In the mid 60s of the first century, Rome was the place to be. It was the centre of political, cultural and economic power. Population of around 2 million with a Jewish community of 30-40k. There was a pattern of discord and contention between the Jewish community and the city of Rome. In the year 49 the emperor Claudius ordered the expulsion of all the Jews including the Messianic Jews. Nero became the emperor in 54 & allowed the Jews to return. Peter & Paul arrived in Rome around this time. 19 July 64 a fire began that raged through Rome for 7 days. Much was destroyed & many people died. Nero needed someone to blame to deflect attention from his responsibility. Persecution began against the Jewish community living in the ghetto across the river on swamp land – which is why it had not burnt. Soldiers went door to door looking for followers of the Messiah.
Peter and Paul were both killed during this persecution. Mark realises there is a need to write the story of Jesus before the memories of the first generation are lost – the crossing of the stormy sea is its centre.
(8.30am generated transcript)
In the middle of the 1st century, there was only one place to be – especially in our Eurocentric world – that was in the city of Rome. There were about 2 million people who called Rome home and it was a thriving place. Economically, politically, and culturally. The Jewish community that lived in Rome had a bit of a turbulent history with the rest of the population there about 30 or 40,000 Jewish people living in the city. They formed a ghetto in what was essentially swampland on the other side of the Tiber River.
In the year 49 the emperor Claudius expelled the Jewish community from the city, but when the new emperor, the emperor Nero, came to power in the 54, he invited the Jewish community to return to the city. It was probably during this period that the Messianic Jews – the Christians – began to settle in Rome as well and it was around this time at the end of the 50s, perhaps in the early 60s that Saints Peter and Paul also made their way to Rome.
But by the middle of the century, Nero was wanting to change the city. He was wanting to bulldoze parts of it to rebuild the city in his preferred style. Members of the Senate were objecting to the plan.
But then in the evening of the 19th of July in the year 64 this fire breaks out. It’s a massive fire, blazes with great intensity for a week and over the course of that week, great parts of the city are utterly destroyed, and many people die. Amazingly, the part of the city that Nero wanted to renovate was conveniently destroyed by the fire.
Finger begin to point towards him and rumours spread. So, he needed someone to blame. And the Jewish quarter across the river in the swampland. (And, of course, that’s not likely to burn: that part of the city didn’t burn.) So the Jewish community became a very convenient scapegoat for the blame of Nero. So we began this persecution, sending Roman soldiers door to door.
Asking them were you responsible for setting fire to the city, and if they didn’t point the finger at somebody that would be taken to the circus Maximus and put to torture and to death.
So it was in the interests of the Jewish community to try and find someone to blame, and so this smaller group of Messianic Jews, the followers of Jesus as the Messiah were the ones that got the blame and so it was during this persecution that historians tell us that both Peter and Paul were martyred.
But those who are still there in the community, those who were faithfully wanting to preserve the memory and the stories of Jesus, most likely among them, was Mark. And he’s realising that if the only leaders – that first generation of the followers of Jesus are all put to death – if they die without their stories being told, then the memories of Jesus will be lost. So we need to sit down and to set out the story of Jesus. And so Mark is the first evangelist to do that.
They’re in the city and in the midst of all of this turmoil in the midst of the troubles of the persecution, their suffering. I mean, just imagine what it would be like to be part of a community where one by one members of their community are being sought out by Roman soldiers, beaten, tortured and killed, and what an incredible suffering and sorrow in the community will be going through amid all of that.
So this image of suffering is one of the deep images that marks the gospel of Mark, just as in the Gospel of Matthew is about change and how do you to get through those experiences when the world around you is so shaken (Matthew writes just after the destruction of Jerusalem, after the year 70 in the 1st century) Luke writes a little bit later and he’s wanting to ask a different question: How did we grow in discipleship? How do we grow in service? And finally, the Gospel of John, written towards the end of that first century reflects upon this question of how do we live in love and joy? How do we grow in that? Experience of just this abundance of light and love the Lord is pouring out upon us.
We see this live on these great stories about going into the wilderness, experiencing all of the trials, and tribulation there all that with terrible experiences. But within all those, darkness is there’s always a hint of light. For example, when Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tempted there for the 40 days, we’re told that wild beasts are there in the wilderness along with Jesus. But there were also angels. So it’s this two images that are there: a mark of desperation and a sign of life and hope.
So this image of crossing this turbulent lake, the disciples, some of them were fishermen we know, and so they’ve been on the lake many times. They knew it well. And we know that it is a very turbulent body of water. But there is this powerful sense that storms seemingly out of nowhere. And if you’re there in the middle of the lake, a little boat, it’s a very precarious position to be in. Many people dying and continue to die in the storms that inflict that particular part of the world. So if you’re there with the disciples in that room trying desperately just to get to the other side to get to a place of safety. When the wind and the waves are all around you – the power of that scenario. And there Jesus is with all the disciples you know trying desperately just to row to get it through this position. And where is Jesus? Mark tells us in this beautiful little detail – he is at the back of the boat asleep with his head on a cushion. And it’s a kind of sign of someone who was there witnessing all this scene, just remembering what he just made himself nice and comfortable there with his head on a cushion, while the wind and the waves are roaring and the waves are breaking over the boat. And you’re in fear that the boat itself will be swamped. It’s a great image to take to prayer.
Sometimes when I prayed with this passage, I’ve been at the front of the boat with the disciples just freaking out going far out; look, where have you gone? Where are you in the midst of all of this trouble? All these the wind and the waves can you see that I’m about to be swamped? Can’t you see that the boat is about to go down? Like where are you going this passion? At other times, I’ve realised that I’m down the back just resting as well, lying next to Jesus, sometimes even just sharing his cushion. You know lying there next to him being able to recognise no matter what happens, no matter what it is.
Throw it at me as long as I stay close to him everything will be fine. Everything will be OK.
In the story, they go to the back and they just wake him up. I don’t know how he’s sleeping through the midst of this door was the boat is tossed around and all the the action and the violence of the storm. But they’re waking him and his declaration to them. His decree to them to the wind.
To the ways be quiet, be still become sometimes in the midst of whatever the world might be throwing at us. Whatever is happening in our hearts and in our lives.
We can cry out to go. He never promises that there will be storms. He never promises to us that we will just sail through life beautifully and wonderfully on bright sunny blue sky days. That’s never been one of the promises of God. But he does promise: when there are storms; when the wind begins to blow, the waves begin to break over the boat. He will be with us. He will protect us. We will not drown in the midst of the storm, the wind and the waves we can trust him.
The church will be tossed about we as a community will be tossed about, but the one thing we need.
To do is just to be present just to stay with Jesus to trust the one who has the power. Who has the authority over the wind and the waves. We’ll speak into our lives when it’s necessary to saying, be quiet, be calm.