I don’t think I really understood that as a child, and I often wished he were more like my friends’ parents, who seemed to me to do everything for them and rescue them from every possible uncomfortable situation. One such incident involved my decision to quit the Girl Scouts.
I was in the fifth grade and had been a Brownie and then a Girl Scout since I was about five years old. What had been cool in the early grades at my elementary school became decidedly less cool as I got older, and at about fifth grade, I realized that though I loved my scout leader, all of my friends and all of the popular girls had long since left scouting, and I was one of the last hold-outs. At my friends’ requests, their mothers and fathers had simply withdrawn them from Girl Scouts and that was that.
So I told my father I wanted to quit, and I asked him to call Gerry, the beloved scout leader, to tell her. My father, wise man that he was, refused to quit for me. He said that it was okay for me to quit, but I would have to make that painful phone call to Gerry all by myself.
It took me a whole year to do it. Another whole year of being in Girl Scouts before I had the courage to quit. And Dad never budged. He wouldn’t save me in my discomfort.
You see my father didn’t believe that his job as a parent was to protect me from growing up and the attendant bumps and bruises because there would be a time when he couldn’t rescue me from those things. There would be a time, God willing, when I would leave home and strike out on my own, and I think he saw these little growing pains as preparation in the school of life.
This morning’s reading from Matthew’s gospel follows the feeding of the 5000, plus women and children—a mountain-top, life-changing moment for Jesus and his followers—a moment of abundance, epiphany, and glory.
After the people are miraculously fed, Jesus sends away the disciples in a boat to cross over to Gennesaret while he dismisses the crowds. We can imagine that in the boat the disciples couldn’t stop rehashing the miracle and how they each had felt. They were definitely on a disciple-high.
Jesus, after shipping off the disciples and dismissing the crowds, goes up the mountain by himself to pray. Then things get rough.
“When evening came, Jesus was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.”
Did you catch that? Listen again. “When evening came the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.”
The storm was rough at evening, but Jesus waited until morning to walk out to the boat. That’s maybe 8 or more hours of panicked disciples, struggling alone and afraid in the boat, even though Jesus presumably could have calmed the storm at any moment.
You see, when Jesus finally does walk out on the water, he calms the terrified disciples by saying, “It is I”—literally—“I AM.” That sounds familiar, right? I AM is the name of God, the name God tells Moses from the burning bush.
Jesus asserts his divinity by walking on a raging sea—one of the old, old attributes of God was his calming of the waters, the symbol of chaos. And in case the disciples missed that connection, Jesus further asserts his divinity by claiming the name of God.
God in Christ majestically calms the storm, and we assume he could have done this at any moment. But he waited all night. He let the disciples squirm—more than squirm really, he left them alone and terrified, struggling against the battering wind and waves.
We also hear this theme of delayed rescue in our reading from the Hebrew Bible, as Jonah is left desperate and afraid in the belly of the fish for three days, waiting for God’s help. Yes, God rescues Jonah, and Jesus eventually and spectacularly comes to the aid of his disciples, but why not right away?
Maybe Jesus is preparing them for what life would have in store for those who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
Maybe Jesus wants the disciples to hold on to this night—the pain and the rescue, the struggle and the triumph—because there will be a time when they will feel alone and desperate for three long days, as their Lord is beaten and killed and left dead in a tomb.
Maybe Jesus knows the disciples need to have a memory of separation and anxiety followed by ultimate reunion with Jesus and salvation at his hand for the time the resurrected Jesus will leave them behind and ascend into heaven.
And maybe we tell this story and the story of Jonah because we, too, need to remember that the pain of this life isn’t forever. Pain and struggle are part of the journey as we await the return of Christ, and God knows we are in need. But we are not abandoned or forgotten by God. Chaos and battering waves and darkness and despair from the belly of a fish do not win the day.
Like the disciples and Jonah, we are treasured; we are cherished; we are held in the palm of God’s hand. We are loved as sons and daughters of our Father in heaven. Also like Jonah and the disciples, we must wait for God in the struggle of this life. We must wait for that happy day when we see Jesus cross the raging waters to come to us, and we hear him say, “Take heart; I AM; do not be afraid.”
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Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 May 2009 13:23