And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but Jesus was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” – Matt 8:23-27
This is such a human story. Can’t all of us see something in it that we can relate to?
As I read the passage this morning, what jumped out at me were these words: “Jesus was asleep”. I don’t think I’ve ever thought of Jesus sleeping before. Of course as a human being He needed to sleep… I just never thought about it. I try to picture in my mind’s eye: a strong, muscular, bearded 32-year-old middle eastern man, sprawled out in the bottom of a boat in a way that only young men can sprawl, fast asleep. Or would He be curled up in a corner among the baggage, staying out from underfoot? Did He snore?
However He slept, He was fast asleep, so much so that the waves splashing over the edge of the boat didn’t wake Him up. I can’t imagine a sleep so sound that a splash of water wouldn’t wake me instantly. Jesus must have been exhausted. And no wonder. He had spent the previous day healing Peter’s mother-in-law, then casting out demonic spirits, then healing all manner of illnesses, and then trying to escape the crowds the next morning via boat. When they landed, He was immediately surrounded by people saying they wanted to follow Him but they needed to go do something else first. Jesus made it pretty clear: follow Me now, don’t wait. Then He got back in the boat with the disciples and crashed out. (Matt 8:14-22)
So there you are. In a boat. With the Master of the Universe on board. Who is fast asleep. What a wonder!
Then a major storm appears out of nowhere. The boat rocks and pitches and starts taking on water. Things don’t look good. And where is the leader of this expedition? Still fast asleep.
Frightened, knowing this is a life-or-death situation, the disciples wake Jesus with the words “Save us, Lord! We are perishing.” And Jesus answers: “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” and proceeds to calm the wind and the waves.
There are many times I’ve heard the disciples criticized for their lack of faith in this passage, and I have to say: I disagree. Yes, perhaps they failed to remember that with the Master of the Universe on board they weren’t going to die… though they weren’t fully aware yet of who He was… but if I had been there I’m sure I would have reacted just as emotionally as they did.
Have you ever felt like your life was falling into a shambles and God was off in a corner asleep somewhere? Sometimes “Help!” is all the faith we can muster. “Save us, Lord” the disciples said — we are in a hopeless situation, we can’t save ourselves, but you can. Considering these were experienced fishermen, talking to a man who rarely if ever handled a boat, that’s quite a statement of faith. They knew who to turn to. They knew who was in charge. Maybe they should have thought one thought further and known they would be OK, but sometimes from where we mere mortals stand we can’t see past the fear.
So Jesus chides them “oh you of little faith”, but I doubt He spoke the words in anger. I imagine His voice would have been gentle, serious but with maybe a hint of teasing… perhaps with an unspoken “watch this“. And He speaks to the storm, and immediately there is a total, complete, indescribable calm.
Could Jesus have handled the situation some other way? Sure. He could have taken charge, started giving orders, could have shown the disciples how to steer through the storm, when to turn, what course to set. But that wasn’t His point. He wanted His disciples to know who He is, to deepen their faith in Him.
“What kind of man is this?” they ask. That’s the right question to be asking.