When you find something mentioned rarely, it’s maybe because it doesn’t matter, or because it does. Part of the skill of the researcher or the observer is to distinguish the insignificance or importance of a detail.
If you work with someone for a few years, you can usually get a feel for their characteristics and style. Knowing, therefore, what to attach significance to and what to ignore can become clear to you.
So here is a possibly interesting fact. In all the gospel accounts of Jesus of Nazareth there is only one mention of his sleeping. Now sleeping consumes at least a third of our lives so by his thirties, Jesus would have spent around ten years asleep, so nothing to report here. It is inferred when Mark tells us that Jesus got up very early to pray, that he was obviously getting up from sleep, but there is only one actual reference to his sleep.
The context of it, however, makes it worth exploring. The gospel writers tell us that Jesus was asleep in the back of a boat in a storm. Sleeping was so common, it was not worth noting – except that it shows he was human. But sleeping in a storm may tell us something. But what?
Before we get carried away, the first thing it tells us is that he was really tired. He had been giving out all day. But as the storm gets worse, the sleeping leader poses more questions. Should you wake him?
Now, given what we know about him, you could make a case for crying out to the Lord when in times of trouble. But, honestly, what should Peter and the others do?
All their instincts told them is they were losing the battle with the storm. Remember they knew this lake very well – it was indeed their workplace. They were experts on its behavior and they had run out of ideas.
Fast forward the story and you find that after they did wake him, he calmed the storm, then, and here is the point that makes you question, he asked them why they were afraid and where their faith was. Why did they not bring ther faith to work with them?
So what should they have done? Should they have sat down and simply waited for the water to overwhelm the boat? Should have they worked harder?
I have taught on this incident probably more than any other in my career. But it has just occurred to me to ask another question. Where was the safest place to be in that storm, right at that moment? I keep coming back to one thought. Surely the safest place to be was as close to the sleeping leader as possible. If there was enough room, perhaps they should have all crowded around them him in a huddle.
We now know that he was not going to drown that day – he was going to die on a cross on a hill at a time of his choosing. What we know that they didn’t, is the cross was the reason they were safe in the storm. How could they possibly know that?
He had given them a clue when he said ‘let’s go over to the other side’ at the outset of their trip. But they hadn’t realised the power of his ‘let’s go’. So they, quite understandably, hadn’t yet grasped how to relate to him by faith. Hence his question.
I am beginning to wonder if the highest expression of faith that day would have been for them to get into the back of the boat and take some sleep beside him. Had they done that, perhaps they would have realised he was not a passenger in their boat, but they in his and he was the navigator. He was not sleeping because he was ignoring them, he was sleeping because he was showing them.
It does take a huge amount of courage to lie down and sleep in a storm, but not if you are lying next to the Son of God. The challenge is to trust that his mere presence in the boat is the guarantee of arrival on the other shore.
Is it heresy to suggest that if your faith is growing weak then you should wake him up and hope he will calm the storm? Honestly, I don’t think we know, he seems to be willing to work with us at all levels, in all our weaknesses, with all our struggles.
In the meantime, sleep well.
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
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