16. Jesus in the Boat
Jesus Christ was Son of God and Son of Man. He was divine and human. As a human being, he had to grow up and mature, and suffer limitations, just like any other man. But every now and then, increasingly often as he grew older, his consciousness would slip over, right beyond human ken, and he would do things which no mere man could do.
The incident of the storm on the lake illustrates the two sides of his nature; and, coming as they did in immediate juxtaposition, they seem to have caused his disciples the utmost astonishment. First, there was Jesus the man, tired out, physically and emotionally, from hours of teaching in the tropical heat. As evening came, he desperately needed rest; he must be alone for a while in the peace and quiet of nature. So he asked his fishermen disciples to take him across in one of their sailboats to the other side of the lake. The eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee was practically uninhabited, save for a few remote pagan villages. It was bare scrubland, a fringe of the Arabian Desert. There he would be able to enjoy a peaceful night's rest. So weary was he that he lay down to sleep on a cushion in the stern of the ship. Hush! The Master must not be disturbed!
But Nature thought otherwise. The Sea of Galilee is notoriously treacherous. It occupies a deep rift in the mountains running north and south. The winds blowing across it hardly touch it; but if they happen to veer round into the line of the trench, they roar through it as down a funnel: and woe betide any sailboat that doesn't get its sails furled within minutes! The disciples had long experience of these sudden squalls and they were legitimately afraid. It seems to have annoyed them that Jesus was apparently oblivious of the danger, lying there fast asleep despite the whistling of the wind, the battering of the waves, and the water sloshing over the side and rapidly filling the ship. "Master," they cried shaking him perhaps, "carest thou not that we perish?"
Then came the extraordinary transformation. From being a weary human, fast asleep, Jesus rose to his feet and addressed the wind and the waves in a voice of authority and with a commanding gesture: "Peace! Be still!" Instantly the wind ceased to blow, the waves subsided, and there was a great calm. Now the disciples were more afraid than ever, but with a different kind of fear: fear of the awesome presence of God in their midst, whom even the wind and waves obeyed. And the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
They had already realized that Jesus possessed strange powers. One morning, some months before, after they had fished all night and caught nothing, he had said to them, "Let down your nets"; and when they had done so, against their own judgment, they had taken such a big catch that their nets had broken with the weight! But ... to get up and command the wind and the waves, and be obeyed, that was an act of God, not of man! Some months later, according to Matthew, Jesus demonstrated his power over the sea in an even more spectacular manner, by actually walking on the water. He urged Peter to walk along with him. Peter set out, but lost his nerve, became afraid and began to sink, at which Jesus had said: "0 thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"
These fleeting glimpses which the disciples had of Jesus operating from his divine nature, give us some idea of what Jesus is like today. For, after the crucifixion, his human nature, stripped of all limitations, was "united with the Divinity of which it was begotten." Resurrected entire from the sepulcher, body and soul together, Jesus declared to his disciples, "All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth." He still has the same love and compassion. He still helps his disciples in the same kind of way. He is a partner with us in every enterprise, however hazardous. He is sleeping in the stern of every vessel, however rough the passage.
Sleeping? How can the glorified Lord Jesus, the Divine Jesus as he now is, lie asleep? Well, of course, he cannot sleep now! He has overcome, outgrown, all limitations such as weariness and exhaustion. But he still appears to be asleep, until we summon him to our aid, until we say in the depths of our extremity: "Wake up, Lord, and save us, or we perish!" Do you think it would be a good thing, if Jesus were always awake and active in our situation with his divine power, a kind of Prospero, touching everything with his magic wand, so that trouble was barred from us, nothing ever went wrong, we were insulated? We should have a nice easy time, no doubt: carefree, no responsibilities, everything going smoothly; sunshine and blue skies, the lake always calm, and just that soft wind to billow out our sails and carry the ship along without our having to use the oars. (Sounds like a TV commercial!) But, if life were that easy, should we grow or mature? Our selfish ego would go unchecked, and we should just drift sweetly and easily, without resistance, down to hell. We know, in training our children, that if we do everything for them and give them everything they want, satisfying their slightest whim, they grow up selfish little brats. "Spoiled children" we call them, and spoiled they will be! So, Jesus deliberately withholds Himself from us, up to a point. He places us in a state of equilibrium between heaven and hell. We have calm weather followed by squalls. Angels give us words of encouragement, after which He allows evil spirits to insult us. Our moods are like the waves of the sea, ever on the move, up and down. We are seemingly left to our own resources; thus we develop a sense of responsibility. We must caulk our ship so that it does not leak; we must master the techniques of sailing and navigation. We must learn the signs of the weather and how to follow the stars. If Jesus were always available to waft us to our destination by a touch of magic, we should never concern ourselves with any of these things. Life would be much easier, but we should learn nothing. And how dull it would be!
Science and technology are already going far toward making life dull in this way. Take photography, for instance. With the old-fashioned cameras, it used to be a challenge to take a good photograph; and what a joyous sense of achievement when the picture came out well! But with today's automatic cameras which do all the thinking for you, you get a perfect picture every time, and what's the point of that? In the old days on the farm, when water had to be fetched from a stream or a pump, and wood gathered and chopped, and kerosene lamps trimmed, and cows milked by hand, there was work for everyone in the family, including the children, who consequently felt needed and important. Our teenagers today are bored to death, and go on drugs to relieve the monotony! Boredom is the cause of much of the mal-ease in our contemporary society and is due to the handing over of so many of our tasks, our routine duties, and the minor decisions we used to make, to the automatic machine. Life has become far too safe and easy.
