"Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (John X, 37-38)
‘It had been a hard day, the last of a series of hard days. The weight of the burthen was pressing on Him heavily; the future was dark, and He knew it would be full of storm. It is easy, with all this, to understand the spirit which impelled His next movement. He was with His Twelve, in the cottage by the shore. In the streets outside, and along the water’s edge, many of the people still hung about, squatting in their little groups and discussing far into the night the events of that day; others had settled down to rest here and there, wrapped from head to foot in their blankets. He must get away, if only for a night and morning. The old desire to be alone at times was never long absent from Him; He must get away, and give Himself a few hours of peace. He turned to the fishermen; He looked towards the lake. The moon was up, there was a gentle ripple on the water.
'Let us go over the water', He said,
‘To the other side of the lake’.
It was a welcome order. These men had already learnt, and they were yet to learn more and more, what a different, what a wholly precious possession Jesus was when He was with them alone. In His company, when His heart would soften towards them, and He was with them as He was with no others, how different life became! Then they felt they had power; then they would do any deed, brave any danger, without so much as giving it a thought; then they would ‘do all things in Him who strengthened them’. So it was on this occasion. Characteristically, with not a little noise and demonstration, they went out into the streets; pompously they bade the remnant of the people disperse. With their new-born authority they bustled about, and without more ado, without thought of further preparation, they escorted the Master to the shore.
‘And sending away the multitude
They take Him even as He was to the ship’.
There were several of their boats lying in. One was chosen for Him; they scrambled in after Him and put out into the lake.
Let it be remembered that the Lake of Galilee is about fourteen miles long from north to south, and about six miles across at its broadest part, which is opposite Genesareth and Magdala. It lies more than seven hundred feet below the level of the Mediterranean, and is skirted on east and west by mountains, which shut it in as between two walls. On the north and south are open plains, though these too lie between mountain ridges. Through the plain on the north the Jordan flows into the lake, on the south it creeps out again, to make its way to the Dead Sea. From this it will be seen that a wind, especially a north wind, comes down upon the lake as through a tunnel, the mountains on either side confining it, the lower level of the lake’s surface giving the wind greater force. Even a slight breeze, as may be seen almost any evening, will soon raise a ripple; a gale, coming down this tunnel on a sudden, will stir a storm in a very short space of time.
The objective for the boatmen that night was Gerasa, a village, or rather valley, on the opposite shore. It lay somewhat south of Capharnaum, opposite Magdala, and therefore the trip would have been about six miles, in a south-easterly direction, but much more east than south. A wind coming down the tunnel from the north would have caught the boat almost broadside; hence, even without a storm, a sudden gust of wind might easily have brought danger with it.
These fishermen were accustomed to be out in their boats at night, therefore the darkness in itself had no fears for them. Nevertheless we have many indications, some of which prevail to this day, that they did not care to cross the lake at night; they feared the sudden winds that might catch them, especially in the springtide of the year. When the darkness came upon them they preferred to moor where they were and wait till morning.
It was a quiet hour when the little boat put out. As it left the shore the lamp swung at the prow, its light reflected on the water. From behind them as they rowed a few lights glimmered, marking the long line of habitations from Bethsaida to Capharnaum and beyond. Here and there a pariah dog barked, one answering another. At a distance, on the outskirts of the town, a band of foraging jackals could be heard, with the laugh of a hyena added to their shrill yelping. Once in a way a cock crew, and another replied, a striking feature of an eastern night. For the rest all was silence, a silence only the more emphasized by these cries. The boatmen submitted to the spell. They went about their work saying nothing; if they had to speak they spoke in low whispers. As soon as they had got away they put up their little sail, and nothing now was heard but the swish of the water around the vessel, and the creak of a mast as the sail yielded to the wind or the guiding rope. In the stern, on the boards between the sides of the ship, Jesus lay down. A rough cushion had been found for His head, and almost immediately He was fast asleep. This must have been so, from the very nature of the voyage. Jesus, the Son of God, was asleep, like any child, rocked in the cradle of the bark of Simon.
For a time all went well, and the boatmen settled down contented. The breeze from the north filled the sails, and before daybreak they would be at Gerasa. They relieved each other at the sheet and the rudder; for the rest they, too, settled themselves to sleep. But no sooner had they left the shelter of the shore than trouble began to arise; a mile out, or a little more, and they caught the full force of the wind coming down the upper valley. The wind grew stronger, the cold air falling on the lake following the heat of the day, provoked it to a gale. Rapidly it increased, the sail became difficult to control; the route they were taking, almost due east till they could come under the shelter of the mountains opposite, exposed them to the full force of the storm on their side; they were in imminent danger of capsizing. Presently the waters began to rise; first an ominous splash of spray flew across the deck, then a wave curved over the edge and a stream of water ran down to the stern. Wave followed wave and the ship began to fill.
