As you might guess, all sorts of “Jesus junk” (toys, dolls, statuettes, and other quirky Son of God bric-a-brac) finds its way to my shelves at home and in my office: Bobble-Head Jesus, Dashboard Jesus, Jesus Action Figures (both the “regular” and “deluxe” versions, the latter including fishes and loaves ready for multiplying), Rubber Ducky Jesus, Jesus Saves Bank, and the “Answer Me Jesus” type Magic-8-Ball to name but a few.
I've also been gifted with conversation-starting statues of the Lord playing basketball, football and hockey Jesus, playing with children He has undoubtedly suffered to come unto Him.
Yes, I have lots of wacky items depicting Jesus in all sorts of oddball (and, yes, 8-ball) ways.
However, as I read this weekend's lectionary gospel text, I’m aware there’s one kooky Jesus portrayal I don’t yet have: Sleeping Jesus!
Some sort of whimsical whatnot of Jesus catching zzzz's would be another considerable something to have and behold, don't you think?
After all, Jesus doesn’t snooze! Right?
If he’s the Son of God, shouldn't He "neither slumber nor sleep," just like His Father is so poetically described as never doing in Psalm 121?
If the Lord is all-perfect, all-mighty, why would he need to take a break and rest?
And besides, many a t-shirt and bumper sticker reminds us, “Jesus is Coming, Look Busy!” If we have to, shouldn't He, too??
Mark 4:35-41 provides us quite a sight. Jesus is fast asleep AND in the middle of a terrible storm! AND he's in a fishing boat that's traveling across the Galilean Lake, so his slumbering body is undoubtedly being slammed between the boat's sides like a ping pong ball as he zzzz's. AND we're told he's sleeping in the boat's stern - the very back - so, just like what happens when you sit at the back of a roller coaster (you fly out of your seat), his body is also being hurled into the air. No matter. He's still presumably enjoying visions of sugarplums as he nestles on a cushion.
This is crazy! It's over-the-top to the point of being ridiculous. Like a cartoon!
What makes the whole scene even wackier is that Jesus' disciples, either not as tired as their master or as nonplussed by the overwhelming chaos, wake him with panic and peevishness. They cry out, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
Granted, they could have asked more politely (even though by now they're understandably probably just about flipped out of their minds), but Jesus' response to their plea isn't all that kindly, either. We're told he gets up, yells at the sea to be still (which it immediately becomes)....
...and then he turns to His disciples and lays in on them. "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" Sure, that's criticism you can understand Jesus' hurling when the disciples hesitate his ability to heal yet another outsider or feed yet another several thousand-member crowd with a couple loaves and fishes. But the storm here is absolutely terrifying. Doesn't Jesus have the least bit of empathy for their fear, given this extreme situation? After all, they're not like him -- all-perfect and all-mighty, able to chill ever more deeply the worse the chaos gets.
I suspect Jesus' severe crankiness here is less intended to convey disdain about the disciples' faithlessness than it is suggest yet another humorous detail about his desire for some quality shut-eye. Who doesn't get unreasonably nasty when suddenly awoken from their happy nap?
Besides providing us with some pretty funny comedy (and the seed of an idea for a marvelous new Jesus Action -- or should I say Inaction -- Figure), what might this scene be telling us?
Well, one thing this story may be trying to do is completely jostle us. (Like much of Mark’s gospel.) Despite our temptation to do otherwise, we can't put Jesus in a box. We can’t ever expect Jesus (or God for that matter) to act the way we want or justifiably think He should when we ask for help. And we can't expect results on the timetable we need. Even if we're quite sure we're about to drown.
Maybe another of the things this crazy story is trying to teach is the absurd nonsensical fact that chaos is best assuaged not by fighting it or relenting to its power. Rather, what's raging in, around or between us can immediately disappear with the quickness of a three-syllable rebuke if invoke the Spirit of God and let it fully fill us. We're instantly overwhelmed with deep peace - the kind that allows you to do back flips in your sleep if you'd like (and things are that stressful).
I can testify to that truth. There have been a few times in my life when I’ve been overwhelmed by fear, I've managed to remember to breathe in God's Spirit, and it's managed to find my inner "sweet spot." In the blink of an eye I'm saturated with peace, fully calm, wholly unafraid and now able to boldly proceed. How does that happen? Who knows? But it's amazing! Crazy awesome!!
And then there's an additional especially grace-full something I think this story tells us. Even though of course we disciples of Jesus should be filled with all sorts of faith when the storms of life threaten to overtake us, we should always be able to access God's unbelievable peace to the point we can snooze like Jesus and all that, there are a lot of times we for whatever reason just can't. We can't help but be really scared. We can't help but blorch our fears to Jesus in honest-but-impolitic ways. And even if it means our imperfections interrupt Jesus' rest and really get His goat, He still comes through. It may not be pretty, but the peace we need does come.
And it may come not fully immediately, the minute Jesus commands it. It may come in fits and starts. It may be a messy road to finding true calm. I suspect those disciples back on the boat probably had racing hearts and deer-in-the-headlight expressions for quite some time after Jesus stilled the storm (and yelled at them and then probably promptly went back to sleep with an unhappy "hrmph!'). It took time and maybe several requests for assistance before Peter, John and the rest finally found their inner "sweet spot." But, what was sought thanks be to God, was invariably found.
I can testify to that truth, too. Many many times!
That's maybe the especially Good News of this kooky story. For our lives and for our world today. Especially today.
And that's why I can now start planning how I will invest the millions I'll earn after creating and marking a new very Sleepy, Cranky and Crazed-looking Jesus knickknack.