The connection between today’s Gospel and our first reading from the book of Job is perfectly clear, for in Job we heard the Lord address the tumultuous waters of His creation with words of absolute authority:
Thus far shall you come, but no farther, here shall your proud waves be stilled!
And in like manner did Jesus calm the troubled Sea of Galilee:
He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Quiet! Be still!" The wind ceased and there was great calm.
However, Jesus had been sent by His Father for the glory of His Name and for the salvation of souls: He had come among men to calm the tumultuous and rebellious thoughts and emotions, fears and anxieties, of men deeply and cruelly troubled by the ravages of sin, as exemplified in some measure by the selfishly fearful hearts and minds of His disciples on this occasion.
The purpose of Jesus’ presence among us is beautifully expressed by St. Paul in our second reading:
The love of Christ impels us. He died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.
Or again in a more famous passage from his letter to the Romans (8:38-39):
Neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor present things nor future things, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Peace rests on power; and, complementing the calmness and inner peace of the Lord sleeping on a cushion in the stern of the storm-tossed boat, was His messianic power whereby, on waking, He instantly stilled the threatening waters. These Galileans, His first disciples and future Apostles who, despite being professional fishermen were now so alarmed, would need to learn from their recumbent Teacher the calm strength of an unshakeable faith and confidence to which those words of St. Paul bear witness. For, just as only the omnipotent power of the Lord of all creation could calm the surge of earth’s primeval waters, so too, only ‘Rock’-solid faith in Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of mankind:
in Whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9),
can confer that strength which enables a faithful soul to find true peace and abiding joy in a world subject to the power of Satan and his angels.
The disciples, of course, found themselves in very serious situation, indeed, it was life-threatening:
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke Him and said to Him: Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?
We must also remember that the waters of the deep were -- to the Israelites and the neighbouring civilizations -- the realm of Chaos. As we read in the story of creation from the book of Genesis: before God created either the heavens or the earth,
Darkness was on the face of the deep (Genesis 1:2);
and the greatest threat to mankind was that they might be overwhelmed by those dark waters once again and fall back into chaos. Indeed, was it not through wind and overpowering waters that the Lord had destroyed the chariots and drowned the troops of the pursuing Pharaoh when leading Israel safely out of Egypt?
With the blast of Your nostrils the waters were gathered together; the floods stood upright like a heap; the depths congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, 'I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my hand shall destroy them.' You blew with Your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters? (Exodus 15:8-10)
As Israel became less and less faithful to her covenant with the Lord, she was necessarily punished for her many failings; and these troubles and trials, this punishment and pain, was pictured by the psalmist as the looming threat of chaos:
If it had not been the LORD who was on our side when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive when their wrath was kindled against us; then the waters would have overwhelmed us, the stream would have gone over our soul; then the swollen waters would have gone over our soul. (Psalm 124: 2-5)
Now, it would seem that those traditional memories and fears were used by Our Lord to teach the Apostles what sort of faith they should have in Him; for it was the Lord Who had suggested that He and His disciples should escape the large crowd by crossing over the sea to the less populated and mainly Gentile eastern side, and in doing so He had chosen to embark upon a journey that, in the event, would severely test His disciples.
As, throughout the history of Israel, God’s punishment and testing had never been for their ruin but for their education and betterment, similarly here, Jesus was testing His disciples in order to prepare and strengthen them for what lay before them and Himself: time was so very short and they had so much to learn and absorb. If they would respond with trust in the Lord as the psalmist had portrayed, great would be their reward; but even their present failure could still serve as a lesson bringing enduring blessings if they would subsequently learn from it.
The disciples’ reaction to their situation was perfectly natural, and all those who have ever been in a small rowing boat on stormy waters will appreciate their alarm; they were found wanting not because they had been afraid of the imminent threat that their boat might capsize but because they cried out to the Lord without sufficient confidence and trust in Him, so that their words were little better than cries of panic. Jesus therefore, although responding decisively enough, nevertheless gave measured expression to His undisguised sorrow and disappointment:
(He) woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Quiet! Be still!" The wind ceased and there was a great calm. Then He asked them, "Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?"
Jesus knew that soon He would be called upon to give the supreme example of confidence and trust under the pressure of mortal torment and soul-destroying abandonment saying:
Father, into Your hands I commend my Spirit;
and the time was coming when these disciples of His -- so close to His Heart and essential for His plans -- would need to follow where their Lord had gone; and so it was absolutely imperative that they learn this lesson that would prepare them to overcome the world with Him as soon as possible.
We are told of the disciples that when they experienced Jesus’ calming of the waters:
They were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this Whom even wind and sea obey?"
After having felt such awesome fear the disciples were able to appreciate Jesus more worthily, for, as the Old Testament says:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)
Jesus wills to be our strength and our peace but for that to happen we must learn to turn to Him with humility and confidence in all our needs and with all our hopes. But our confidence has to be of a special nature, it must be a confidence that looks to Jesus with a certain and significant sense of awe: awareness that He is not only wondrous in His power on our behalf but also that He is holy above all our understanding, to the extent that we can never know how He will answer to our needs; that He will answer, and that His answer will be for our supreme good, we believe, but just what His answer will be we do not know …
Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?
Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait I say, on the Lord! (Psalm 27:14)
If we, in the course of our own personal lives, remain merely or overly human in our attitude to life and our response to its events, if we seek -- first and foremost -- our own immediate satisfaction and relief, human understanding and help, then we can never know true peace, for people who thus seek the flesh regard Jesus in a fleshly accommodating way. They may, at the best, consider Him to have been a good man, perhaps indeed a remarkable man, even a man without equal and a perfect role model for all who would seek to be truly and fully human; and yet, such an attitude towards the Lord is not good enough, being both condescending to His Person and superficial as regards His teaching.
Even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him so no longer.
As was the case for the original disciples, in our day too, perhaps only salutary fear will burn away, totally consume, that appreciation of Jesus ‘according to the flesh’, and lead us, instead, to what the Risen Lord had commissioned Paul to proclaim:
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new, all are of God Who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ.
We love Him Who is both God and man; but our fellowship with Him Who is of Mary and shares our flesh must never obscure our awe of Him Who is God. The Person of Jesus is divine … I will not add ‘though in human flesh’ … He is fully God in truly human flesh, and eternally such. That is why we must understand and acknowledge Saint Paul’s appreciation of Him when he says:
Even if we once (as a Pharisee) knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him so no longer.
Expressing such awe, our witness to Him must have a steely content. In our increasingly decadent Western world there are Christian issues on which we have to stand firm in the face of modern conformism with popularity … Jesus’ Gospel proclaimed in the Scriptures and by His Church is the only authentic and full Christianity and today we have to steadfastly hold firm and witness to Christian marriage as the sacramental union of one man and one woman for the glory of God, the good of children, and for the spouses fulfilment and salvation. The State may call its approved ceremonies ‘marriage’ … but it cannot call them Christian marriage. Neither, as regards those human relationships which are now publicly acknowledged and approved as loving relationships, can we approve of and accept them as relationships expressing truly Christian love. We do not, should not, decry or abuse persons who disagree with us, but we can never, under any circumstances back down on or change what we believe and know to be Jesus’ teaching for the ultimate good of mankind.
And for all this we need some of that awe experienced by the Apostles on fully recognizing Jesus for what, Who, He truly was and is; we need an awe-based-love of Jesus, which alone can give us that strength and peace which will enable us to face up to and overcome the multitude of difficulties and opposition facing Christians in today’s world and, despite such trials, still find true joy and deep fulfilment in God’s good gift of life lived under the shadow of His wings, inspired by His Spirit, and directed with love for His and our Father in heaven.