As we talk about Jesus sleeping in the boat in the midst of a terrible storm, of course we cannot ignore what this must have looked like to the non-fishermen on board, who naturally turned toward the present, but passed-out, Lord for help.
Jesus isn't worried. If there's anybody who knows how to handle a little storm, it's the four fishermen He's got in the boat with Him. And on the off-chance that they all get in over their heads, Jesus knows there's nothing on this earth that is not under His control, if it should need to be. So He's dozing.
The other eight guys are not so sure.
They can't believe, with everything that's going on around them, that Jesus would still be sleeping. They can't believe that He's not waking up and taking care of this yet. Maybe they are wondering how they are supposed to save Jesus if this whole boat capsizes, or what they are going to tell the crowds if the Lord is lost at sea. Maybe...maybe they can't swim. Maybe, like us, they just think that if they're going to be in the presence of Jesus, nothing bad should happen to them.
There shouldn't be storms at all if Jesus is in your boat.
But He's sleeping.
What a jerk.
How often do we find ourselves thinking this same thing? How often do we find ourselves in boats that are being rocked by waves, thinking we ought not to have to deal with the waves if Jesus is in the boat with us? How often does it seem that our lives are just a few short minutes, one good gust of wind, away from sinking, and Jesus...this precious Jesus...this Guy to whom we have given our very lives is sleeping?
This is, it is interesting to note, one of the accusations that the prophet Elijah makes about Baal in 1 Kings 18. He is the only prophet of the Lord left in all the land, and the prophets of Baal are making some bold claims about this so-called god of theirs. So Elijah meets them on the mountain and challenges them to a battle of the prophets. If their god is any god at all, he will show up and defend himself. He will answer his prophets and do amazing things. But, of course, Baal is no god at all; he's MIA. And Elijah, in all his prophetic surety, says, "Well, maybe he's sleeping. Maybe you have to wake him up. Shout loudly! Shout, now! Wake up your sleeping god!"
And now, here we find ourselves in a boat where the Lord really is sleeping. Where the real God really is in la-la land at just the very moment when we need Him to prove Himself, to come and calm the waves, to steady our sinking ship. (It might not actually be sinking, but it's rocking pretty hard.)
It is tempting at this point to want to wrap up the story, to want to skip to the part where Jesus wakes up, yawns, assesses the situation, and says, simply, It's fine. And the waves calm down and the storm stops and the boat rights and all 13 men make it safely to the other shore. All is well in the world again. That's where we want to go with this story, right? We want that reassurance that all things work out?
But that's an injustice to the developing narrative here. Because what it teaches us, erroneously, is that things are well when Jesus is awake. When Jesus is asleep, things are...less well. It teaches us that we need to wake our God up every now and then, that sometimes, when we need Him most, He is, indeed, sleeping in the stern. That it's up to us to make our God respond to our needs. That part of our role as believers is to sound the alarm clock and refuse to be snoozed. This is not what God intends for us to learn from this story. This isn't the right conclusion to draw.
More than even this, though, the very idea of Jesus sleeping in the boat sets us up to understand another story in the Gospels, one that's going to take place a bit later in the whole Jesus narrative. And if we determine that the whole point of the boat narrative is to wake Jesus up, then we're going to have a bit of difficulty if the other story doesn't turn out quite the same way....
Stay tuned for this one.