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Encountering the Lord in the Midst of Life’s Upheavals II

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The post “Encountering the Lord in the Midst of Life’s Upheavals” is the one of the most read articles in the Mystical Geek. It is actually John Chrysostom’s commentary on Matthew 14:22-33, which is the account of Jesus’ walking on the sea rewritten by Matthew to include an episode where Peter sinks beneath the waves but is saved by the Lord. It is no surprise that bible readers should go to Google or Yahoo and look for such a topic — life is difficult. But the Gospel writers don’t offer a palliative for life’s troubles; nor do they offer anesthetics for the pain of being human. Instead they proclaim Christ, he who says “I am your Salvation” and invites us to put our lives in his hands. Faith after all is not saying “Christ is my Lord” while one is enjoying the securities that this life offers. Faith is putting one’s life in the hands of the Lord.

I explained in the article mentioned above that Matthew was working on Mark’s account of Jesus walking on the waters (Mark 6:45-52). There is however another story about another lake crossing that involves Jesus calming a storm to quell the fears of his disciples. We find this in Mark 4:35-41. I have had the occassion to write about this in an article at Otium Sanctum: Jesus Calms the Storm (Mark 4:35-41)

Jesus had just finished a day’s work preaching about the kingdom of God (see Mark 4:1-34). He then ordered his disciples to cross the lake on a boat. While crossing, a storm suddenly arose and the waves began to batter the boat where the disciples were, filling it up with water. The turbulence of the winds and waves was matched by the anxiety and fear that the disciples began to feel. Jesus on the otherhand was on the stern of the boat, sleeping, his head on a pillow. The disciples wake him up and he in turn awoke and rebuked the sea and the winds. “And there was a great peace” (v. 39), writes Mark. Jesus then turns to the disciples and rebukes them in turn, “Why are you afraid? Don’t you have faith yet?” (v. 40). Mark then concludes the story with the reaction of the disciples as they wonder who this man was “whom even the wind and sea obey” (v.41). This last verse is in keeping with the “Messianic secret” in Mark, where questions about Jesus in the gospel story are also invitations to belief in Him whom, towards the end of the Marcan narrative, a pagan will declare as “Son of God.” What is important for us at the moment are to be found in vv. 37-40, where Jesus’ rebuke to the disciples is also a rebuke to the readers: “Why are you afraid (= cowardly); have you no faith yet?” He rebukes them for being afraid at the winds and the waves which they saw as threatening their lives. And this, inspite of the fact that they had taken Jesus with them just as he was in the boat with them (v. 36). From Jesus’ rebuke to the disciples, we understand that “having no faith” and “having fear/being cowardly” are synonimous. The second part of the rebuke indicates that Jesus was expecting them to have faith already. He literally says “Have you no faith until now?”

At this point, it would be well to lay down some basic ideas about the text:

1. It is about disciples in the same boat with Jesus. There were other boats crossing the lake but Mark concentrates only on this one boat where Jesus was so at home that he could sleep in it.
2. The sea also stands for the Primordial Chaos that in the Old Testament the Israelite God tames (see Psalm 104:5-9, Job 38:8-11). It is the Primordial Chaos that threatens the order of creation and existence in general. In the Marcan narrative, it breaks forth in a storm, making the disciples experience the frailty of their existence. But isn’t this the human condition? The whole of human existence is insecure and is constantly under threat.

3. Jesus after being roused by his disciples, calms the storm. In fact, he commands the winds and the sea to literally shut up (“be muzzled”). He who has shown mastery over demons and diseases now shows his dominion even over Primordial Chaos.
4. The disciples woke the Lord with something similar to a prayer rising out from their fear and anxiety. “Teacher, doesn’t it matter that we are perishing?”. It is this prayer which rouses Jesus who then responds by bringing in “a great peace” by his word of command.

How do we apply this passage to our present condition? One can perhaps apply the passage to the Church (the disciples in the boat with Christ) being hammered from all sides by the winds and waves of persecutions. Hippolytus of Rome treats the boat as a type of the Church:

The sea is the world, on which the Church, like a ship on the waves of the sea, is tossed by the waves, but it is not wrecked, because Christ is with it, its attentive helmsman. It also has, erected in the center, the trophy against death, the Lord’s cross. Its bow is East, West, the stern, the hull South; the nails are the two Testaments, the strings are the charity of Christ which the Church holds close, the linen is the baptism of regeneration which renews the faithful. The wind is the Spirit that comes from heaven, for which the faithful are led to God. With the Spirit, it also has anchors of iron in the precepts of Christ. Neither is it missing sailors left and right, as the holy angels surround and defend it. The staircase, which rises up to the mast, is the image of the healthy passion of Christ, which leads the faithful to heaven. Reports from the top of the mast are the lights of the Prophets, Martyrs, the Apostles, who rest in Christ’s kingdom.
De christo et antichristo, 59

Augustine of Hippo applies it in a different way, in that he uses the image of disciples being tossed by the waves of the sea as an example of his North African faithful being tossed about by the passions (anger most especially) and how they are to deal with it.

If faith is in you, then within you is Christ who is troubled and trembles; if faith is in us, Christ is in us. This is attested by the Apostle: “By faith, Jesus Christ dwells in our hearts” (Eph 3:17). If your faith is derived from Christ, Christ is in your heart.

Remember the episode of the Gospel, which tells of Christ who was sleeping in the boat: the disciples seeing themselves in danger of imminent shipwreck, came to him and woke him. Christ arose, he commanded the winds and waves, and suddenly there came a great calm at sea. Do the same thing as well. The winds come into your heart, as if you are navigating through this life on a stormy sea full of dangerous rocks. The wind comes in, it disrupts the waves, and your ship is almost overwhelmed by them. What are these winds? You have been offended and you are caught up in your anger: the offense is the wind, the wave of anger is overwhelming. You are in danger because you get ready to respond, you prepare yourself to return the insult with another more serious, and already your ship comes near to being wrecked. Wake up at this point Christ who sleeps. You are overwhelmed by the waves, you have been insulted and are now ready to respond to the outrage that’s been done, because Christ was sleeping in your ship. The sleep of Christ in your heart is your neglect of faith. In fact, Christ is awake, that is, if you appeal to faith. What would Christ awake in your heart say to you? You say: I hear my enemies say, “you have the devil in your body”, but I have prayed for them. The Lord feels the hurt and bears it; but instead the servant feels the hurt and is indignant? In fact, you want revenge! But how can this be? What about me – continues Christ in your heart – did I avenge myself? When faith speaks thus in your hearts, it is as if He commanded the winds and waves: and immediately there will be a great calm.
In Joannem 49,19

In these difficult times, the Christian may find him/herself in a situation where an act of desperation appears tempting. Filipinos call it “kapit sa patalim” (“grasping the knife”). In concrete, it can mean falling into a life of crime. “To grasp the knife” can be motivated by a “get-rich-quickly” mindset or as a temporary palliative for a financial or emotional situation that one thinks is beyond solving through ordinary means. To him/her, Augustine says: Wake up Christ in your heart. No problem is bigger than Christ dwelling in your heart.

Originally posted 2012-01-27 03:18:37. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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