William Hole: Jesus calms the Tempest
Matthew 8: 23-27
As Jesus got into a boat, his disciples followed him.
Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea,
so that the boat was being swamped by waves;
but he was asleep.
They came and woke him, saying,
“Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea,
and there was great calm.
The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this,
whom even the winds and the sea obey?”
“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” These legendary words taken from President Franklin Roosevelt’s first Inaugural speech have become part of American history. Like President Kennedy’s, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” Roosevelt’s words brought hope to a nation that was very much in the depths of fear. The depression was in full force and millions of Americans were out of work and feared for their future and their overall safety. So, the rest is history as we say.
The Gospel for this Tuesday has Jesus in essence bringing a same hope to his Apostles who fear for their lives. Tossed about in a boat during a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee Jesus is sleeping! I’ve always wondered how he could have possibly slept through such a storm. Granted, this passage is not long after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves where an enormous amount of divine power was expended through his humanity and he was likely exhausted. But I also wonder if he may have been awake but simply waited for the Apostles to respond. “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” they cried out.
Unlike Roosevelt, or any President, who could only promise relief through social programs or charismatic leadership, Jesus offered hope through faith in him. “Why are you terrified?” I am with you so why are you afraid? In the midst of mighty wind and rain, Jesus stood with them, calmed the sea and not only took fear away but invited them to a greater faith.
Now we all know that we will continue to be anxious about the many things of life: natural disasters, our health, unemployment (that’s one thing I don’t need to fear), loneliness, rejection, broken marriages, safety of one’s children, etc. There is much to be concerned about and there always will be. However, I think we are called today to check our fears and recognize that although fear can be a powerful thing, faith in Christ will always be greater than any threat. Baptism takes away the fear of affects from Original Sin. The Eucharist takes away the fear of spiritual starvation and estrangement from Christ. Reconciliation takes away the fear of unforgiveness and despair.
Do you “fear” God in the sense of having a healthy respect for him? Children should “fear” their parents but not be afraid of them. Any loving parent would never do harm to their child but will demand a certain respect. Children should instinctively know that about Mom and Dad and always take comfort in the fact they are safe. Although in the face of threat we will naturally feel fearful, what do I do with that feeling? Where do I go?
When we find ourselves in a boat, tossed about by the waves, are we giving in to that fear or turning to our faith? Virtue is greater than sin; love greater than hate; forgiveness greater than vengeance; true faith in Christ stronger than fear. It really is.