I feel for the disciples in this passage. I always tend to empathize with the disciples because they don’t always understand what is going on, and they keep on trying, but don’t always get it right. I feel for the disciples because I know I am supposed to envision myself in their place.
And here they are, after a long day of teaching and managing the logistics of all those crowds, sailing across Galilee because Jesus wanted to start teaching on the other side, and this massive storm rises up, a storm bigger than they had seen in years and they are in the middle of it in just a little boat.
Everything is chaos as they run around bailing water and trying to keep the boat upright, and there’s Jesus. Still sleeping where they left him. Sleeping through this storm. It’s not as though there was a cabin on this boat, oh no. Jesus is sound a sleep on deck in the middle of a storm bad enough that the experience fishermen think they will drown.
So they wake Jesus, crying out, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" That wakes him and he turns immediately to the storm and tells it to stop. Which it does. Then Jesus turns back to his terrified disciples and asks "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"
Really Jesus? Did you just see that giant storm that almost killed us? How could you ask why we were afraid? It is a really strange question Jesus asks here. And if we look at all of the storms in our own lives the question seems even worse. Of course we feel afraid as we face political divides and school shootings and crying children separated from their parents. Of course we feel afraid when broken marriages, sick children, unfriendly neighbors, grinding jobs, and financial uncertainty threaten our lives. Of course we feel afraid when biology or trauma betray us into anxiety, panic, and depression.
And yet. This is Jesus here. Couldn’t there be more to it than simple fear? What if its meaning changes dramatically when we read it through the lens of the first question — the one the disciples ask Jesus as the waves threaten to capsize their boat? "Teacher, don’t you care that we are drowning?"
What if Jesus’s question about fear has nothing to do with the sea, the wind, and the killer waves? What if it has to do only with the disciples’ relationship with him?
Notice the first place the disciples’ fear takes them. They have every right to be afraid when the storm breaks; feeling scared in the face of danger is not the problem. The problem is that their fear does not lead them to lean harder on Jesus, or to seek comfort in his presence. Rather, it leads them straight to suspicion, distrust, and accusation: "Teacher, don’t you care that we are drowning?"
What is their underlying assumption? That Jesus must not care. If he cared, he wouldn’t be sleeping. If he cared, they wouldn’t have to seek him out or wait for him. If he cared, he’d hurry up. If he cared, they would be safe.
Like the disciples, we can be quick to assume the worst about Jesus when the going gets rough. When we face fearsome circumstances, we often turn back to suspicion. In our fears, we can see God to whom we are expendable. What should be a rich, vibrant, and multifaceted relationship between our hearts and God's becomes instead purely consumerist and transactional: Okay, Jesus, prove that you care about me by fixing my circumstances. I’ll trust and love you if you’ll protect and save me.
This is a story about how little we believe God to be with us in the midst of an overwhelming storm. It’s about how, deep down, maybe we don’t really believe that a God-with-us is actually enough. It’s about how what we really want is a God who is in control. And it is an indictment of the disciples and of us.
God’s power isn’t in the control of creation or of people, but in being in covenant and relationship with them. It isn’t in imposing the divine will or insisting on its own way but in sojourning with us as we fumble around and make our way in the world. God’s power is not in miraculous interventions, pre-emptive strikes in the cosmic war against suffering and evil, but in inviting us to build a kingdom out of love, peace and justice with God. God’s power is not in the obliterating of what is bad in the world, but in empowering us to build something good in this world.
And isn’t this true power? Instead of enforcing control and solutions onto the world, God’s power is revealed in coming alongside us, journeying with us, suffering with us, and even staying with us in the boat when the storms come.
The value of this story is not in the doing, but in the presence. The miracle in this story isn’t about Jesus calming the storm and taking control. The miracle in this story is that Jesus was with the disciples in the water-logged and weatherbeaten boat, experiencing the same terrible storm, the same terrible waves, the same terrible danger.
Part of my calling, means that I have been privileged to be present with people in some of the worst moments of their lives. I have sat with people in ER waiting rooms, by bedsides in ICU, visited hospice and sat with families after a death while they remembered the one they loved. They are all going through a storm, and I am there to remind them that they are not alone. That God is with them even in the dark times, even in the very worst times.
Unless a doctor has come in to talk, I always offer to pray with people before I leave the room. And sometimes, when I do, once we share the ‘amen,’ it was as though peace had overtaken the room. A peace which had been more than elusive a few moments before. This has nothing to do with the eloquence of my prayer. Rather, people were finally able to focus on the One asleep in the stern. The One who calmed the storm. The One about whose identity those first disciples could not help but wonder.
I cannot say that this is an easy Gospel to understand. I have never seen an actual storm calmed by the speaking of a word, the gesture of a hand. At least not the sort which comes with thunder and lightning and wind. But I have seen the storms which rage within us and between us dissipated in this way.
So, I think we have acknowledge the storms in our world, in our lives. And we need to seek the care of another to come and pray with us and alongside us when we can. We rely on the gift of one another.
And most of all, we focus on the One, on Jesus, who is always in the boat with us. We trust Jesus to calm the storms within us so that we can face the ones which threaten from without.
So this week, and in the weeks ahead, when storms rage in the world and in your own life, it’s okay to be afraid. But never doubt that God is with you in the storm, riding the waves at your side. Call out, but call out in faith that you will be answered. Amen.