By Father David McLean, O.P.
The idea of the Church as a ship has always been popular. In today’s gospel reading we can see the biblical inspiration for nautical themes. It is imagery the early church was quick to pick up on. Many of the early disciples were fishermen, and the apostles spread the Gospel along the sea routes. For people’s whose daily lives revolved around the sea and had knowledge of what life at sea was like, using seafaring imagery to communicate the gospel was an obvious thing to do.
A church buffeted by persecution could identify with sailors in a ship, at the mercy of a storm. The Apostle Paul was shipwrecked. Even in a modern ship today, a major storm is a very unpleasant experience, and sailors are very conscious how calm waters can become dangerous in a moment. The early Church, and even the Church now, can feel it is about to be swamped.
What is true of the Church is also true of the individual. There is the voyage through life and the storms are the crises we meet. Some will encounter more storms than others, but everybody will experience some storms. As with the disciples in the Gospel, it is often only in moments of crisis that people, and perhaps even the Church, really turn towards God, and not always in a good sense.
They turn to ask what God is doing. ‘Master, do you not care? We are going down!’ Our minds turn to God in moments of crisis and then only to doubt Him. That may not actually be quite as bad as we think. It is one better than not thinking of God at all in a moment of crisis. Doubting God in moments of crisis is the same as questioning God. If you question you get answers. The disciples ask Jesus if he cares and they get an answer.
We are first told in the Gospel that Jesus is asleep in the stern during the storm. It seems that Jesus doesn’t care. But are we here talking about reality or the disciples’ perception? Is God absent and uncaring or is that the disciples’ perception of the situation? Jesus is of course acutely aware of what is going on all the time.
Our questioning of God in times of crisis should lead us to examine our attitude to God at other times. It is us who behave as though God is asleep, because we are distracted. Jesus is asked ‘Do you not care?’ He answers by questioning the faith of the disciples. They should already know that He is God and they have no reason to be frightened. He acts at the same time. The winds drop and the sea calms at his command.
At this, even though they are Jesus’ disciples, they ask ‘Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.’ He is the God who made heaven and earth. The God of creation has power over His creation. This is the God who we have faith in. Of course He is there all the time.
Questioning God is good if it leads us from a state of not thinking about God to a realization that God is with us always. Part of that realization is that God will answer our questions in His terms and not ours. The sea does not calm for all ships, and some sink. The Church is not saved from storms and sometimes we will fear for the Church. Individuals will not be saved from suffering. All this does not mean that the God who created heaven and earth is not here or is asleep. To doubt the creator God is to doubt creation and our own existence.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that it is not God who is asleep, but we who are asleep to him. We have faith in a God who is always with us. He is a God who wants to bring us to our salvation. We may at times have difficulty seeing our path to salvation. But we keep faith that God is always leading us to Him