We’ve all read the episode in the fourth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel when our Lord calmed the seas. Convinced that the boat was about to sink and that they all would be drowned, the disciples hastily awoke Jesus. “Master”, they cried, “does it not concern thee that we are perishing?”
We can be reasonably sure that these men were all experienced fishermen and sailors, who were very familiar with the erratic and dangerous moods of the Sea of Galilee. They were not overreacting to their situation. They were in real peril.
Well, of course we all know what happened next. We read that our Lord stood up in the boat, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still” and in an instant everything was utterly calm – they were floating serenely on perfectly placid waters. The disciples were astonished, dumbstruck in fact, and wondered to themselves what manner of man was this that the wind and the sea should do His bidding.
Everything that is contained in the Gospels is intended for the furtherance of our education as Christians. The great lesson to be derived from this particular narrative is to be found in what our Lord said to His disciples after He had silenced the wind and settled the waves: “Why are you fearful? Are you still without faith?”
We would do well to take those words to heart.
We live in a world which, from a moral point of view, is very stormy indeed. Nor can we deny the fact that those storms seriously affect the Church.
In the light of the troubles that beset the Church, we may, in a response somewhat like that of the disciples, sometimes wonder if she is not being swamped, and is in danger of sinking, or if she has lost her bearings and is following an erratic course. And, like the disciples, we may be tempted to panic. But what explanation can be offered for a reaction of this kind other than a lack of faith on our part? It is precisely at times like this that we must be especially heedful of our Lord’s words, and let them penetrate to the very centre of our souls: “Why are you fearful? Are you still without faith?”
There is a long-standing tradition of referring to the Church as the Barque of Peter. It is not unlikely that the boat which found itself in so perilous a situation on the Sea of Galilee many centuries ago was owned by St. Peter. However that might be, would it be improper to interpret the dramatic incident recounted by St. Matthew as symbolic of the kind of dire circumstances which the Church has found herself in from time to time over the course of her history, and in which she finds herself, and in unprecedented fashion, today?
The Barque of Peter is being tossed about violently on a cruel and merciless sea. To all appearances, she will not be able to survive the ordeal. But look! Who is that there, sitting in the stern, in the position typically occupied by the one in charge of the boat? It is God Himself. He is with the boat, in the boat – and the boat – the Church – belongs entirely to Him.
The winds may howl, and the seas may rage.
The Church might have to endure much buffeting by the storm. She might suffer severe damage from it. But she will not sink.
We have our Lord’s solemn assurance of that fact.
“Why are you fearful?”