelihoods, and futures.

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