When Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?"
“A windstorm arose on the sea....” In the original Greek the word is seismos, which means an earthquake. To this day, that would better describe the sudden storms that break over the Lake of Galilee. The boat was “hidden”, the Greek says, in the troughs of the waves.
If the only meaning of this story is that Jesus on one occasion calmed a severe storm on the Lake of Galilee – a long time ago and very far away – then it need not hold our attention for very long. And we would be justified in asking why he doesn’t do the same again. But there are great subtleties in these stories, and in the reasons for their inclusion.
Before calming the sea, Jesus reproached the disciples for their lack of faith. This is telling us that at least some faith must precede a miracle. It is consistent with Matthew’s general account. Take for example the scene with the blind men. “Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith let it be done to you’” (9:28-29); or the scene where the woman had touched the hem of his garment; “your faith has saved you,” he told her. Have faith and then something will happen – not the other way around.
These simple details carry great weight and a great deal of encouragement for us in our struggles. The Gospel is telling us: Every time you feel your boat is about to sink, have faith. What does this mean? Does it mean, Try to look holy? Hardly. Does it mean, Cultivate a special inner feeling? Hardly. I think it means: attempt the seemingly impossible thing, and you will find that something even greater will happen. Douglas Hyde (not the Irish president of that name, but the author of I Believed) described his first fumbling steps to faith. He had observed a girl praying in church, had seen the light in her face; and he forced himself to go through the exact motions. “When I was sure no one was about I went, almost hang-dog fashion, down the aisle as she had done. Down to the front, round to the left, put some coins in the box, lit a candle, knelt on the stool – and tried to pray…. The candle spluttered and flickered, growing shorter and shorter but no words came.” Instead, gradually, faith in God began to brighten in him, replacing his faith in militant Communism. But it must have begun to dawn even earlier. It was that first glimmer of faith that made him get up from where he had been sitting and approach the altar.
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