4th Sunday after Epiphany + Matthew 8:23-27
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Jesus calms the raging sea with just a word. “Peace, be still” were His words, according to St. Mark’s account. To these men in the boat with Jesus He reveals Himself to be the Lord of creation, the creator Himself, the one of whom the Psalmist said, “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them” (Psalm 89:9). This shows His divine power to be His own. For “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” says the apostle John (John 1:3). Christ is the Word of God the Father by whom God the Father made all things, so as creator He rules all things, even the violent winds and vicious waves.
He reveals His almighty power by first leading His disciples into a boat. He had spent His day preaching to the multitudes and healing the infirmed. He takes the lead and get into the boat and “his disciples followed him.” It was then that this great tempest arouse on the sea. It wasn’t just a bit of wind and rain, either. “The boat was covered with the waves.” It must have been the worst storm these men had ever encountered to cause the disciples to react with such fear. Several of them were hardened fishermen who had made their livings on this very sea. They had surely seen storms before but never a storm like this. More than likely they did all they could to secure the boat. Years of experience told them what to endure the storm. But it was all for nothing. The wind and the waves were too much for them, so much so that they finally woke the sleeping Jesus with a frantic prayer, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” Jesus doesn’t assess the situation and ask what they’ve already done. He rebukes them. “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?”
In that answer we see the huge difference between Jesus and His disciples. The disciples were full of fear. That’s because all the things they had put their trust in failed them. The disciples had imagined they were strong but they were not. They trusted their years of experience in boats, but their experience failed them when this great tempest arose. They trusted their wits to save them, but up against the raging elements, their aptitude was meaningless. They are frantic, frenetically bouncing around in fear and anxiety because of this external circumstance over which they have no control whatsoever. But look at Christ. He’s asleep in the boat throughout all this. He is fully God but also fully man and a man needs to sleep after a full day of ministering to others. It’s not just exhaustion, though, that allows Jesus to sleep so soundly through this storm. It is faith. He trusts His heavenly Father to care for Him. He’s certain in the Father’s provision. Firmly believing in the goodness of His heavenly Father, He is the embodiment of David’s words in Psalm 4:8, “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” The disciples had subtly placed their trust, not in God, but in all sorts of other things that couldn’t actually keep them secure. They trusted the good weather they enjoyed all day. They trusted in their experience in the boat and the years they had provided for themselves on this very sea. Their faith in God was indeed “little,” while their faith in themselves was great.
That is why Jesus led them into the boat in the first place. He brought them there to teach them not to rely upon themselves but upon God their heavenly Father as He relied on God His heavenly Father. Christ leads into the boat, onto the sea, and through the storm, to show them that things in which they put their trust were unworthy of their faith. The wind and the waves washed away the idols from the hearts and showed their experience, the weather, and their own strength to be powerless in the face of trial and danger. Though it wasn’t Jesus who whipped up the storm. That was the devil, who does not want Christians to have a moment’s peace and wants to drive us to despair. Christ did what God always does throughout the Scriptures though. Foreseeing this plot of the devil, He sets a boundary to it and brings good out of it. In this case the good He brought from it was that He show His disciples the worthlessness of their idols and taught them to trust in Him alone, the One whom even the wind and sea obey.
This is what Christ does to all His Christians. He gathers them into the boat of His holy Church. He brings you into His holy Church through Holy Baptism. He is present with you here in this tiny ship just as He was with those disciples because He promises to be present with us. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). But He also allows Christians to be buffeted by wind and waves, which are the hardships, trials, and dangers of this life. His small boat, the Church, is harassed by the devil who wants to capsize it. And Christ allows all this. He allows suffering. He allows hardship to be your lot. He allows the devil to harass you, sometimes even allowing a thorn in your flesh, a messenger of Satan, to buffet you. He doesn’t do this out of spite or hatred, meanness or malice. He does this to teach you that the things in which you put your trust are not worthy of your trust. Like the disciples, we very easily place our trust in the things of this life. The disciples trusted that the mild weather would follow them on the sea. Similarly, when things are going well for us it’s easy to trust God. But when He lays a cross on our backs it becomes much more difficult to trust Him. The disciples were confidence rested in their own experience at sea and their abilities. Similarly, when we find ourselves in a difficult, seemingly impossible situation, the first thing we do is resort to our own experience and our ability to figure out a way out of the bad spot. But all this is “little faith” toward God and Christ. This is the point of trials: He wants to test our faith so that we see how quickly we rush to idols for help instead of Him.
And while the disciples are “little-faiths” they were not faithless. Their faith was merely little, small, and weak. After all earthly support fails them so that they despair of their lives, they rush to Christ, arouse Him from His sleep and pray to Him. He answers their cry by calming the wind and waves with a word. When your faith is tested by hardship and trials, Christ is teaching you to rely solely upon Him. It may seem like He’s sleeping at times, that He’s unresponsive or unmoved by your prayers. But none of that is true, for the Psalmist says, “Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:4). He may not lift the cross immediately. He may not, at that very moment, calm the wind and waves which buffet you, but don’t let that move you. “For we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). He may not remove the hardship, the bad situation, the persecution, or the bad situation. Nowhere does He promise to do this, after all. But He does promise to work all things for your good. Even if, and when, your hardship kills you, you can say with St. Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
You have no reason to fear the dangers and hardships of this life. Christ, who now neither slumbers nor sleeps, is in the boat with you. He hears your prayers and will deliver you according to His good and gracious will. Until then, don’t look to anything else for comfort but Christ your Lord. For your heavenly Father only gives good things to His baptized children. The storm was good for the disciples because it taught them to trust Christ. May our dangers and trials do the same.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.