I wonder how old they are, Peter and James and John and these other disciples? I wonder how long they’ve been at the fishing game. Long enough to own a boat, and run a fishing business, certainly. But I wonder, because they’ll have known the waters and the weathers of the Sea of Galilee all their working lives. And their lives depend on their knowing. They have to know, each day, how to judge the lake’s mood. They’ve had to learn how to read the clouds, and the white horses on the waves. They have to know what winds out of different quarters will bring them. They have to be able to judge how long they have, when that promontory over there disappears from view, to furl the sails before a storm hits. And they have to be able to apply this knowledge each and every day.
Which means that they are good at this! Skilled. So that, if they judge the weather to be threatening, when Jesus proposes his trip across the lake, they’ll point out the towering clouds, and the strange, glassy surface of the water, and the sultry summer heat; and suggest waiting until tomorrow. But they don’t notice any of these danger signs. It all seems so tranquil and straightforward, in fact, that Jesus can settle down in the stern of the boat for a quiet nap. So now, as suddenly a squall whips up, it comes as a shock, even to these experienced fishermen. Not to worry! They’ve been out in a squall before, that’s the nature of the lake. They’ll head the boat into the wind, and take in the sail, and weather the storm. Likely it will soon pass; so often they do.
But no. This one is getting bad. This one is getting very bad; and with extra disciples on board, the craft rides lower in the water than on a fishing trip; and the waves are beginning to overtop the gunwales, and suddenly it’s all looking a bit desperate. How can he just: sleep, in the stern like that, with all this weather crashing around us? And we really are shipping quite a lot of water, now; faster than we can bail, and this squall shows no sign of blowing through, and everyone is soaked, and the boat is getting heavier and more difficult to manoeuvre; we’ll have to wake him up, now, this is getting serious! ‘Master, master, we are perishing!’
There isn’t a huge tradition of commercial fishing, here in the Allen Valleys. But we can all imagine ourselves afloat in a fishing boat, as the weather breaks over the decks; because, metaphorically, we’ve all spent time on board. We’ve all faced unexpected storms, and we know many friends and relatives who have to endure bad weather. And it’s always alarming, when we feel uncertain and scared and we’re not sure what to do next. When we are surrounded by malevolent seas, and panic begins to rise, and there seems to be no life jacket to be found, we find ourselves echoing the disciples, ‘Master, master, we are perishing!’
Should I be leaning over your shoulder now, and pointing, and saying something like, ‘Can you see what the problem is, here? “Where is your faith?” says Jesus. The problem here is that you need more faith! If you just believed a bit more strongly, prayed a bit more fervently, read your Bible a bit more thoroughly, obeyed a bit more diligently, you’d know in your heart that Jesus is in the same boat with you, and that even the wind and the waves obey him.’
I’m picturing an apprentice mechanic, peering under the bonnet of a vehicle, covered in oil and scratching his head; or someone dejectedly stabbing at the buttons on a computer keyboard, trying to get something on the screen to do what’s required. And neither of them have a clue, until older, wiser, more experienced help arrives. ‘Of course!,’ you reply. ‘That’s it! Why didn’t I see that? I need more faith!’ I’ll just pop out to the Co-op! Problem solved. Storm over.
Though preachers and writers sometimes give this impression, we know it just isn’t as simple as this! We may not be fishermen, but we’ve all spent a good few years watching the weather of living, and judging the temper of the in-coming squalls. We’ve navigated! We are not day-trippers, abroad upon the ocean of life for the first time today, ignorant of the risks we face and blind to the rocks and the tides of piloting our way through the coming week. We are professional humans! Living is what we do for a living. No-one leaning over our shoulder knows better than we already do what hazards threaten the waters we sail though.
Luke gives us a clue that he’s talking about more than just the weather as he relates this episode; because when Jesus reaches land, he stills the storms in the life of the demoniac, Legion. Who, incidentally, does not have any faith in him at all. But faith is not a commodity that we buy from the Co-op, nor a quality that we can just summon up at will and apply during the storm, to calm whatever weather we’re in.
When war broke out, was it faith that people lacked? Those were real bombs and real bullets and real casualty lists that they had to deal with. If people had only shown a bit more faith, would God have issued Christians with flack-jackets? When the doctor told us the diagnosis, was it faith that we lacked? But this was a real disease, with real pain, and real consequences for our futures. If we’d displayed a bit more faith, would God have administered us anaesthetic? And when we’d picked up the P45 on our way out, would, say, twice as much faith have averted the closure, or found us a new job more quickly?
Storms are always storms. And they are always difficult to deal with and painful to live through. But this is what we do, as disciples. We try to cope; and being advised that we need a bit more faith doesn’t really help much. So we bail out the boat as best we can, and rely upon the rest of the crew, and we call out to Jesus for help when we are perishing. We call out, not because we don’t have faith, but because we do. A tradition that goes all the way back to St Peter and his friends.
© Jon Russell 2019