When I was a boy, times were simpler in so many ways.
My grandson once inquired of me, “what video games did you play growing up?” And of course he was incredulous that when I was his age computers were vast multi-million dollar machines that filled spaces the size of several large houses and had to have their own dedicated power plants and air-conditioning units. All the human interface was with paper tape or punched cards — no video in sight! They were also hundreds of times less powerful than the simplest calculator you can now buy at an office supply store. He was too polite to ask if I kept real dinosaurs as pets!
Apart from going to church and spending endless hours in the library, my generation learned to make or improvise our own entertainment. There were a number of groups we could join to provide camaraderie with others our own age such as the Boy Scouts. We were encouraged to help little old ladies safely across the street and be kind to animals and “do a good turn every day”. I’m sure I probably failed the assisting elderly female category by not actively seeking for them, but I do still remember how to tie knots (reef, square, granny, slip, bowline and half-hitch) and still try to live by the Scout Motto - “Be Prepared”.
Being prepared meant avoiding having to employ MacGyver skills by always having anticipated every eventuality with a plan readily to hand. As someone once remarked, “always expect the really unexpected”!
Useful survival skills indeed!
In the time of Jesus, such survival skills came as part and parcel of every boy’s apprenticeship. Accidents and carelessness could be life ending events.
So it is a little surprising to find fully qualified fishermen such as Peter and Andrew in a panic on the Sea of Galilee. If we assume that they were rough contemporaries of Jesus, that would mean they had spent the best part of twenty years sailing the lake and experiencing all the weather conditions that could arise there. These men were experienced, seasoned sailors and no novices to the whims of nature in that part of the world!
Now, it must be said that the Sea of Galilee lies almost six hundred feet below mean sea level and is surrounded by high lands and mountains. That topology is ripe for funneling sudden storms and winds down onto the surface from all sides simultaneously. Sometimes these gave rise to transient squalls and other times to full-fledged storms with howling hurricane-force winds and with ferocious waves that could easily swamp a small fishing vessel.
Here is the story as told by Luke:
One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and started out. As they sailed across, Jesus settled down for a nap. But soon a fierce storm came down on the lake. The boat was filling with water, and they were in real danger. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and the raging waves. Suddenly the storm stopped and all was calm. Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?” The disciples were terrified and amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “When he gives a command, even the wind and waves obey him!” Luke 8:22-25 NLT
Mark tells the same story in Mark 4:35-41 and in my imagination I hear Jesus saying in modern vernacular, “You guys! Calm down! Cut that out!”, and of course, preachers throughout the centuries have had material for countless sermons on the subject.
But a couple of other things stand out for me in this incident.
Firstly, Jesus was confident enough in the skill of the sailors in his boat to actually go to sleep!
I often encounter people who want Jesus to intervene or take over every little detail in their lives. And while I applaud their sense of surrender, sometimes I think we need to recognize that it is enough to have Jesus in the boat with us. We are expected to just use the skills and experience we have to get on with the task at hand which is to get safely to the other side! Jesus told many parables where the authority figure gives instructions to employees or servants and just expects them to be carried out according to his wishes. As we say in Scotland, “there’s no point in having a dog and barking yourself!” Certainly Jesus could take care of every detail by himself, he’s certainly powerful enough to do so, but then we’d never be learning to trust him more and expand our faith.
Secondly, there is the irony of the disciples’ expectations.
Presumably, they woke Jesus up hoping he could do something to save them but then they were terrified when he did! Some of that may have been a panic reaction, but what were they expecting? I think this is why when everything is calmed down Jesus asks them, “where is your faith?” Jesus doesn’t give them a hard time for waking him up to help, but he is disappointed that they didn’t really believe he had the power over the dangerous turbulence they were experiencing.
Having Jesus "in the boat" with us should give us a sense of peace and calm no matter the external conditions. One of the characteristics of the Jesus follower in whom Christ lives is that they have the special gift Jesus has bequeathed to us — his peace. He said,
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14: 26 NLT
May I suggest that Jesus has given each of us a mission, an opportunity to take part in building his Kingdom. He has confidence that we have the skills to do what is required. He has already, like the Boy Scouts, prepared for all eventualities. He is trusting us to get on with the job. He is in the boat with us. He knows that turbulent conditions may unexpectedly sweep down on us. There is no need to panic - because we have his grace, peace and power and we are prepared for every eventuality!
In business, as part of a team-building exercise, I would often challenge weaker members of my team to answer the question, “what would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” As christians we do well to remember that although we cannot know what the future holds, we know who holds the future. Be assured Jesus is not about to let you sink! He’s anticipated and prepared for unexpected turbulence!
Peace! Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black
P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at https://salvationarmyconcordca.org/chronicle/