October, 1, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 8:23-27
He got into a boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but he was asleep. They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked he winds and the sea, and there was great calm. The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”
Since several of the disciples had been fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, this must have been of tremendous force for them to be terrified. In Mark’s telling of this story the disciples ask Jesus, “[D]o you not care that we are perishing?” What does Jesus care about? Only that they trusted in God. So, he asked them, “Why are you terrified?” Just as earlier in chapter six he told them, “[D]o not worry about your life.”
They definitely feared for their lives. In their fear they didn’t turn to God, they turned to this miracle worker in their midst, this man they did not yet recognize as the Son of God. They pleaded to be saved from the storm, from losing their lives. Ironically, they could have been pleading to be saved or redeemed for everlasting life in God’s heavenly kingdom, but that comprehension was still not within their grasp. They were men as yet “of little faith,” a faith too weak, too immature to withstand adversity.
The New Jerusalem Bible Commentary points out the ancient belief that the sea symbolized “the powers of chaos and evil that struggle against God.” As the disciples were growing to know Jesus, to absorb his message, and to realize his relationship with God, the forces of evil rose to swamp their newly forming beliefs, this new covenant that God was contracting. Jesus used the powers God granted him to overcome the forces of evil, which Matthew may have used as an allusion to several psalms to emphasize Jesus’ God-given powers. Psalm 65:8: “You still the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.” And Psalm 89:10: “You rule the raging sea; you still its swelling waves.” And Psalm 107:28-29: “In their distress they cried to the Lord, who brought them out of their peril, hushed the storm to a murmur; the waves of the sea were stilled.”
This story is a metaphor. Barclay writes, “[T]he meaning is that wherever Jesus is the storms of life become a calm. It means that in the presence of Jesus the most terrible of tempests turns to peace. When the cold, bleak wind of sorrow blows, there is calm in the presence of Jesus Christ. When the hot blast of passion blows, there is peace and security in the presence of Jesus Christ. When the storms of doubt seek to uproot the very foundations of the faith, there is a steady safety in the presence of Jesus Christ. In every storm that shakes the human heart there is peace with Jesus Christ.” I love those words.
Jesus had an unshakeable trust in God in the midst of that howling storm that threatened to send the boat to the bottom of the sea. Once again, it is not only his words that guide, it is his behavior. He lived the life that God wants us for us. Intellectually, I don’t think that I am fearful of death. I do dread the possible frightening moments of actually dying but not the finality of death. When I board a plane before taking off I pray that God will forgive me my sins and have mercy on my soul in the event of a crash. I also pray for calm, for peace in those final chaotic moments secure in the certain belief that God will take me into His loving embrace and make me whole and perfect for Him in His kingdom in heaven. I pray that I may be calm and reassuring to those around me. I pray for calm and peace because I’m afraid that I may be overtaken by fear and cry to God, “Save me,” as the disciples did on the Sea of Galilee that day because my faith, too, may not be strong enough to withstand the specter of death.
Fr. Mike Scully in the first night of our parish mission yesterday gave his answer to how we can assure the presence of God in our lives. Read the gospels everyday and reflect on the meaning for our lives for fifteen minutes. I can attest to the wisdom of his advice. Listening to Jesus’ words and discerning his message for me everyday has enabled me to be aware of his presence in ways that I never could have imagined. One of the rewards has been a sense of peace in the midst of the storms of life, the chaos and evil that assail us all.