More than a storm in a tea cup- Tuesday, 13th week in ordinary time- Matthew 8: 23-27
I certainly know what my reaction would be if I was in a first century fishing boat out on the sea of Galilee (also called sea of Gennesaret or Tiberius). Just the thought of the sea, twenty-one kilometres long, thirteen kilometres wide with a depth of seven hundred feet below sea level leaves me in a panic, and that too with a reputation of sudden storms triggered by the funnelling of wind that could capsize a boat. But fear would be my justifiable reaction for I am neither a fisherman nor a lover of the sea.
This storm must have been a nasty one, for the disciples who were fishermen themselves, were terrified. Surely they had seen enough of Lake Gennesaret’s boisterous displays of storms to know that this one was different. So what really got the jitters into them? Was it as some scholars suggest, the fear of Leviathan and Behemoth, the sea monsters who resided there and who were believed to have had the ability to destroy creation? In any case the situation warranted more than a gentle ‘Lord wake up’.
Matthew presents Jesus as being unfazed by this Gennesaret storm. In fact He seems a bit perplexed by their reaction. He is in the boat; they should have been smiling at the storm. This is the point that St Matthew perhaps had in mind when he was writing the Gospel in about 70 AD.
The community of believers were being assailed by storms of rejection and persecution from the Jews and Romans. Many of the believers had seen and heard the Lord; they had gone through the fearful days of His execution but had also celebrated His resurrection. There was certainly no need for panic against this new outbreak of persecutions
The disciples are not rejected outright for having no faith at all. They have faith, though ‘little’ but they need to build it up. Perhaps the persecutions faced by the Matthean community had made them weak, or now paralyzed to act because of fear; a typical problem of the second or third generation Christians. Their missionary zeal was a pale comparison to those who had seen and heard the Lord.
Unfortunately the persecuted Church became a persecuting Church once Christianity became a state religion after the Edict of Milan in 313. Signed by the Roman Emperors Constantine and Licinius, it proclaimed religious tolerance in the Roman Empire. This tolerance turned to violence against those who once persecuted the Christians; a sad but true reality.
There is much hatred in the world today; most of it triggered by fear. Jesus assures the disciples and us, that He is in the boat and has promised to take us to the other side. Jesus keeps His promises. To be afraid would be tantamount to putting our trust in the threats of religious bigots, rather than in the Lord Jesus Himself.
Fr Warner D’Souza