As for the fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee, they have been equipped them with outboard motors, thus abolishing sails and oars. Squalls still cause danger, but the Israeli scientists will doubtless learn eventually how to control the weather, redirecting the winds, carrying the rain into the desert where it is needed, and perhaps pouring a heavy plastic foam on the waves to keep the water calm. But will the fishermen be any happier? Probably not. Happiness does not come from outer circumstances but from within. It depends on spiritual weather conditions, not physical. It comes from a satisfactory handling of our spiritual storms, which originate in a region beyond the reach of technology: the region of feelings and emotions, of good and evil, love and hate, heaven and hell; a region where Jesus alone has absolute authority. And Jesus deliberately hides himself at the bottom of the boat. He does not push himself forward. He waits till we cry, "Lord, carest thou not that we perish?" Man's extremity is God's opportunity. At our invitation, he awakes, rises in full majesty, and calms the storm with a gesture and a word. "Peace! Be still!"
As we make a habit of claiming the Lord's protection and entrusting ourselves to his care, he may go into active partnership with us in the handling of the ship. He will not take over the control; that will be our prerogative. He will see that we remain at the tiller. But he will advise us and tell us what to do; and we shall be wise to follow his advice, as the disciples did against their own judgment when he told them to put down their nets, and they made that amazing catch. So he may say to us, during the storm: "Furl your sails, tack this way, swing her around," or whatever. There will be a beautiful partnership between us and Jesus, and this is life at its very best: we working with him. He will not have to calm the waves. The storms may even become more violent; but we shall be able to handle them better, because He will be very much awake, working with us.
Most of us have not yet reached this stage in our development. We are still, shall I say, in the early days of our discipleship, when we want to do everything unaided. Jesus is our Master, sure! But it has not yet occurred to us that He can help us in any practical way. He is fast asleep, we are carrying Him in our boat. He talks well, but He can't really look after Himself; we have to look after Him. Now there is a storm brewing; but see! He is lying there unconscious of the danger. We shall have to try to wake Him up. "Lord, carest thou not that we perish?"
Unfortunately, that is still the attitude of many of us towards Jesus, in the churches, in the economic field, in politics, in our personal lives. It does not occur to us to let Him take over, or even that He could take over if we let Him! The storm increases in violence; we are desperately afraid. "What will become of us? What will become of the human race? The whole world is in danger! We shall all be destroyed!" It is, of course, right and appropriate that we should do our best to control our situation, as far as we can. God has given us intellectual and physical gifts, which we should use to the utmost of our ability. We should spare no efforts to survive the storm in our own strength and navigate the ship to the desired haven. We must act, Swedenborg says, as if everything depended upon ourselves, yet we should be fully aware, all the time, that in fact we are utterly dependent on the Divine Providence of our Lord. This realization will remove all fear from our hearts. We should do the best we can, and then say: "Master, I have reached the end of my tether. You take over now!"
What a joy and comfort to know that Jesus is with us in the boat, even though seemingly asleep! - and that He has all power in heaven and on earth! Jesus is in the war areas of the world; He is in the White House and on the Hill. He will respond to our nation's call, as soon as we seriously make it - even before! "Before they call I will answer," says the Lord through Isaiah, "and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." (Isaiah 65:24) "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof." (Psalm 46)
I guess we are all afraid of something, sometimes. What do you fear most? We are not likely to be in danger in a storm at sea; in fact, most physical dangers have been removed from our ordinary daily lives, thanks to science and technology. But as I look around I see that almost everybody has that little devil of fear somewhere in his breast. There is fear of the future - of old age, sickness, want. There is fear of other people, what they might do to us; fear that someone might get ahead of us, or take something that we should have; fear of not being acknowledged or properly appreciated, or given our due. Then there is fear of ourselves, our own weakness and inadequacy; fear that we might not make the grade or measure up to what people expect of us, or what we expect of ourselves. All these fears are instantly put to rest if Jesus is standing in the boat. "Peace! Be still!" he says, and there is an immediate calm.
How about fear of other people and what they can do to you? All this fades into insignificance if Jesus is with you in the boat. Someone gets ahead of you or takes something you think you should have. What does it matter? Suppose you are not properly appreciated - so what? The Lord loves and appreciates you! Luxuriate in His love, and the rest becomes unimportant. That goes also for our fear of ourselves. He knows our weaknesses and inadequacies, and He loves us in spite of all. We don't have to "measure up" to anyone. There will always be someone cleverer than we are, or more attractive, or richer, or more successful. But on the other hand there will always be someone less clever, less beautiful, less rich, less successful; and that is perfectly in order. Just be content to be yourself, a child of God.
Our whole value system changes when Jesus is with us. We no longer crave the satisfaction of our worldly itches, but instead seek our joys from the Lord; they are there for the taking. Evil spirits leave us in disgust when they find we are ignoring them. We experience a wonderful feeling of peace. "Perfect love casts out fear." "In quietness and confidence is our strength."
In just such a way can Jesus calm the tempest in each of us. And eventually, as we work alongside him in the boat, we shall reach the final stage. We shall no longer need the boat! We shall be able to walk with Jesus on the water! Even though the wind is boisterous, we shall not be afraid, for the Lord will stretch out His hand and hold us. Then at last the waters will be at peace forever, and there will be a calm such as we have never experienced before. We shall be filled with a deep awe, and shall worship Him, saying: "Of a truth thou art . . . not just the Son of God, but God himself!"' God-with-us. The Creator Himself in human form.