Thought for the week - 20 February
The Church of England lectionary, in its desire to prepare us for Lent, this week reminds us of the Creation, and more specifically God’s ultimate creativity and control over nature. In our first two readings, we see God as creator, of the author of all life including mankind, we see God as the supreme being, worshipped and adored by all that is.
Our Gospel fits well into that pattern; here we have a lake, a storm and Jesus in ultimate control and authority, commands the storm and it abates. This is a great story, and the central message does well to remind us of those truths.
But of course, there is more to it than first meets the eye - especially our Western, modern English eyes. In the Gospel we are in a different time, a different place, a different culture. It is so easy for us to miss important elements.
There is a key phrase - word really - that leads us deeper. It’s the storm. A storm arises. The word used for the storm however is a very particular one. It’s a Greek word, ‘lailaps.’ That word has a very specific meaning - or rather inference. Such a storm is never a single gust, nor a steadily blowing wind, however violent; but a storm breaking forth from black thunderclouds in furious gusts, with floods of rain, and throwing everything topsy-turvy. Like the word itself, this kind of storm has malevolence about it. In the culture of the time and place, evil has arisen and is turning things nasty.
So, what happens in the face of this evil storm? The disciples are truly frightened. But they turn to Jesus, they refer to him, turn to him, as Master. They recognise his mastery, his status, and his authority. They recognise too their own impotence in the face of evil - only Jesus can help and save them.
The image of the boat in theological terms is an icon of the Church. Remember, the place where the congregation sits, the Nave, same root as naval, reminds us so. The disciples like all of us were in that boat facing the storms of life, sometimes facing up to the malevolence that can spring up to frighten and endanger us.
Fear often comes when we are out of control. That presumably was what happened with these disciples. Some of you may well have visited Lake Galilee and gone out on boat into the middle of the lake and read this story whilst in the boat. Usually, Lake Galilee is as smooth as a piece of glass but, apparently, storms such as the one described in our gospel reading do blow up from seemingly nowhere.
So the disciples probably sailed out when the lake was calm and were just sitting or lying in the boat relaxing so much so that Jesus had fallen asleep. All of a sudden, a storm blew up and the boat began to fill with water. We can imagine their sense of panic and of fear as they thought they might drown.
Not surprising then that they shout to Jesus, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing’. Were they just waking him to be with them or did they have a sense that he might be able to do more – we don’t know but it seems that they just wanted him awake. Jesus rebukes the wind and the raging waves and calm is restored – but then he says to them ‘Where is your faith’ and we read that they were afraid and amazed as Jesus has command over the winds and the waves. Jesus is with them through the storm and is able to bring them out of the other side to a place of calm and peace.
Now we could glean from this story that Jesus is just someone we can turn to when things get sticky or dangerous but this story comes in Luke’s gospel just after the parable of the Sower where we glean that it is the seed sown in fertile soil that grows and flourishes. And in the story just before this one, Jesus describes his family as those who hear God’s word and do it.
So having faith is far more than just turning to Jesus in difficult situations – situations where we feel out of control – it is about a relationship of growing depth which we have to allow God to nurture and bless. It is about a deepening trust in the purposes of God, and through prayer and reading of the scripture beginning to align ourselves with the will and mind of God so that we know that God is with us through the storms but also through the calm places in our lives where it is so easy to assume control once more and forget about Him.
But it is often as we turn to God in the storms, that our faith grows as we learn to trust him not necessarily to take away those storms but to be with us and to bring us to a place of peace and of calm in the midst of the storm.
Like the disciples we cannot always save ourselves. We must recognise our dependence upon our common master, Jesus. And Jesus is in the boat with us as he was with them.
We cannot avoid the storms of life, but we can recognise that in the end, as St Paul puts it:
Neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8: 38-9)