And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it. But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples. And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side (Mk. 4:33-35 [KJV]).
The opening verses of this passage point to Jesus’s awareness of differing powers of apprehension, and his adapting his teaching method to accommodate each. To the multitude, Jesus has spoken the Word in parables “as they were able to hear it” (33). To the disciples, “he expounded all things” (34), indicating Jesus thought his disciples could better see the correlation between figurative language and spiritual conditions. In the final verse, verse 35, Jesus directs his followers to new territory in which the literal mind of the multitude and the disciples’ intellectual grasp of analogy are both transcended. This verse foreshadows a coming into a new kind of understanding that is neither literal nor intellectual but is gained through inward experience and accompanies being itself. Jesus beckons: “Let us pass over unto the other side” (35).
The story begins in a matter-of-fact way: the multitude is “sent away”; there are “other little ships” (36) in the crossing; “a great storm” (37) comes up; and Jesus sleeps comfortably before he’s awakened by the disciples, who fear for their lives (38). There’s nothing in this opening description to alert us that these particulars are anything but facts that describe outward events of time and place. Nothing here seems extraordinary.
It is not until Jesus rises and rebukes the wind and the sea, saying “Peace, be still” (39), that we realize we have moved beyond the mundane and into other territory. The account is no longer a literal description – though the multitude may claim it so; it has shifted into a space where nature neither rules nor sets the bounds of the possible; in this space – on this “other side” — Man prevails over nature.
This passage began as a recounting of events taking place in time and space, but having moved past these confines of nature, the passage reveals itself to be a parable, and thus it has an inward, spiritual significance. As a parable, it correlates objective reality with inward states; Jesus Christ performs an outward act (he overcomes the threat of nature – here a storm at sea) that correlates to Man’s overcoming his inward nature: that of a suffering, storm-tossed creature, fearfully aware of his own mortality. As a parable, Man mastering outward nature, as Christ does here, signifies humankind’s overcoming and transcending the nature of our being.
Just as the multitude was given parables to bring them to an awareness of their spiritual condition, we are here given to understand that through hearing the commanding Word, Christ within, we may overcome fear and anxiety, our inward “storm,” and live in peace.
And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith? (40)
See how Jesus challenges his disciples to pass into a way of being in which fear has no foothold and faith strides secure. We must leave behind the sure but stodgy ground of the multitude, and embark in darkness upon the watery, formless void, for there is where the Spirit moves and speaks, and it is there that we may receive the light of faith.
The disciples have yet to learn that they, too, in faith may “pass over unto the other side” (35) and become a different “manner of man” (41). Were it not already verified by personal experience, we could turn to the early Friends to affirm the validity of this teaching.
To all the elect, chosen and faithful . . . who have not feared the waves of the sea, nor the winds; who fear not the storms nor the weather; whose anchor holds, which is the hope, the mystery, which anchors the soul, which is immortal, to the immortal God. –George Fox (Ep. 169)1
1 The Works of George Fox (Philadelphia: Marcus T. C. Gould, 1831), 7:157. Gratitude goes to Esther Greenleaf Murer and John Edminster for their work on the Quaker Bible Index, which is where I located this reference.
Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, ca. 1596 Jan Breughel the Elder
Within the universe of possible approaches to these verses, Patricia offers a distinctively Quaker approach, demonstrating the Quaker understanding of the ways that outward events interact with our abiding human nature and our changing inward states. Worldly, customary patterns are upended by the masterful presence, words and actions of the Living Christ, who keeps breaking through to us even today. Hallelujah!
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I stand in awe of this piece of exegesis, Patricia. “Let us pass over unto the other side” — where we are such that nature obeys us! Once again you’ve “opened” scripture for me in a way I might never have seen the depths in it if a wise reader at my side hadn’t asked, “Do you see what I see in that?”
But one does not have to be Jesus Christ Himself to have nature obey one! Scripture records that Peter and Paul, recovering sinners though they were, had miracles wrought through their words and their hands, as did Abraham when he assured Isaac that God would provide an animal for the sacrifice on Mount Moriah! As did Moses, as did Elijah…. But the point is not to aspire to becoming a miracle-worker, but to become souls “passed over to the other side” by letting the Lord transform us as He will!
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