There’s a fierce storm on the Sea of Galilee, and in its midst, a nearly capsized boat full of terrified disciples. The story of Jesus calming this storm is recounted in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke during this summer of Ordinary Time.
But what does it mean for us?
I like to get a geographical and historical sense of Gospel stories, and a book that’s great for that is Jesuit Father James Martin’s “Jesus, A Pilgrimage,” which recounts the priest’s journey through Israel with reflections on the Gospels.
The Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel, is actually the lowest freshwater lake in the world. The Jordan River flows in and out of it. Sometimes it’s referred to as Lake Gennesaret or the Sea of Tiberias.
Jesus spent much of his ministry away from the busy political hub in the south – Jerusalem – and much more time in the vicinity of this lake. Capernaum, where Peter may have lived, was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus walked on the water here and spoke to the crowds from his friend’s fish- ing boat on this lake.
Apparently, the topography of sharply rising hills surrounding a very low lake makes for sudden, dangerous squalls. Since many of the disciples were probably fishermen and used to volatile water, this storm must have been unusually brutal.
And Jesus sleeps through it.
Father Martin takes us to Israel’s Jesus Boat Museum, where the remains of a first-century fishing craft discovered in 1986 are exhibited. Research suggests this boat is similar to the ones described in the Gospels. You can google the museum to find pictures.
Jesus’s friends wake him in terror. Immediately, Jesus rebukes the storm and a great calm ensues. Father Martin says a very literal translation of the Greek conveys Jesus’s response: “How is it that you still have no faith?”
The disciples seem to be nearly as shaken by Jesus’s actions as by the storm: “Who can this man be?”
Martin writes that as a spiritual director, he knows “no other passage that is as helpful to Christians.”
It is beautiful, and yet to me it poses challenges.
We live in the midst of great storms. Climate change, gun violence, a refugee crisis, war in Europe, civil discord.
And that’s not to mention the personal storms that rage in each of our lives.
We yearn to see Jesus stand up in the stern of the boat and calm these storms.
There’s a saying that used to reside at Holy Spirit Center in Anchorage (and probably still does): “Sometimes the Lord calms the storm, and sometimes he lets the storm rage and calms his child.”
I’ve often taken those words to prayer. To me, they speak to the essence of what faith is. Jesus wanted his friends to trust that whether they lived or died that night in the boat, they were in God’s hands.
When we hear Jesus say, “Ask and you shall receive,” we want to believe that if we simply have faith, we can tell God what to do. Instead, faith turns that concept around and suggests that if you have faith, you will trust God is with you through the storm no matter what the outcome.
Faith does not mean that God will cure every illness or heal every wound.
Faith isn’t easy. If I had been in that boat, I probably wouldn’t have let Jesus get any sleep.
Would I have trusted enough to even get into that boat, or make that journey of discipleship? That’s the tough question faith asks.