There’s a familiar story told in three of the four gospels about Jesus and a storm at sea. Mark tells it like this. It’s the end of a long day. Jesus wants to cross to the other side of the lake so says to the disciples, let’s go. The head out onto the lake and Jesus falls asleep in the back of the boat. A fierce storm comes up and the boat and its occupants are overwhelmed. They wake up Jesus, feeling like the end is near, and Jesus gets up, commands the storm to cease and it does. He asks them “why are you afraid? Don’t you have any faith?” They’re amazed and wonder who this could be, that nature obeys him.
I can recall many, many sermons and bible studies that suggest two approaches to this story.
The first is that it’s simply a miracle story that displays the power of God present in Jesus. The story is a real narrative in which Jesus demonstrates his power, even over nature. The answer to the question “who is this?” is clear: Jesus is divine and the power of God is in him, the same power that was present in stories of Hebrew scripture, even back to the very beginning. The spirit of God moved over the waters in the creation story.
I’d be happier if it was less about Jesus power over nature and more about his relationship with nature, but I can see how meaningful this is as a story of the miracle tradition. It demonstrates Jesus divine power saving us when we are in need. It’s one interpretation.
Another is that the story’s a parable. Whether it really happened this way or not is less important than the metaphor that in the storms of life, we turn to Jesus who is there for us. In those moments in our lives when we are most in need, Jesus is there. It may seem like we are adrift, but Jesus is there. If only we will reach out to him, we will be saved.
A meaningful interpretation, again emphasizing Jesus’ power to save us from the events in our lives that bring fear and trouble. It again offers rescue, this time from the storms that can come up in our daily lives. It’s one interpretation.
Both those understandings of the story emphasize our calling out to Jesus in the moment, the moment of fear when we should have faith. It would be a good time to remember how often Jesus said “don’t be afraid.” And that he meant, it’s okay to be scared, just remember that you’re not alone. God is with you. But what if we looked at the bigger picture, including asking how we got to this moment in the first place.
Jesus asks the disciples to come with him in the boat. Experienced fishermen agreed to get in a boat at night after a long day. No one wondered if there might be a storm. No one suggested waiting until morning. The same people who left their boats to follow Jesus, now follow him back into a boat when they might well have paused and asked questions. But they didn’t. They trusted and got in and off they went. They took the first step - again - and began a journey with Jesus, trusting in his presence.
Jesus’ eagerness to get to “the other side” might also be about the hope that Jesus offers as we journey. We might not know what’s ahead, but we step out with trust and hope.
And God goes with us, together. The storm is just a moment in a larger journey. What if it wasn’t the storm that was stilled, but our fear so that we may engage the storm and make our way through it? What if the questions about fear and faith were simply a reminder that we are journeying together and that, whatever storms or brief squalls or rain or sun or calm seas, we are not alone, even if it seems someone’s asleep at the wheel? Or rudder? What if the wonder at Jesus was the beginning of getting to know him? What if the question here isn’t about faith in what God will do to save us, but rather what we will do together, with God in our lives?