The gospels show Jesus in all sorts of situations as he travels the dusty roads of Palestine preaching the Kingdom of his Father. We, too, walk with him, we listen to what he says, we see how he acts, we observe how the Apostles respond – and we learn who he is.
So today, for no apparent reason, he says to them (and to us): Let’s cross over to the other side.
The other side for the apostles was the other side of the lake, a potentially dangerous journey across unpredictable waters. To make it worse he decided to make the crossing at night!
We all have ‘another side of the lake'; a part of our lives which we need to attend to and visit with Jesus. What’s yours? A gambling problem? Drink, drugs, lack of prayer, selfishness, temper?
So he says to us ‘Come on, let’s go. Get into the boat! I’ll be with you.’
The Apostles were probably rather glad to be doing something they understood, something they had been doing all their lives. They would have been confident of their skills and of their understanding of the dangers. They would not have been thinking of Jesus as he took his seat out of their way, put his head on the pillow and fell asleep. Were they perhaps thinking ‘This, at last, is something we can do. We are the experts and we don’t need Jesus.’
This, really, is the great temptation – to think we can go where we want, achieve what we want, find the happiness we want – without Jesus. Have you ever given in to this temptation? I think the whole of the Western world is struggling with this temptation right now. ‘Do we need Jesus? Is Jesus still necessary?’
And quite unbelievably, there are some religious denominations, saying the same thing. And if they are not saying it they are certainly practising it. How many funerals have I attended where it seemed they were, de facto, worshipping the deceased and Jesus had to find himself a place on the sidelines with barely a mention? No wonder that in our time he seems to have fallen asleep.
Some commentators will say that Jesus was not really asleep but I disagree. Mark is careful to insist that he was asleep, that they woke him, and that he woke up. But perhaps we can compromise with the beautiful verse from the Song of Songs (5:2): I sleep, but my heart is awake.
And why did Jesus allow himself to fall asleep, especially on such a dangerous voyage? The answer is very simple – he trusted his Father. What a lesson for us! We, poor humans that we are, we need to sleep. It is God who never sleeps. As God, Jesus never sleeps, as the hymn for evening prayer declares so beautifully:
Jesu, Good Shepherd, thou who never sleepest,
But o’er thy sheepfold watch and ward who keepest;
but as a man like us he needs everything we do and that includes rest.
Suddenly it begins to blow a gale and the waves break into the boat, threatening to swamp it.
- I must have a drink. I need it. I can’t do without a drink for another minute.
- It happened again, I lost my temper. I can’t do this. I can never win this battle.
- It feels so pointless when I pray. Nothing happens, no one is there. Jesus is asleep.
And so they woke him up and, can you believe it, accused him of not caring! Master, do you not care? We are going down!
And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!’ And the wind dropped, and all was calm again.
Jesus’ words participate in the power of the words God spoke to the sea in the beginning of creation (First Reading): Come thus far, I said, and no farther: here your proud waves shall break. And the words of Psalm 106 today likewise reinforce the sovereignty of God’s power over the waves: He stilled the storm to a whisper: all the waves of the sea were hushed.
Many of us have had this experience. We found that the storm, whatever it may have been, was stilled to a whisper and the waves of the sea were hushed. The Apostles were ‘filled with awe’ and asked, ‘Who can this be?’ Jesus had led them another step deeper into the mystery of his divine human identity. Thanks to the Scriptures he has led us too.`