29 January 2017
St. Matthew 8:23-27
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Lord rebukes the disciples, “Why are you afraid, o you of little faith.” They are not wrong to wake Him, but they are wrong to panic. Most likely, their request, “Save us,” is legitimate while their statement “We are perishing” is too much. There could be a literal sense to both these words. “Save us” and “we are perishing” could mean nothing more than “Keep us from dying in the moment.” If that is the case, they don’t ask Jesus for enough. But both these words have theological significance. “Save us,” means “Spare us from eternal damnation. Rescue us from our sins.” And “perishing” doesn’t mean to simply die, it means to go to Hell. This is the word that Jesus uses in John 3:16. Whoever believes in Him does not perish.
So it is with Christian prayer and that is why, whether we say it or not, we include the caveat “Thy will be done.” Because we don’t know what is best and sometimes drowning in the sea of Galilee or being crucified upside down in Rome or being taken out by an IED in Afghanistan is best. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord. That is not to say that we can’t or shouldn’t ask to be spared these things. We can and we should. The Lord gave Hezekiah 12 more years. The Lord spared Israel for the sake of Moses’ intercession. We come as dear children to their dear father. We are bold and confident. We are unashamed not only to pray that we be spared pain and sorrow but even that we be spared inconveniences or that we be given fun things. You can pray for a new motorcycle that you don’t need or for you dog to get house broken. We can also pray for big things: for God to end legalized abortion in the United States, for the conversion of the Muslim nations, for an end to hunger and bullying and lying politicians.
What we aren’t free to do is insist on our way. We don’t give God ultimatums, “If you love me God, prove it by curing my cancer.” And we don’t panic. We trust that even in the midst of terrible circumstances, when we’ve suffered unjustly, been slandered and lied about, lost our income and people, even when we are dying, or we are losing our loved ones, or about to drown in the Sea of Galilee, we don’t panic. At least, the new man doesn’t panic.
When we do panic, like the apostles in the boat, we sin. We fail to trust God. And that is why they get rebuked.
Yes, despite their weakness and the smallness of their faith, they do pray. They do look to Jesus for help. They seek to wake Him, to rouse Him. That happens to be the typical way that the Psalms consider the purpose of prayer. We are suffering because God isn’t looking at us, we aren’t in His presence. We call to Him to get His attention, to move Him.
So the apostles’ prayer, “Save us,” is totally to their credit despite its imperfection.
I am not minimizing the rebuke. They sinned. They needed the Law’s correction and the Law’s exhortation to trust Jesus, to not panic. Compare their panic to the Centurion from last week. He had great faith because he trusted the Word of the Lord and thus did not panic.
The apostles’ sanctification wasn’t yet as great as his and maybe never would be on this side of glory, so they got corrected, rebuked and instructed. Not only was Jesus accusing them, He was also showing them how to live in the Spirit. At the same time, the grace of God in Christ rules over and acts on behalf those with faith. Christ answers their prayer. He saves them not only from the waves but also from eternal death. They aren’t perishing – either in the sea of Galilee or in Hell.
Allegorize – crosses teach us to pray, Jesus saves us from the true peril.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.