35 And the same day, when the evening was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. 36 And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships. 37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. 38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
Compare: Matthew 13:34,35; Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25
Jesus' Power over Nature
The "sea" being crossed by Jesus and his followers is the Sea of Galilee, so the area they are moving on to would be the present-day Jordan. This would take him into territory controlled by Gentiles, pointing to the eventual expansion of Jesus' message and community beyond Jews and to the Gentile world.
During the trip across the Sea of Galilee, a large storm comes up - so large that the boat threatens to sink after so much water has entered it. How Jesus manages to stay asleep though this is unknown, but traditional commentaries on the passage say that he slept deliberately in order to test the faith of the apostles. If that is the case, then they failed, because they were so scared that they woke Jesus up to find out whether he cared if they all drowned.
A more plausible explanation is that the author of Mark has Jesus sleeping out of literary necessity: Jesus' calming the storm is designed to evoke the story of Jonah. Here Jesus is sleeping because the story of Jonah has him sleeping down in the ship. Accepting such an explanation, though, requires accepting the idea that this story is a literary creation by the author and not an accurate historical narrative.
Jesus proceeds to end the storm and restore the sea to calm - but why? Calming the storm doesn't appear to have been absolutely necessary because he rebukes the others for not having faith - presumably, they should have trusted that nothing would happen to them while he was around. So ostensibly, had he not stopped the storm they would have made it across just fine.
Was his purpose then simply to create a display of naked power in order to impress this apostles? If so, he succeeded because they appear to be just as afraid of him now as they were moments ago of the storm. It's strange, though, that they don't understand who he is. Why did they even wake him if they didn't think he might be able to do something?
Although it is still relatively early in his ministry, he has been explaining to them all of the secret meanings of his parables. Hadn't they covered who he is and what he is doing? Or if they had, do they simply not believe him? Whatever the case, this appears to be another example of the apostles being portrayed as dolts.
Returning once again to traditional commentaries on this passage, many say this story is supposed to teach us not to be fearful of the chaos and violence around us in our lives. First, if we have faith, then no harm is to come to us. Second, if you act as Jesus and simply command the chaos to "be still," then you will at least achieve some inner sense of peace and thus be less troubled by what is occurring.
The calming of a raging storm fits with other stories where Jesus' power is manifested against awesome, even mythic forces: raging seas, hordes of demons, and death itself. Confining the sea itself is depicted in Genesis as an aspect of divine power and privilege. It is not coincidental that the following stories of Jesus involve further instances of combating forces more powerful than what has been seen thus far.