On hearing yourself insulted, you long to retaliate; but the joy of revenge brings with it another kind of misfortune—shipwreck. Why is this? Because Christ is asleep in you. — St. Augustine
As Augustine preached on “Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him,” he slowly reveals that he is reading it through the lens of today’s Psalm, 107:23-32.
The wind and the sea, says Augustine, are abuse hurled at you and your anger aroused in response. If those things go unabated, shipwreck will surely follow. Why? Because you have forgotten that Christ is keeping watch within you. Recall him, rouse him, so to speak, and he will remind you that he himself spoke these words: “Father forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.”
When that happens, you will ask yourself how you got to be such a wretch that seeks revenge and and is aflame with rage. Having your own way, being avenged, being first, being greatest, these are the ever threatening wind and sea and one does well rousing the master to combat them with his word. Only in that way can the Christian and the church be recognized as the Lord’s. In a way they, like the sea, must listen and obey and act according to his will.
That is all well and good of course but there is a small little problem. Jesus had said to the disciples: “let us go tot he other side,” and they left “just like that.” Why where they going? We have no clue. Only Jesus seems to have had an inkling why he was crossing the lake. Should that make a difference to the disciples? Not at all. Loyalty, the root meaning of the Mediterranean concept of Faith, asks not why. Ultimate loyalty gets to work without fear. Surely the master knows what he is doing and we shall be safe under his tutelage even if I have no idea where any of this is going and how it will turn out.
It is a miracle that this story ever got told. These are fishermen who practically live on boats. St Terese of Lisieux famously posed that they were doing something they had done many times before and were merely trying to make it easy for themselves. Augustine seems to have in mind that their waking the Lord was a more of a lesson they had to learn. Either way, they are part of middle eastern culture where stern faces and bravado are the norm and expected. Having a story leaked that they were afraid — and it appears in all 3 synoptic Gospels — would have led to unending ridicule at the beach by their other colleagues.
Yet the church has kept this story even though its apostles are painted in poor light here. By the time the Gospels are written some, notably one of the James’s, have already found their way into a martyrs grave. (Acts 12) Yet, during Saul’s prosecution the very same apostles remained in Jerusalem. (Acts 8:1)
As they stayed even in persecution, they seem to practice what the night on the lake taught them: They called upon the Lord in prayer under the weight of adversity and persecution. (Acts 4:23-31)
In recent months the inter web has been atwitter with column after column and blog after blog quoted by online “magazines” and collector sites. The message is: “The church is done. Christianity will be wiped out by 2067 in Britain. Membership in America is falling faster than ever before. One in Three churches in the large cities of Germany will close in the next 5 years,” and the laments go on and on complete with “loving” expressions of “I told you so,” “what you should have been doing,” and “serves you right.
Who, may I ask, is praying for boldness today in the face of all this? Who, may I ask is exhibiting faith? Who, might I ask, is refusing to cry in their beer — which only ruins the head, by the way?
In more general terms: Who on this earth is still living in trust that the Lord might just be active and have a plan? Are you? Life is full of things to worry about, things to get angry about, things to be discouraged over.
Take a look at your heart for a moment; the place where, as Augustine put it, the Lord dwells. Christians have reason to be confident and serene. The Lord of heaven and earth is at our side. His ways are unknown, often even to us but His intent is not secret to us.
When the boat takes off from the shore “just like that,” its immediate destination and the purpose of the trip is not known. But Jesus is traveling and teaching the region of Galilee, healing and announcing the kingdom of God. Why were we going into the storm? “The Lord has need of it.”
The Lord also has need of you. The ship is the church in traditional symbolism but it is also the faithful one. Augustine reminds us that how we comport ourselves is not unimportant and the christlikeness of our living and responding to the wind around us does matter, last of all, also to us.
When the Son of Man comes with his angels, will he find Faith in us?