June 6, 2015
If we were to take today’s Gospel reading in a literal and historic sense, it is far removed from our experience. It tells of a voyage that was made long ago in a far distant land. The date of the voyage was in what we call the First Century, about two-thousand years ago. Even the small body of water called the Sea of Galilee, is a place that most of us have never seen, and probably never will.
The voyage was beset by a storm. Waves were washing across the boat, and it appeared to be on the verge of sinking. The passengers were in terror for their lives. They anticipated that at any moment they would be thrown into the sea and drowned. Now I have never had an experience like that, and my guess is that you have not either. The voyage becomes even more strange to us when we read that Jesus was physically present in the boat; and of all things he was asleep! In the midst of a storm!
This is, to say the least, an unusual story. Historically and literally, it could hardly be more remote from your life and mine. But, if we read the story on a much deeper level, it comes VERY close to home. All of us have felt trapped in adverse circumstances, from which there appeared no escape. And in those times, it seemed that the Lord was of no help. He was either absent, or asleep, or indifferent to our need. All of us have wondered if God even knows what is happening to us; and if God does know, does God care?
Let’s be clear that the people in this story were men of faith. They had left everything in order to follow Jesus. He had become the focus of their highest hopes and dreams. They believed in him more that they believed in anyone or anything else. But here, we see them at a time when their faith was badly shaken. They looked at the sleeping figure in the bow of the boat, and wondered if he was WORTHY of their trust. After all, the voyage had been HIS idea. He was the one who said, “let us cross over to the other side…” Had he brought them to that place, only to have everything end in disaster? They woke him and said, “Teacher, don’t you care if we are drowning?”
You see, they were up against something that was more than they could handle. Jesus had taught them that at times like that, they could DEPEND on him. He would always be there; he would never let them down.
That was a wonderful promise. They very much wanted to believe it, and did, more or less. But at that moment, it did not seem to be working. He was in fact with them, but he was asleep. He was oblivious to the situation that threatened their very lives. They had faith in him, but their faith was shaking like a leaf in a wind-storm. And they were frightened out of their minds.
The point is, I have been in that same boat, and so have you. No doubt, someone is there right now, today. You are up against something that is beyond your strength. You have tried to pray, but nothing has changed. And at last, perhaps your prayer has been reduced to cry of desperation, “Lord, don’t you care?” What are we to do in such times when our faith is shaken?
Well, one thing I would suggest is that we might begin by examining that faith. You see, sometimes our faith is shaken because it is not a faith worth having ~ it is not true to life. If we think of faith in God as a “protective shield” against tragedy, it is certain to let us down. That kind of faith is a distortion of the very concept of faith. (That’s not faith, that’s a “wise investment” that any fool would make). Those who hold that kind of faith are doomed to disappointment; and to some people that seems very disappointing. They wish their faith would save them from life’s storms; or at least get them out of it.
Now I can understand that feeling. One part of me would like to tell you that, if you have faith in God, everything is going to turn out great. Your cancer will be cured, your loved one will live and not die, your child will get off drugs and come home. I would like to tell you that, but I cannot. And you would not believe me if I did, because it’s not true.
Now, I know that if you read parts of the Bible in a certain way, that can sometimes seem to be the kind of picture that you get; this particular story might be interpreted that way. But whatever it means, it does NOT mean that for people of faith, every storm will have a happy ending. The saints, among the noblest human beings who have ever lived, NEVER saw faith as a way to win special treatment. They chose their manner of life, in scorn of the consequences. And for their choices, they often paid a bitter price. When your faith is shaken, examine it ~ test it for validity. Ask yourself if it is really faith, or just a religious insurance policy.
One final thing we need to do when our faith is shaken, is to EXERCISE it. Faith is like our physical muscles ~ it becomes stronger when we use it. The disciples in our story had very little faith left; the storm had pounded most of it out of them. But what little they had, they used. They knew where to look. They looked to Christ. “Teacher…Master..Don’t you care that we are drowning?” That was a prayer (a cry of the heart), and it was the best that they could do at that moment. And Christ honored it. We are told, “The wind died down, and everything became calm.”
You see, that can happen in our hearts, even though it might not always happen in our world. And this really is the true message of this reading.
St. Mark was telling a hurting and persecuted church that Christ WAS with them. At times, he seemed to be asleep. But still he was there. And in his own time and in his own way, he would speak peace to their tortured souls. (And the history of the Church shows that he did.)
He will do the same for us. Use what faith you have. Christ is still in the boat with us.