Thursday, July 29, 2010

Matthew 8:23-27 - "And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him."

The opening sentence of this passage says the disciples followed Jesus into a boat, which then headed right into a violent storm. Do you mean that if I follow Jesus he might lead me straight into danger and turmoil? The short answer: yep. The long answer: uhh . . . yep. So what else is new? Jesus plans to make good on his promise that if you follow him you'll have no place to lay your head. If it's a peaceful, restful, skipping-in-the-daisies kind of life you're after, you're looking in the wrong place.

I love how one commentator pointed out that the Son of Man, who has nowhere to lay his head, is at the same time content to lay down his head anywhere, even at the stern of a boat in the middle of a storm. He has no home and so he can treat every place he happens to be like a home. But from a human perspective we see that Jesus is simply exhausted from dealing with the crowd all day. Although it is true he is God in the flesh, his experience in the flesh isn't somehow cushioned by his divine nature. He fully experiences the frailties and limitations of his human body. It's a seemingly strange contradiction that the ever-watchful one who "neither slumbers nor sleeps" (Psalm 121:4) is here asleep in the stern at a time when his help is most urgently needed.

Which brings me to the point I wrestle over in this passage: why does Jesus rebuke the disciples for their lack of faith? At first I thought it was because they awoke him in the first place. Surely they ought to know that Jesus is still in control of the winds and the sea even though he appears to have checked out. In other words, he is not asleep as the divine Son of God even while he is asleep in his human flesh. Perhaps he chides the disciples for thinking of him only as a mere man who happens to have extraordinary powers, instead of seeing that he is the Creator God perfectly clothed in a human body and soul. Yet I feel only half convinced of this explanation, because even if, theologically speaking, Jesus is still "in control" of his creation while asleep, nothing is actually going to be done about the wind and the sea unless Jesus awakes to calm the chaos. The passage even implies that this is so. So you can hardly blame the disciples for waking him, and I don't believe there is any passage in the Gospel accounts where Jesus rebukes someone for coming to him for help. The invitation is always, "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden..."

So the other possible reason for Jesus' rebuke could have to do with the way the disciples implored him. "Save us, Lord, we are perishing!" Right now this is the explanation I'm leaning toward. I hate to be critical of the disciples' panicky plea because I sympathize with them, yet admittedly their words do reveal a lack of faith. Even the timid leper whom we met in a previous passage had more faith when he said to Jesus, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." The centurion of strong faith told Jesus, "Just say the word and my servant will be healed." But the disciples come to him saying, "Save us, we are perishing!" Already they are certain of their doom and of Jesus' lack of concern for their lives. (In a parallel passage in Mark 4:38 the disciples even say, "Do you not care that we are perishing?") They have completely lost sight of hope even with Jesus in their midst. I'm sure Jesus must find that very disappointing.

But notice that even when the disciples practically insult him with their hopeless attitude, he still acts immediately and decisively to save them. The invitation "Come unto me" stands no matter how sloppily we may respond, and no matter how little we might be enlightened after the fact. ("What kind of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?") The story is told to rebuke us for our faithlessness, but also to encourage us that what little faith we have in our faithlessness is still enough for Jesus to condescend to.

No comments:

Post a Comment