All three synoptic gospels give an account of Jesus being asleep in the boat while a storm overtakes the group outing on the Sea of Galilee. (Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25; Matthew 8:23-27) Mark reports one key detail left out my Matthew and Luke – namely, that Yeshua (Jesus) was asleep in on a pillow in the rear of the boat (Mark 4:38). None of the gospel accounts remind us that a number of the disciples were experienced sailors who were quite familiar with navigating in Galilean storms. All three accounts suggest that the story was recorded to highlight Yeshua’s miraculous abilities to control nature and calm the wind and the waves – that is, to act as the master of creation.
Some commentators have suggested that the storm which was calmed was the storm raging inside the disciples, not the wind and waves of nature. If that is a more valid interpretation (and I think it is), then I think the story line might be something like the following:
It had been a hard day for Yeshua, every minute filled with teaching and preaching. Large numbers of the spiritually hungry continued to press in on him, as if they wanted to wring the last bit of wisdom and spiritual energy from him. After sending the crowds home for the evening, Yeshua had to give additional lessons to his disciples. They seemed to pay attention when Yeshua was teaching, taking mental notes, as if preparing to spit back the correct answers on a mid-term exam, without ever sensing the radical transformation into which they were each being invited. “When will they ever learn?” Yeshua whispered under his breath, heaving a deep sigh. Yeshua was exhausted – physically, emotionally, spiritually.
Hoping to get some rest, Yeshua suggested that they hop into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake where, in the morning, the teaching and preaching mission would continue. Once out away from shore, Peter (who had been at the helm) saw Yeshua nodding off. He brought the boat to a rest and traded places with Yeshua. (The helmsman’s seat was the only padded surface in the boat.) “Come back here, Yeshua. It’s more comfortable and you need your rest. Sleep for a while. The guys and I can occupy ourselves discussing what you taught us tonight. When you are a little more rested, then we will continue across to the other side.”
The gentle rippling of the waves provided a rhythmic cadence as Yeshua fell fast asleep.
But the gentleness of the waves lapping against the side of the boat was replaced by strong waves as the wind grew in it force and fury. As the wind and waves increased in intensity, so did the concern of the boats inhabitants. Matthew, was a pure landlubber. It was not concern that filled Matthew; instead it was utter, unadulterated panic. The storm was raging. The boat was adrift. Yeshua was asleep at the helm. Matthew scrambled to the back of the boat and, with a high-pitched scream, shook Yeshua awake. “Teacher, wake up! We’re sinking! We’re going to drown! Do something!”
Yeshua, wiping sleep from his eyes, got up. He calmly sat Matthew down, gently holding his hand in front of Matthew, palm toward his face as if to say “Easy, now.” Then he turned toward Peter, Andrew, James, and John. “Do we have any experienced sailors on board?” “That’s us,” they replied in one voice.
Turning to the others, Yeshua asked, “In a situation like this, who would you prefer to have at the helm – a construction worker turned preacher or an experienced sailor?” There was some mumbling, but no one spoke up and said the obvious.
“Is there reason to be concerned about the storm?” Yeshua continued with the four sailors. “Some concern,” they admitted. “And do you know what needs to be done?” Yeshua pressed. “Well, of course we do!” Peter said proudly.
“Then, seeing that the storm has upset our brother (who, by the way, does not have your experience on the water), why have you not already done what needs to be done?” Quietly, and a little ashamed after being chastened by Yeshua’s words, they took charge. Once they trimmed the sail and adjusted the rudder, the boat stopped thrashing around. Even Matthew realized that the boat was no longer an unwitting victim of the wind and waves, but was sailing toward shore.
This parable about Yeshua is intriguing and inviting. It approaches the basic question of how we deal with anxiety – namely, it seems so easy for us to turn to someone else to resolve our anxiety. Yeshua seems to be suggesting that, when life seems spinning out of control, pay attention. Look at what’s going on and what resources you have at your disposal. Then spin yourself into the situation. Ask yourself, “What is my responsibility here?” That is where you will find life, and find it abundantly. Don’t step back and wait for someone else to solve it for you. Don’t expect a hero to come to your rescue. You have what you need to cope with life. You have what you need to move beyond just coping – to live your life to the full! Panic won’t accomplish anything.