Luke 8.22-25: Jesus Calms the Storm
2nd Sunday before Lent, 24th February 2019.
Today’s gospel reading is the story of Jesus calming the storm. I like to read around the passage a bit before starting on the sermon, and looked in Matthew and Mark to see if the same story is there; which it is. Which got me thinking a little about why we have three books in the Bible that are quite similar. So, a brief introduction on this before we get into the passage.
This story, like may others, appears in all the gospels we call ‘synoptic’, Matthew, Mark and Luke, but not in John. The word ‘synoptic’ comes from a Greek word that means ‘seeing all together’, and picks up that they all tell the gospel from the same basic point of view. (Our English word ‘synopsis’ comes from the same root, but the meaning has developed on a bit.) I found an interesting illustration of the overlap between the first three gospels; it is obviously a bit subjective, but it gives a good view of what they have in common.
We do not really know why the synoptic gospels are the same. Scholars have tried to deduce what has happened from what is in the gospels themselves. The most common theory is that Mark came first. Matthew and Luke came later and used Mark as a source, as well as using another common document called Q (from the German word ‘quelle’, which just means ‘source’.)
So this story also appears in Matthew 823-27 and Mark 435-41. The Matthew and Luke accounts are very similar. Strangely (if it did come first), Mark has a bit more detail than the other two, but is still has the same elements.
Why are they different at all? Well, they are from a society well before the printing press; even if something was written down there would not be hundreds of identical copies around. Indeed, they would not have been written down at all to start with, just passed on by word of mouth. It is actually surprising that they are so similar. Clearly, the church thought that the events of Jesus life were important, and should be retold accurately.
The common points are:
- Jesus and the disciples were on the Sea of Galilee in a boat.
- A fierce storm blew up, the boat began to fill with water and was in danger of sinking.
- Jesus was sleeping, so the disciples woke him up and said “Master, we are about to die!”
- Jesus commands the wind and the waves to be still, and there was a great calm.
- Jesus then says to the disciples “Where is your faith?”
- Afterward, the disciples amazed and/or afraid. “Who is this man, even the winds and the waves obey him?”
Not all of the disciples in the boat were fishermen, but presumably some of them were (it was someone’s boat). These were people familiar with boats and water; it had been their livelihood. But a real storm, in a small boat, can be frightening even if you are experienced.
Even having done a fair bit of sailing, I find this picture scary. And that is a boat that is pretty much watertight, with life-rafts if something goes wrong. The crew are wearing lifejackets and waterproofs, possibly survival suits. They have radios, and on the other end of the radios are coastguards and the RNLI. Galilee is not the open sea, the waves are not as long or large as these, but they can be big enough, and steep. The boats would have been plain and wooden, with no motors to keep you heading into the wind, just oars. Soo you get pushed edge on to the waves, which rock you, fill the boat up, and you start to sink.
 And all this time, Jesus was sleeping. Straightforward human exhaustion, probably, after being with the crowds, teaching and healing. He must have been in a dry bit of the boat. Unable to sort out the situation for themselves, the disciples turn to Jesus. I wonder if they were actually expecting him to be able to do anything? This seems to be fairly early on in Jesus ministry, so they would have seen miracles. But this is a storm. This is the forces of nature having a go at you. People are insignificant in the face of the power of the wind and waves. They might have just wanted him to be awake before he drowned.
He stands up, and orders the waves and the wind to be still. And a great calm descends.
The initial reaction would be relief, thankfulness for safety, relaxing as the danger recedes.
But Jesus reaction is to say, “Where is your faith?”. This seems to be asking a lot. As you are about to drown, you might commit your soul to God, but to trust that he would save you?
Afterward, rowing back to the shore because there is no wind, as the adrenaline subsides and they start to think over what has happened, the full force of what they had seen hits them. This man just commanded a storm to stop. Who is he? What is he? We too would have been stunned.
Is this a real story? We were exhorted not to believe in the supernatural a couple of weeks ago, but where does that leave accounts of miracles like this? I have some sympathy with not trying to find supernatural explanations for things that can be explained naturally. The church has so often put God into the gaps to explain things that we do not understand, and then along comes science – Galileo, Darwin, Newton, Hawkins – and it seems as if Christianity is being pushed backward. God created the universe, so it seems unnecessary to have to have supernatural causes for our souls or the way God works within us; but that is a subject for a different sermon. But this miracle is not a gap. It is either made up, or an extraordinary coincidence, or it was a demonstration of God’s intervention. Storms do calm down quickly, but for it to happen by itself just as Jesus commanded it is scarcely more credible than that is it a miracle. We tend to think of people in the past or as less scientifically based cultures as being credulous. But the disciples clearly knew this was not normal; the world does not behave like this; that is why they were so astonished. They did not expect it, and saw the fact that it happened as pointing to something extraordinary about Jesus.
What do we learn? Most commentators draw metaphorical lessons from it. Follow Jesus whatever he leads you into. Don’t panic! or don’t panic because Jesus will care for you. Cry out to Jesus if you are in need. Look back at experiences and learn from them. It is all good.
But it was an event, not a parable, not teaching. Though it was presumably recorded, written down by Mark, because of what it showed about Jesus. I would suggest that you ponder it over the next few days, and see what it says to you. For me it is yet another pointer to Jesus’ divinity. That the saviour we are privileged to know, to whom we talk in prayer, whose love we claim, is far greater than we generally hold in our thoughts.
The question it leaves me with is Jesus’ comment, “Where is our faith?” I, like the disciples, am so far off reacting as Jesus seems to have expected them to react. Which itself leads to prayer, repentance, and the possibility of change.
St. John & St. Stephen