Tossed by the Storms of Life Reflection for 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Gospel of today reminds us of one of the most amazing miracles performed by Jesus. The account is short. The action is fast and there is very little detail. Jesus had spoken to a great number of people on the shore of the lake, and the disciples were among them (4: 1-2). Now, unexpectedly, Jesus tells the disciples to cross the lake while night was falling. Perhaps he wanted to get away from the crowd, but some of them followed him in other boats on a lake that was always liable to spring a surprise with a sudden storm. Fishermen in the area had experienced many dangerous storms on the Sea of Galilee. The disciples on the boat with Jesus could not understand his reaction: he slept quietly while the boat was filling with water. It is of little benefit to have a Master who sits sleeping while his disciples are in fear for their lives. Their spontaneous reaction is one of bewilderment – do their lives really matter to him?
Without answering the disciples’ question, or showing any concern for their legitimate distress, he sat there in a boat that was pitching wildly. He commanded the wind and the sea with authority, as if it were a man possessed by the devil. He spoke only once and the wind died down and the sea was calmed. Then he turned to his disciples. And we are surprised that the fear of the disciples, although understandable in the situation, was interpreted by Jesus as a lack of faith. Being in the boat with him, they should not have feared for their lives. But even though he continued to sleep, none of his disciples would have perished … if only they had faith.
The story ends sadly. The word of Jesus and the calming of the sea are not enough for them to overcome the terror they felt. But in fact they are still overwhelmed by fear, and are wondering who this man is whom the wind and sea obey, even though they were his followers.
Apply what the text says to life
The gospel account does not insist on other amazing aspects that cause so much wonder, because they are not part of our daily experience, and do not fit in with our ordinary schemes. But we would be wrong to dwell on them. It was not the intention of the narrator to draw our attention to the unusual or extraordinary.
For those who believe in Jesus it is not difficult to admit that he worked miracles. The signs worked by Jesus were not rare actions intended to impress by being beyond the boundaries of reason and the expectations of those who were around him. Rather, they were clear signs of the closeness of a merciful God, and incontrovertible signs of his willingness to intervene when everything else failed.
Christians are often accused of being naive deluded individuals who still believe in miracles, as if our faith in Christ consisted only in believing in the impossible, in waiting for the unpredictable or in doing extraordinary things. Today, when it seems that everything can be explained, and even planned, there is no time for miracles. The fact is that people think there is a miracle only when something unusual occurs, something completely abnormal and inexplicable.
This is not the understanding of miracle of a Christian who believes in Christ. Everyday life and the unexpected can both be seen as miraculous experiences, as long as we believe in the closeness of God. People who know they are in the presence of God, living within reach of his hand and in the shadow of his heart, can enjoy wonderful experiences and real miracles, even when, as in today’s Gospel, they have the feeling of living in a storm unable to do anything but pray to a God, who may well appear to be asleep.
Like the disciples on the boat that day, we also in our day know that Jesus is near us in our time of trouble and that, even though he may appear to be asleep, he shares our fate and stays there close to us. Or does it maybe happen to us, as in the case of the disciples, that in the presence of what is happening or what we fear might happen we have the impression that God will continue to be at least half asleep? We need to overcome the bewilderment that assails us in the face of his apparent indifference, or lack of tact or foresight? How do we forgive him for falling asleep while we are about to be overwhelmed by a storm?
Jesus’ falling asleep in the boat and the absence of God in today’s world, are they not a ruse, a kind of trick played on us by God? The more we feel threatened, or the less we feel helped by God, the more we regret it and the more likely we are to turn to God. His apparent indifference towards us will lead us to express our anguish with greater force and urgency, and his being fast sleep will lead us to shout out of our desperate fear of losing. When we reach this desperate state we become even more convinced that we are in grave need. Our difficulty and his indifference will cause us also to cry in prayer, as the disciples did. Why then do we not make greater effort in our prayer, if necessary, until we reach the stage when we longer feel we are lost or at risk of being lost?
Anyone who has never had the experience of being abandoned will have little reason to go in search of Jesus, and will not know what to say him when he finds him. Only those who feel lost without him, will know that they are safe when they find him, even if he is still asleep. It is a strange way of acting but it is the way Jesus treats his disciples. For the disciples of Jesus the deep and bitter experience of their own limitations may be the path they have to travel to come to where the Lord is hiding. Our faults, our inability to save our own lives, can help us understand how much we need God even just to go on living. It is to make us aware of this that Jesus stays close to us, in the same boat, but sound asleep. I wonder if perhaps he is not pretending to be deaf to our call simply to make us cry out with greater fervour and to search for him with greater diligence.
If the first disciples were expert at anything, it was surely life on the sea, for they were fishermen by trade. They had survived many other storms on the lake. On this occasion they decided to have recourse to Jesus. However, he did not seem very concerned about the fact that they might all sink to the bottom. It does not take much imagination to identify the storms in which we ourselves, Christians of today, are in danger of being shipwrecked. A few minutes should be enough for us to identify them at personal, family and community level. Although rarely in history have we had access to so many things, we still do not feel safe. We are able to live our personal faith in a climate of complete freedom, but is it not true that we all feel a bit abandoned by God? And now that our world thinks it can do without God, how is that that we who believe do not feel the need of him?
If there is anything we can learn from today’s Gospel it is the daring of the disciples. They did not have much faith, they were not very courageous, but they dared to waken their Master. Today we believers could be a bit more daring. We could call on God a bit oftener and moan a bit less about our situation. Instead of complaining we should pray. Instead of feeling lost we should be more concerned about going in search of God. We ought to waken God when he seems to be asleep. We should dare to turn to him and shout, if he seems to ignore our whispering. If we are to be saved, we need to raise our voices above the noise of the storm. We must not allow him to overlook our troubles and misfortunes. To pray to God in this way, even if we are afraid and our faith is weak, it is not necessary that we be very good. It is enough that we are in danger and feeling alone.
Jesus awakened by the cries stilled the sea and rebuked the disciples. But they were now safe. What did it matter to them the reproach of Jesus in the face of a storm won? They could be of little faith, but they were still men, they had survived; and they could ask who it was, really, their teacher, a man who was obeyed by wind and water. Without knowing too much, not knowing everything about him, they dared to ask him for a miracle; and when they had obtained were amazed by what they had dared to call strongly to Jesus and Jesus had given them. Their life in danger had caused them to seek the Lord who was sleeping and now their life saved them induced to question the Lord who had awakened. So we, the disciples.
At least if today we were so! Because today we, rather than lose his composure, not agitating too, not … disrespect, we dare not lift her voice to God, nor cry out our impotence, or give voice to our fears. To not miss a courtesy to him, even more than we speak to him in a low voice when we speak out loud because we feel so far away from us, so little concerned about our things, our lives, both asleep. What hope, if not need a lot of faith, but you just need to try a lot of fear? We have a God who can do every storm of life a miracle, make any danger of a prodigy. Just be aware of how much we need him to survive day after day; and we tell them: a voice or in silence.
Fr Lukasz Nawrat SDB, Salesian Community, Limerick, Ireland