October 18th 2020

Readings: Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25

This morning, what follows are my reflections on the three accounts of Jesus calming the storm as found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The three passages all tell the same story but each does so from a different perspective, with differing emphases, differing inclusions and exclusions, each telling the story with their own agenda.

So, what are the core facts shared by the three writers?

• Jesus got into a boat (Matt 8:23; Mark 4:35; Luke 8:22)

• There was a storm (Matt 8:24; Mark 4:37; Luke 8:23)

• During the storm Jesus was asleep (Matt 8:24; Mark 4:38; Luke 8:23)

• The disciples woke him (Matt 8:25; Mark 4:38; Luke 8:24)

• Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves (Matt 8:26; Mark 4:39; Luke 8:24)

• Jesus questioned the disciples’ faith (Matt 8:26; Mark 4:40; Luke 8:25)

• The men were amazed by what they had just witnessed (Matt 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25)

• The men attributed the calming of the storm to Jesus (Matt 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25)

• None of the disciples in any of the accounts expected Jesus to control the elements.

What are the differences between the three accounts?

• In Matthews account Jesus got into the boat and the disciples followed, whereas in Luke and Mark’s accounts, Jesus invited/suggested that they go together to the other side of the lake.

• Mark and Luke provide intention for getting into the boat. Matthew simply has the men getting into a boat to go with Jesus (could have been to journey to the other side, or to go fishing, who knows?) Therefore, we may conclude that the destination/intention wasn’t important enough for Matthew to include it in his account.

• Matthew and Luke mention only one boat whereas Mark states that there “other boats with him.”

• In Matthew the disciples believed that Jesus had the power to save them from drowning (v.25) In Mark, the disciples are annoyed and accuse Jesus of not caring about them. In Luke, it is not clear whether the disciples believed that Jesus could save them or simply help them keep the boat afloat.

• All three accounts testify to the disciples being amazed. In addition, Mark includes terror and Luke fear.

So, what is the point of having three differing accounts of what seems to be the one event?

1. Different perspectives. It is a well-known fact that two or more people witnessing the same event will notice different things. People remember things differently or have a different experience of the event depending on where they were and what they could see and hear from their position. Are there lies being told? Not necessarily. People remember what stands out for them, which may be quite different to what you or I might notice.

2. The exact version of events given may depend on the audience it is being relayed to. The differences in the three accounts do not appear to contradict any of the others’ versions, they simply add to the story.

The three versions are not contradictory, for the core elements remain unchanged. The basic facts appear to have been indisputable.

• Jesus got into a boat (Matt 8:23; Mark 4:35; Luke 8:22)

• There was a storm (Matt 8:24; Mark 4:37; Luke 8:23)

• During the storm Jesus was asleep (Matt 8:24; Mark 4:38; Luke 8:23)

• The disciples woke him (Matt 8:25; Mark 4:38; Luke 8:24)

• Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves (Matt 8:26; Mark 4:39; Luke 8:24)

• Jesus questioned the disciples’ faith (Matt 8:26; Mark 4:40; Luke 8:25)

• The men were amazed by what they had just witnessed (Matt 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25)

• The men attributed the calming of the storm to Jesus (Matt 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25)

• None of the disciples in any of the accounts expected Jesus to control the elements.

These are the key elements of the account provided. What then, could be said about the disciples’ experience?

1. When they needed him most, Jesus was right there with them. He was with them before, during and after the storm.

2. The disciples sometimes had doubts about how much Jesus cared about them, especially when they were afraid. They had no trouble voicing these fears.

3. The disciples did not ask Jesus directly to do anything, yet he saw their need and met it and they were amazed.

4. Although the disciples had seen the power of Jesus in action before, they did not anticipate him being able to control the elements.

5. Jesus used a fearful situation to teach the disciples a lesson about trust

6. The disciples were challenged to think about what it meant to trust Jesus.

What do the accounts of Jesus calming the storm say to us?

• When we are confused by various descriptions or statements about something, for example, what is the best way to address life during a pandemic, look for the core facts that are shared by each description, then consider the source and what their intention may be. For example, is the perception being shared intended to support or discourage us, it is meant as guidance or being used as a political tool. The facts about COVID-19 are that

a. It is a highly infectious virus.

b. It affects people differently

c. Some people are more vulnerable the effects of the infection than others.

d. Some people can have the infection but have no symptoms.

e. Some people become critically ill and, if they survive, be left with life changing after effects.

f. Others make a full recovery.

g. The virus appears to be spread by contact and droplet means. In other words, when you cough or sneeze the virus is released into the surrounding atmosphere or you can contact it from a surface that has droplets of the virus on it (which are invisible to the naked eye.)

h. This means that the spread of the infection can be reduced although not entirely eliminated, by a number of different means

The confusion arises where there is disagreement about what to do and when, where there is discontent about the means by which compliance is sought or expected, or when the scientific evidence and/or its relevance is disputed.

What we learn from the accounts of Jesus calming the storm is that we need to establish the basic facts, then decide what our action should be, bearing in mind that actions (or inaction) have consequences, not just for us but those around us and beyond. At the end of the day, we are accountable to one another. But ultimately, we are accountable to God for how we respond in any given situation.

• Feelings of anxiety and fear can be exacerbated by feelings of isolation or abandonment. We may have just such concerns about where God is in this whole COVID experience. Although the Bible teaches us that God is with us in every experience of life, in the midst of our troubles it is easy to lose sight of what this really means. The accounts of Jesus calming the storm remind us that God is with us whether we are aware of it or not. But they also teach us that when we have doubts it is okay to express them to God. God will not be fazed by it, nor will he judge us. He knows what we need and has our care and wellbeing in his hands. Sometimes though, by voicing our need our eyes can be opened to what he is already doing.

• The disciples knew that Jesus had the power to help them, but they did not anticipate just how much or to what lengths he could go. We can Identify with the disciples in this for how much do we really believe Jesus can do for us today? When we ask him for help, do we really believe he will answer? Have we ever been surprised by the way Jesus has answered our prayer and done so in a way we could never have envisaged?

• Arguably the most important point being made in the accounts of Jesus calming the storm is in relation to trust. It seems that the disciples had to learn over and over what it meant to trust Jesus, as do we. Time and time again we find ourselves in situations which challenge the depth of trust we have put in Jesus. Every time we start getting anxious or worried about something (unless there is a clinical reason for it) we reveal how fragile our trust in him is. How often might Jesus say to us, “You of little faith, why are you afraid?” There is good news for us in this passage though. In the company of the disciples and so many other doubters down through the years, Jesus does not abandon us because we doubt. Instead, he reminds us who he is and whom it is we serve, of not with words, then certainly in action. On that boat in the middle of a storm Jesus calmed the disciples’ fears by quieting the storm around them. In the midst of our fears Jesus reassures us in the company of friends and neighbours, in the care offered by professionals, in the words of a poem or song, in the stillness of a quiet moment.

May we too come to recognise the powerful presence of Jesus and, like the disciples, be amazed. Amen

Click below to listen to Tanner Clark sing “Do no be afraid.”

Do no be afraid