One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” Luke 8:22-25
I navigated this stretch of water twice before in previous versions of this account in Matthew 8:18-27 in a post called The Waves Obey Him; and in Mark 4:35-41 for a post called Who is this?. As I read this version it occurs to me that this passage is really about fear of “drowning”, not through lungs filling with water and inability to breathe, but a fear of a soul submersion in a scary spiritual sea that we cannot see and only rarely even sense. Jesus is about to teach the disciples how to become sailors on this spiritual sea which requires faith not fishing skills.
Let’s back paddle for a moment and go back to the start of the story. Jesus says “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” This seemingly simple start contains a clue to the spiritual squall that the disciples are about to experience. We often describe dying, crossing over, as going over to the “other side”, the other side of what? Most people would agree the crossing over from this land of oblivion when we die is a change in our fundamental reality. Some believe that a great nothingness awaits, others believe our souls catch a ride in a different body through reincarnation, and those who follow Jesus and His teachings believe that our souls remain intact and can choose to accept Jesus’ help in crossing a great river to an undiscovered country where our souls are “saved”.
In many ways we are obsessed with oblivion and what will happen when we cross over at the end of our time here on earth. The disciples are given a glimpse of this but they are afraid of drowning and all they can see are waves and wind, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”. I get the fear of drowning that was in their hearts. When I was getting my PhD I learned to whitewater kayak with a fellow student who was really adept at it, and to be honest a little crazy about the risks he would take. This should have been a clue to use caution when he asked if he could teach me to whitewater kayak. I am always up for an adventure so we practiced rolling the kayak in a warm swimming pool. I got pretty proficient at remaining in my kayak while upside down in the water while I used the clever paddle maneuver to right myself and keep from drowning.
I was pretty confident in my boat flipping skills until we set out on a real river on a chilly fall day with dry suits on to combat the 45 degree water. Soon after starting our float I found myself upside down floating down a very cold river with my head banging on rocks. I was also headed for a log jam and was afraid that I would be swept under the logs and drown. Well to make a long story short I bailed out of the kayak and “swamped” the boat, but I did not drown so I had that going for me. I completed the trip with an abundance of humility, caution, and more than a little fear of a repeat performance. Being in that foreign environment, upside down, and disoriented was truly one of the scariest moments in my life. I think that is perhaps the way these fisherman feel in this spiritual squall they are experiencing with Jesus.
The spiritual realm that Jesus is trying to help them grow accustomed to through this very physical parable is a foreign environment to the disciples. I am sure they often feel upside down and disoriented by the teachings that Jesus is sharing. That is why Jesus asks them “Where is your faith?” instead of why are you afraid? The ability to navigate the spiritual sea that Jesus is providing the window to does not depend on boating skills or even strength and courage in the traditional sense. As Jesus reminds the disciples it is firmly rooted in faith and the ability to fix our eyes on Him. Unfortunately the disciples seem to completely miss this point. They are focused on the miraculous and magical calming of the wind and waves rather than the deeper truth that Jesus was trying to help them see.
Prayer: God help us to take every opportunity to learn how to see and experience the spiritual in our lives, even when it is scary to do so.