Evidently there was serious danger, just the danger which none of the fishermen living on those shores ever cared to face. They had come on board without a thought; the excitement of the day had made them forget that at this spring season the lake was particularly treacherous. Besides He had asked them to take Him away by boat, and that had driven every objection from their minds. But now they were anxious; anxious for themselves, and anxious for Him. He was asleep and wholly in their keeping, so soundly asleep that neither the howling of the wind nor the splashing of the water nor the creaking of the vessel could awaken Him; they had only one another to consult and were in a dilemma. To put back to Capharnaum was now impossible; they dared not attempt to turn the boat round. Their only hope was to run down the lake before the wind, or to keep on their course trusting that they might yet reach shelter; in either case they knew their condition was perilous.
Still the storm increased. Soon the boat was utterly beyond control; neither sail nor rudder could be governed. It was filling fast, a little more and it must go down, even if it did not capsize. The men began to lose courage; presently they lost their nerve; in a few minutes they were as helpless little children, seeking succour anywhere. And yet through it all He was lying there, fast asleep. As they clung to the sides and the thwarts they looked at Him where He lay. They loved Him, that none could deny; still there began to creep over them the feeling that if He were awake, if He knew all the trouble around them, all would cease. There came a little resentment; while they were in such danger, while they were doing for Him all they could, and that at His own bidding, He was apparently indifferent, unconscious of it all. They could endure it no longer; they were at the last extreme; they dropped sheet and rudder, they let the vessel go where it would. In a panic they crept along the deck to where He lay, and began to cry in one voice:
Does it not concern thee
That we perish?
Lord save us
Instantly the sleeping Jesus opened His eyes. Through the noise of the storm which drowned every sound, He nevertheless heard their appeal; what the clamour of the elements had failed to do, their cry succeeded in doing, and He awoke. At once He took in the scene; the howling wind above, the ship filling with water, the frightened men clinging to His feet. He made no delay; He made no show; He acted as though it were an affair of every day. These were His Twelve, His own, and for them there must be no terms, or formalities, or conditions. He stood up where He was; He stretched out His arm to the wind, looking at it, speaking to it, rebuking it, as if it were a thing of life. He turned to the water lashing round Him, as a master would turn to a barking hound.
‘Peace, be still,'
He said; no more.
The obedience was instantaneous. The wind ceased; there was a dead calm on the surface of the water. The battered sails hung listlessly above the masts; the boat rocked gently up and down, to and fro and from side to side, staying where it was, as if it rested after a heavy struggle. The men crouched still beside Him; for the moment they were paralysed. They had come to Him expecting succour. If only He were awake among them they had felt they would be safe, but they had never expected anything like this. They had feared the storm, but now fear of a new kind crept over them. They did not know what to say or think.
Meanwhile Jesus looked down upon them where He stood. They did not yet recognise what He had done. He had worked this wonder, not for the multitude, but for His own, His Twelve. He had worked it in their own vessel, where He was always with them. He had worked it under conditions which, by all the laws of nature, were hopeless. He had worked this wonder, and He had worked it for them; why did they not see? But the time would come when they would. If that day He had begun to speak to the people in parables, that night He had begun to act in parables to them. One day they would read its meaning and would know that so long as He was with them in the boat, not till the end of time would any storm, would the gates of hell itself, be able to prevail against them.
All this they would one day understand, but at present they were only little children. They had much yet to learn, and as little children He must continue to teach them, now drawing them gently on, now with seeming sternness urging them. He would seize this moment for the latter. True they had been in trouble and come to Him; true they had appealed to Him for help. All this showed faith, and He loved them and in His heart thanked them for it. But He wanted more, He for ever wanted more, and not till He got that more could He be content. So He would rebuke them; gently He would urge them; He would stir them to things yet greater, to faith that would ride over every storm. He said:
‘Why are ye fearful
O ye of little faith?
Have you not faith in you yet?
Where is your faith?’
The men awoke from their paralysis. The boat was still, and if they would reach Gerasa by morning they must take to their oars. He seemed not to need them any more, He wished them to return to their labour. They stepped down the deck and settled to their tasks, each man in his place. But as the boat began again to move forward, as the late moon rose above the hills and streaked the waves with silver, they would whisper in awe to one another:
‘What manner of man is this?
Who is this, think you,
That he commandeth both the winds and the sea
And they obey him?
It was indeed another discovery, a new revelation of this Man who had already won their hearts and their allegiance. It would not now be long before they would find for themselves a full answer to their question, even on the very spot where they were then sailing, and under not unlike conditions.’
From - ‘The Public Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ’ - An Interpretation. By Archbishop Goodier S.J. Published by Burns, Oates & Washbourne 1934
(‘The Storm at Sea’ – ref. Mathew VIII, 18, 23-27; Mark IV, 35-41; Luke VIII, 22-25.)