When Jesus is (Fake) Sleeping

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by Kate Kooyman

When I had babies living in my house, I had a crazy brain from sleep deprivation. My husband and I laugh about it now, about the times in the middle of the night when I was so exhausted and so irrationally angry because of my certainty that he was fake sleeping when the baby would cry. I was sure he was awake. How — honestly — could he still be sleeping. I had thoughts that are not appropriate to share publicly in my white-hot anger at my husband’s lying snores.

(He swears he was really sleeping. Six years later, I find that easier to believe.)

In Mark 4, Jesus sleeps through a storm that is literally sinking the boat he is in. It’s a totally unbelievable story to me: that the boat was “already being swamped,” with Jesus laying out in the elements, waves pouring over him as he happily smacks his lips and pulls the blanket to his chin. I’m team disciples on this one: Wake up, ya faker. We’re dying here.

I have some friends who are in the midst of some serious storms right now — crazy, shocking health scares that could change their lives. Their boats are already being swamped. I want Jesus to wake up and make it go away for them. I want this story of Jesus’s eventual awakening and miraculous calming of the wind and the waves to be a promise to my friends that everything is going to be back to normal for them soon. And, of course, that’s not at all what this passage promises.

The disciples are afraid and faithless, angry and full of blame, and interestingly, more filled with fear after the calming of the storm than they were before. (In the Greek, what we read as “they were filled with great awe” is more literally translated, “they feared a big fear.”) They’re Jesus’s closest companions, but they’re not his most astute.

I think sometimes there’s pressure on Christians who have weathered a storm — lost a loved one, faced a scary diagnosis, lost a job, faced a crisis. We feel we should immediately testify to God’s presence in our boat. We feel we should constantly hold out hope for a miracle. We feel we should emerge with a testimony of a faith that is stronger than before.

What I find so comforting about this passage is that the disciples — beloved by Jesus — don’t do any of those things. They don’t pretend Jesus’s presence with them is enough; they scream at him to wake up and do something. They don’t find some platitude for the lessons they learned during the storm; they look at each other and ask who in the world this guy is.

Then they get to the other side of the lake, the place where the Gentiles live. They probably weren’t feeling a lot of energy for cross-cultural ministry at this point; probably weren’t super excited about evangelizing, given that they’d just wondered aloud about Jesus’s very identity.

And do you know what the disciples find when they get there? People who see what they cannot. A man possessed by a demon who proclaims, for the first time in Mark’s gospel, exactly who Jesus is: “the Son of God.” A woman who has been hemorrhaging for 12 years, who knows that a mere brush with his cloak will heal her. Jairus, believes Jesus is the answer to the tragedy of his dying daughter — and he’s right.

The disciples crossed over to the Gentile territory not to bring the their wisdom and truth to “the other,” but to see what they were unable to see on their own. They once were blind, but now they see.

This weird story of a sleeping savior is a big comfort to me, because I think it tells a deeper truth: we need each other. It’s how we were made. We cannot see God fully on our own; sometimes our pathetic little disciple eyes cannot see God at all. But someone else’s can.

Perhaps when God calls us to “cross over,” calls us to a ministry of reconciliation, it’s not so much because we have so much to offer, or because we are expected to muster up certainty or faith or testimonies that simply aren’t there. Perhaps we’re called because through “the other” we can receive an immeasurable gift — to see with new eyes what we were blind to before: “Who is this man, that the wind and the waves obey him?”

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