In “preaching study” posts, I share study & reflection as I prepare the Sunday message . I welcome interaction in this process, so feel free to share your thoughts. All Scripture quotes are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted. Thanks!
William Lane (NICNT), takes the disciples’ desperate response in v38 as evidence for the strength of the storm. They, or at least enough of them, would have been experienced sailors. After all, several of them had fished this sea for their livelihood for a long time before they met Jesus. So, on the other hand from Lane, why would they panic now? Had they not faced dreadful storms before? Is it unlikely to think they should have been expected to know how to handle themselves in such a situation? Of course, read a certain way, all this musing could be taken to support Lane’s position.
According to Lane, violent storms like these were not uncommon on the Sea of Galilee, as it sits like a basin, surrounded by high mountains. Powerful winds came through from the southwest often and without much warning, though they would die down as quickly as they sprang up.
So, what drove them to run in immediately and awaken Jesus? They hardly seem to have done much of anything before they are rousing him from sleep with a stern rebuking doubt of his caring about them. This is not a petition for help with confidence in Jesus, as with Peter (for example) when he began to sink while trying to walk to Jesus on the water: “Lord, save me!” This has the feel of hopelessness, frustration, and blame-placing. One writer has suggested that the word translated, “afraid” in Jesus’ response to them in v40 is better translated, “timid” here. That may be. Their reaction to the storm lacks any semblance of courage. One writer has said about this passage, “Faith reaches to the God whom we know is always there; indeed, it is paganism that thinks God must be awakened in the extremity of need.” Our timidity is opposed to faith in God’s power and grace, and is rooted (as the discussion in the comments in my first post on this point out) in a mis-placed faith in what we see and “know” of the physical world. But rightly-placed faith is courageous, not because of our abilities, but because of our intimate association with Jesus. Whatever else we say about the disciples here, they did have him in the boat after all!
A couple of thought-provoking notions I’ve picked up here and there today, as I wrap up this post:
1. Jim Callahan, writing a few years back in The Christian Century on this text: He comments on the significance of Jesus’ power over the wind and the waves, forcing of nature quite familiar to these Galilean sailors and residents: “It meant that the things which could overcome them had been overcome.”
2. Augustine compares the wind and waves to abuse of others (wind) and our anger (waves): “So when the winds blow and the waves mount high, the boat is in danger, your heart is imperiled, your heart is taking a battering. …Christ is asleep within you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten his presence. Rouse him, then; remember him, let him keep watch within you, pay heed to him. …A temptation arises: it is the wind. It disturbs you: it is the surging of the sea. This is the moment to awaken Christ and let him remind you of those words: “What can this be? Even the winds and the sea obey him.”