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!”
The centre of this story, of course, is Jesus. Unfazed by the raging storm, he speaks a confrontational command, and the wind and the waves do exactly what he says. It’s Mark, in his Gospel, who gives us the specific words: “Quiet! Be Still!” (Mark 4:39). The forces of nature don’t stand a chance in the presence of that powerful voice, the very voice that spoke them into being in the first place. Immediately, everything is flat calm, and the disciples marvel in stunned amazement. “Who is this?” they query.
We know. It’s the Lord. That’s where our eyes are meant to focus. Jesus.
But behind him and around him, providing the context for this story, are the disciples themselves. There’s something for us to see and learn as we watch them rocked and jostled and storm-tossed, fearing for their very lives, chastising Jesus for not appreciating that they were clearly going to drown.
Matthew introduces this concise scene by using a word he draws from the immediately preceding passage (Matthew 8:18-22). The word is “follow.” It’s what disciples are meant to do. Indeed, it’s the very thing that features so strongly in the discussion Jesus had with two men about the cost of discipleship. The first man boldly told him, “I will follow you,” leading Jesus to sharply clarify the cost. The second man gave an excuse, and Jesus simply responded, “Follow me.” Understanding the cost, then following, is what discipleship is all about.
It's no mistake, then, that Matthew uses the very same word as he introduces this new story. “His disciples followed him.” We’re meant to see the Twelve as examples, as those who have truly embraced the cost and thrown in their lot with Jesus. It makes us sit up and take notice. Will we, too, get into Jesus’ boat?
But, as it turns out, these disciples are not full-blown heroes. Yes, they follow, but they’ve still got a lot to learn. Like, for instance, what it means to have faith in the Master.
Amid the surging seas they panic because Jesus is peacefully asleep, and then they rebuke him – hysterically – because they don’t think he cares. He in turn rebukes the wind and the waves, deflating nature’s fury and causing the boat to settle peacefully. But it’s only after he has rebuked the disciples themselves, addressing them as, “You of little faith.” Matthew uses a compound word that literally means “little-faiths.” That’s who these disciples are. “Little-faiths.” Yes, they’re following Jesus, but they’ve got so much more to learn and grow, so much spiritual maturity to be stretched into.
And isn’t that the nature of discipleship? Isn’t that good news for us? For if we, too, have begun the journey, then we’re in the boat with Jesus, yes, but he’s still got so much more work to do in our lives. Indeed, it’s a compelling study to note the other times Matthew uses this same word about this same group (Matthew 6:30, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20) – their need for faith to be stretched is ongoing.
So, too, for us. The boat is often storm-tossed. Fears and doubts continually rise with the surging tides. But Jesus is there. He’s at peace. We can be, too.
Though we shouldn’t be surprised if it takes us time to learn.
Dear Lord Jesus, forgive me for my little-faith. Stretch me into deeper, surer trust in you. Your voice commands wind and waves. Grow my faith that I might receive your calming presence even before wind and waves subside.
Reflect: What storm (or at least bluster) are you experiencing at the moment? What do you need to do in order to trust Jesus even before the storm abates?