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ruleBackground

Gospels

John 21:17

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

January, 23, 2011

Do you not care that we are perishing?

It sure looks like Jesus does not care that they are perishing. The story of Jesus asleep in the boat as the storm threatens to drown everyone is one of those places where I'm on the side of the disciples.

Like many Christians, when I read through the gospels I tut-tut, roll my eyes, and generally look down on the attitudes, incomprehension and escapades of the twelve. They get it wrong so often and they never seem to learn. While I, from the comfort of my armchair, imagine myself to be so much more wise and mature and faithful than them.

But every time I read this story, I'm on their side.

Jesus' behavior in the boat is puzzling to say the least, and infuriating to say the most. It seems to be one of those few places in the gospels where Jesus' insider knowledge gets in the way of him truly understanding the fears of ordinary people.And that worries me, just a little bit.

Jesus knows he can rebuke nature at any time and nature will obey him. Jesus knows his date with death is some time in the future in Jerusalem. So Jesus is not concerned about the storm.

But the rest of us don't have those powers and do not know our destinies in advance. To the disciples, it really looks like this could be it. It's not just the fierceness of the storm—it's the fact that the boat is swamped and actively sinking. They don't wake him when the skies darken or the wind comes up; they only do that when things are dire and he has not yet responded.

Think about that for a bit.

That's why, on one level, Jesus' rebuke to to them (and by extension, to us in our times of danger) seems harsh, and a little uncaring. Easy for you to say, Jesus.

Now, Jesus does know what it is like to be us.That was one of the reasons for his coming. But sometimes we have to wonder about the whole kenosis thing (Philippians 2:5–8). Was Jesus also emptied of the ability to know his destiny? Some theologians believe this was the case, and a compelling case can be made for it. But on the surface the gospels seem to indicate a Jesus who knew how and where his end would come. And Jesus certainly was not emptied of the ability to perform miracles. So in those respects, which play out so deeply in our lives, Jesus was not like us.

What of the rebuke, then? How bad should we feel when Jesus says, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"

Jesus, the one who knows what is ahead, both bad and good, says this to us. He knows bad is ahead for him in Jerusalem, but even so, he believes there is no reason to fear. This, even though he also knows at that time he will withhold his ability to change the course of events. And what will happen to him—an unjust, painful death—is at the top of the list of human fears.

People around the world deal with this every day. The planes fly into the towers. The suicide bomber decimates the crowded marketplace. The crazed gunman sprays bullets into the crowd at the Safeway, or into the classrooms at Virginia Tech.The villagers are set upon bythe insurgents. The wrong man is convicted and electrocuted.

Jesus knows all about these things. He knew what was ahead in his own life. And yet, his word to the disciples—to us—is: "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"

That's another thing worth thinking about for a bit. Because of course Jesus knows something else about what is ahead. He knows what lies beyond what is ahead. He knows how everything turns out in the end. Jesus has the ultimate big picture view, he knows who is in control, and he knows why faith in Him is a sure bet. Part of Jesus' mission is to help us believe that reality too.

Jesus knows we can have faith in the fact that death is not the end. That God has the final victory where everything will be made right. That what happens to us here is not God's final verdict on the matter. That, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:58, "your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

It's easy to believe this in the abstract and during the good times. It is harder to believe in the moment of distress, during an emergency, or when senseless things are happening.. Which is where the disciples were in this story.

Can we believe what Jesus says to us in these moments? That is the hard part. But perhaps that is why we have the story of the stilling of the storm. Jesus does demonstrate his power right then for the disciples, despite their weak faith, to show that God ultimately is in control.

Their task, and ours, is to continue to believe God holds the final victory even when the power to save in the moment is withheld, like it was at the cross, and like it sometimes is in our own lives. It seems like a test—one that we're not at all sure we will pass when we are under duress. Thank God for His mercy and his understanding of our weakness; we can have confidence in them as well.

©2011 Rebecca Copeland


On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.

A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
— Mark 4:35–41