Commentary on Matthew 8:23-27
Yesterday we saw Jesus telling his disciples to get into a boat to cross to the other side of the lake of Tiberias. Before he left, there were two men who asked to be disciples and we saw how Jesus dealt with them.
Now, as they crossed the lake a storm suddenly blew up. It seems this is a common feature of Lake Galilee. Actually the word that Matthew uses for ‘storm’ should be translated ‘earthquake’. It was a word commonly used in apocalyptic literature for the shaking of the old world when God brings in his kingdom and the Synoptic gospels use it in describing the events leading up to the final coming of Jesus. It indicates that there is more to this story than just a narrative.
While waves crashed into the boat Jesus remained fast asleep. In great fear, the disciples woke up him, “Lord, save us! We are lost!”
Jesus was not very sympathetic. “Where is your courage? How little faith you have!” Then he stood up and rebuked the wind and sea. There immediately followed a complete calm. The disciples were awestruck and, in a way, were more afraid than ever. A storm they could understand but not what they saw Jesus doing. “What sort of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey him?”
In their book, only one person could have this kind of power and that was God himself. Their question contained its own answer. It was a further step in their realising just who Jesus their Master really was.
We can, however, read another meaning into this story. We can understand it as a kind of parable about the early Church, the Church for which Matthew is writing. It was a Church consisting of many, small scattered communities or churches. They were surrounded by large, pagan and often very hostile peoples.
Each little church community must have felt like those disciples in the boat with Jesus surrounded by a large expanse of water. Sometimes that water got very angry and threatened to engulf their boat. At the same time, Jesus their Lord seemed to be very far away; he seemed to be asleep, unaware and uncaring of their plight. The fact that in the gospel today they address him as “Lord” would indicate that the story is points more to their present situation as isolated communities in a very uncertain world.
Then they would come to realise that Jesus really was with them and that he did care a lot. And peace would come back to them again. But the peace would be in their hearts; the sea around them might be just as stormy as ever.
This is something for us to learn. Most of the time we can do very little to change the world around us or change the people who bother us. Maybe we have no right to make them change. But we can change; we can learn to see things in a different way; we can learn to be proactive instead of reactive.
Above all, we can learn to be aware that God is close to us at all times, that he does know, that he does care, that, instead of taking things away, he helps us to go through them and keep our peace.