With the waves of change and winds of uncertainty buffeting us these days, I’m reminded of two “go-to” Scripture passages that I often reflect on in times like this:
“On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, ‘Let us cross to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, ‘Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?’ They were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?’” (Mark 4: 35-41)
“Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening, he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost,’ they said, and they cried out in fear. At once [Jesus] spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter said to him in reply, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14: 22-31)
Just prior to the first passage, from Mark, the Lord has spent the day teaching the parables of the sower, the lamp, and the mustard seed, further unpacking them, privately, for the Disciples. Just prior to the second passage, from Matthew, the Disciples have witnessed Jesus perform the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In the first case, the Disciples have heard the word of God from the Word of God, himself. In the second case, they have witnessed the Word of God, through whom all creation came into being (John 1: 1-3), exercise his power over creation. In both scenarios, the Disciples are now in a boat at sea (which, of course, is the perennial metaphor of the church in the world). In the first passage, a violent storm has surprised and frightened the Disciples. In the passage from Matthew, Peter, always the beloved strong starter, launches out in faith, walking on the water to Jesus, only to become paralyzed by fear as the wind and waves begin to buffet him.
It is easy for us, from the comfort of our heated and air-conditioned, broad-band-equipped contemporary homes, to snicker at how quickly the Disciples’ faith seems to crumple. What more evidence do they need that the Lord is all knowing and all powerful and present to them?
Yet, are these stories not somewhat of a foreshadowing of our own struggles as the contemporary church in the world? Are we not currently rattled and frightened and doubting whether the Lord is with us? Do we not know that he is all knowing and all powerful? May Jesus, in his loving mercy, calm the storm of fear and anxiety in our hearts, even while he exercises his power over creation to calm the storms of disease and financial distress in our world.
Jesus, we trust in you.
Mike Christie is director of Evangelical and Catechetical Services at the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.