Have you still no faith?

Fifth Sunday of Pentecost, June 23, 2024 (Proper 7): 1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

You really can’t blame the disciples. The Sea of Galilee is relatively narrow, but it can still see wild storms. They are in a boat, at night, when the storm comes up. And water is swamping the boat. I think any of us would be afraid. And honestly, with the teacher you admire asleep in the stern, of course you would wake him. If nothing else, you really need help bailing out the boat.

It’s what happens next in Mark’s account that is surprising. Jesus wakes up, “rebukes the wind”, and tells the sea to be still. And the wind dies down, and the storm ceases. There is a dead calm. And Jesus asks them, “Why are you afraid?” This is one of the times when I can imagine all kinds of snappy comebacks from the disciples. It starts with “WHAT just happened?” I can hear a teenager voice responding, “Why do you think?” I mean, it appeared that our boat would sink.

Jesus then asks the question that we continue to ask: “Have you still no faith?” To which my thought is, of course I have faith in you as a teacher, but I had no idea you could control the sea and the wind! Jesus is acting in a setting where we had not imagined his power.

If anything, the story of David and Goliath is even more familiar than that of Jesus calming the storm, and has become a familiar metaphor for seemingly unequal contests. But in our reading today (including the optional bits) we get the set-up. Goliath is introduced: in our text, he is six cubits and a span (roughly 9 ft. 9 in.); in others he is still 4 cubits and a span (6 ft. 9 in)–very tall, but not a giant. His armor is described in terms of the weight of the metal, and he is carrying a bronze javelin. He is, on the face of it, terrifying.

And he is not nice. Instead, he taunts the Israelites, proposing single combat to decide the fate of nations. David inserts himself into this scene, having left his sheep with a “keeper”. He proposes to fight Goliath. Saul resists: David is “just a boy”, and has not been trained as a soldier. David talks back, reminding Saul that he has killed lions and bears while protecting his sheep. David is prepared, he says, but in a different way from Goliath. So Saul gives David his armor, but David can’t move in it, so removes it. So David faces Goliath in his normal clothes, with a staff and a slingshot, and 5 smooth stones in his pouch. Goliath, meanwhile, has a shield bearer in front of him, and is covered with armor.

It is not surprising that Goliath “disdained” David, and he was also clearly insulted that the Israelites had sent someone so unsuited to the task to fight with him. But David reframes the battle. Goliath comes with “sword and spear and javelin”, but David comes “in the name of the Lord of hosts”. And suddenly the contrast works in David’s favor: Goliath draws “nearer” to meet David, but David “ran quickly to the battle line”. His speed is as important as his slingshot: he can get his shot before Goliath attacks.

Just as the disciples did not expect Jesus to calm the waters, it is pretty clear that Saul (and presumably the rest of the Israelite army) did not expect David to be successful. But no one else in the army wanted to face Goliath, so they let David go. In both these stories, the ending is highly improbable. Yet the improbable happens.

The problem for me is that while the improbable sometimes happens, it does not always. And our wanting something improbable does not mean it will happen. It does not mean it will happen even if the improbable will advance the kingdom of God in the world. The reminder that the improbable *does* sometimes happen is also a reminder of how God disrupts our expectations.

“Have you still no faith?” My answer is that I have faith in the risen Christ who died for our sins. I’m not sure I expect Jesus to calm the storm, cool the temperatures, or mitigate the consequences of climate change. Here David and Goliath provide important context: it may have seemed unequal, but David had spent years preparing, building the skills he used to kill Goliath. It is not enough to wish for the improbable to happen: we have to prepare the ground for it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *