When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” – Matthew 8:18-27
This passage is a very familiar stretch of the river. It is often depicted in art and Sunday school lessons. It paints a dramatic picture of Jesus in direct control of nature, “even the wind and the waves obey him!” Of course God directed nature many times before in the old testament but this is the first time in the new testament.
The passage begins with Jesus receiving commitments from a cadre of new followers beside the Lake before crossing the lake. The first follower to step forward is a “teacher of the law”. Presumably a Pharisee or a Sadducee. He is more than willing to follow this upstart from Galilee. Jesus’ response to this prospective follower is a bit odd. Jesus says “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
I think I have always assumed Jesus was talking about needing a place to stay for the night, but as I read it again I wonder if there is more to this odd response. He is describing animals that are cared for by God, Foxes and birds, and then He refers to himself as having no place to lay His head. I am wondering if this is a hint about the sense of separation that Jesus laments about later in Matthew 27:45, “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). This is funny water to be sure and I will not pretend to fully understand how God could be separated from God, but it seems that was the case.
I guess the whole concept of God becoming a man, a Godly condensate, is equally hard to understand from a human perspective, but I am convinced that God did indeed become “an old king with a new suit”. This new king is both different and the same as the “old king” described in the old testament. The added dimension is that God is with them, Emmanuel, in a tangible way that they can relate to and in fact physically follow for a time.
I am not sure there is any human analogue for what God is doing here. The closest, albeit imperfect, analogy I can come up with is if I decided to “become” a cat so that I could understand my cats better. It would be very hard to walk like a cat, eat cat food, and behave like a cat in my human body. I am sure there would be times in my odd adventure when I would yearn for human food and activities. I think in some strange way that is what God is doing here. He has voluntarily limited Himself for a time in order to save us from becoming lost in this land of oblivion.
Enough of this floundering about in deep water. I am confident that some day I will understand, or at least be at peace, about this amazing act of Love that God is doing here. Now we come to the scene that Hollywood loves. Jesus is in the boat with His disciples and a storm is threatening to swamp the boat. Jesus is sleeping much to the chagrin of His disciples who are scared out of their skins that they are going to drown. There is certainly a physical reality that Jesus is demonstrating His dominion over here, but I am not sure that is the main point.
I think that the main point here is not that Jesus can control the weather, it is that Jesus can intervene equally in the physical and spiritual realms. The physical “storm” that the disciples find themselves in seems more dire and consequential than the spiritual storm swirling around them unseen and sometimes unnoticed. I think they will learn throughout the time they are engaged in experiential learning with Jesus that things almost always have a spiritual dimension.
I suspect that the disciples in the boat felt a bit like the Israelites felt as they awaited the Messiah amid what seemed to them endless storms of sacrifices and conflict. From their perspective God was “sleeping” while a storm raged around them. God was not really asleep then and He is not really asleep here either.
Prayer: God You are not really asleep when we encounter life’s storms. Help us to trust You to intervene in both the physical and spiritual realms.