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As I write this to you all we are experiencing a wonderful day of early spring sunshine. Oban Bay is like a mill pond, even the vessels which traverse it hardly seem to disturb the flat calm of the moment.
The scene upon the water makes me think of the story in Luke’s Gospel when Jesus, exhausted from preaching, healing and meeting the people of Galilee, set out in a boat under the care of his disciples. Exhausted as he was, he soon fell asleep putting his life and wellbeing into the hands of at least four experienced Galilean fishermen.
The story then tells us that the next thing that happened was that a storm erupted, throwing the crew into confusion and causing them to shout to Jesus: ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’
But what happened before that? What happened in the bit that we are not told about, the bit between Jesus falling asleep and being wakened by the chorus of fearful voices?
On the one hand, we will never know, but on the other there is some room for conjecture. These fishermen had earned their livelihood on the lake. They would be able to read the signs of the weather patterns and of how they could change so rapidly on a surface of water that was 600 feet below sea level.
On the one hand, they would have been schooled at their father’s knees as to how they should respond to the weather and its vagaries. On the other, their own accumulated experience would have proven a sound teacher.
So how did they miss the change in the weather? They must have seen the signs before and, when they did, they would have headed for the shore as soon as possible. So why not on this occasion? Did they misread the signs?
That is possible. Yet perhaps the answer is to be found in their humanity revealed by the words: ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’ Is this the human plea of men who had over extended their abilities? Is this the over-confidence of the disciples who had been on the lake on countless occasions? After all, it was their domain.
Jesus might preach and heal and give sight to the blind and feed numerous people – he may even turn water into wine – but as they looked at him, they may just have thought: ‘No matter what he can do, the Lake of Galilee is our domain where we are in control.’
One way in which we over-extend our abilities is to take our ‘eye off the job’ or to over-estimate our abilities. At that point, our skill takes second place to our confidence.
In Christian terms, this translates into setting aside prayer for and about whatever lies before us because we have done the job on countless occasions and so can do it again – ‘Here, let me show you.’
Sometimes people use the phrase: ‘I could do it in my sleep!’ Such confidence usually comes before a fall and, for the disciples, their confidence in their ability to negotiate the waters of Lake Galilee were ‘the fall’ that resulted in the plea: ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’
But Jesus does not use these events in our lives as though they were throw-away moments. He does not ignore the opportunity to further the understanding of those of us who are among his followers.
It says that ‘in fear and amazement, they asked one another’- they entered into discussion among themselves for after this no other day would ever be similar, let alone the same.
The disciples were not left with only the fear that they might have drowned that day. Rather, they were also left with ‘amazement’ and with it the positive question that would reveal more about the man who had been asleep in their boat and who from nowhere calmed the storm – ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’ ‘Who is this?’
If you have too much ‘fear’ in your life and not enough ‘amazement’, then the season of Lent which is about to begin is a great time to undertake your voyage to discovery and to find out more about the one ‘who commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him’ by asking the question: ‘Who is this?’
But this is best done with Jesus resting in your boat!
Rev Dr Iain C Barclay,
Appin. Linked with Lios Mor.