June 24, 2012 “Do You Trust Me?”
Probably most of you have seen the Disney movie “Aladdin”. I haven’t watched it in a long time, so forgive me if I don’t get the details quite right, but there is a scene in which Aladdin and Princess Jasmine are running from some very bad bad guys. The princess has run away from the palace in disguise because she is going to be forced to marry the evil vizier Jafar, and has met up with Aladdin. Aladdin, of course, is the hero of the story, but he just looks like any old ragged street beggar so that no one knows he’s anything special.
In this particular scene the evil Jafar has sent his soldiers out to capture them both, and Aladdin and Jasmine are trying to escape. Finally, they’re cornered on the edge of a roof or the rail of a balcony or some such treacherous spot, with nowhere to go but down. And Aladdin stands on the very edge of that perilous place and reaches his hand out to the princess and says, “Do you trust me?” Jasmine has only two choices: to give herself up to the evil men that are pursuing her, or to take Aladdin’s hand and step out into midair with nothing to rely on but her faith in Aladdin.
In the story that we read today from Mark’s gospel the apostles are in that same kind of position. Their lives are on the line; they are in a small fishing boat in the worst of storms, and there is nothing between themselves and death – nothing but one man, their teacher and friend, who is sound asleep on a cushion in the stern while the waves rise higher and higher, washing over the sides, and the wind tosses the boat around like a bathtub toy. Seasoned fisherman though they are, physically strong, and with years of experience, there isn’t anything they can do to handle the boat in this fierce storm, and finally they do the only thing they can think of: they run down and shake Jesus awake, and ask him reproachfully, “How can you sleep at a time like this? Don’t you even care that we’re all going to die?” And Jesus looked around at their terrified faces and said very much the same thing as Aladdin, “Do you trust me?”
The enormous difference of course is that Mark’s story is about real people, real people in real danger, who had to make a real choice. We know that the Sea of Galilee was notorious for having sudden and terrible storms just like the one Mark describes. Mark learned these stories from Peter, who was there that day, and he writes this story in detail. Jesus had been teaching the crowds all day long. So many people had gathered that he had gotten into one of the fishing boats and rowed out a little way so that they could all hear him. Now it was evening, the sky was growing dark, and their boat, along with a few others, started out to cross the lake. Jesus must have been incredibly exhausted because he didn’t even wake up when the wind began to howl and the boat began to toss on the waves.
One of the things that makes the Bible truly helpful to us is that the stories are not about Bible heroes who always do and say the right things. The men and women that Jesus lived with and walked with and worked with were as human and as full of fears and doubts and foolishness as we are ourselves, and so when we read stories like this it is easy to put ourselves in their place. And that is important, because the Jesus that the apostles went to wake up in the stern of the boat that night is the same Jesus that we run to when we are facing the storms in our own lives. They ask the very thing we so often feel, “What are you doing? Don’t you care what’s happening here? Don’t you care about us?”
Even the great King David felt like that sometimes; when his troubles seemed overwhelming he poured out his fears, in prayers that we can use ourselves to express our feelings to God. In Ps. 13 he cried out, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” And in Ps. 22 he wrote, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer…” We know that Jesus was praying that same psalm on the cross, echoing David’s words in the very darkest hour of his ministry. The Bible lets us know that there isn’t anything wrong with us when we feel those kinds of feelings; because the disciples felt like that too – and even Jesus shared those feelings with us.
We all come to those dark hours, we all go through our own storms, and Jesus speaks to us just as he spoke to the apostles in the boat, “Why are you so afraid? Don’t you trust me yet?” It is the first step of our faith, to believe that God cares; that not only does he see what is happening, but that it matters to him what happens to us. To have faith means to believe that God rejoices in our every joy and grieves with our every sorrow.
If there were no other meaning for the Incarnation, it is this – that God did not choose to know us like a scientist knows every detail of the creatures he studies. God doesn’t stand back coldly and impassively to observe our movements, peering at us like bugs under a microscope to see how we react to stimuli. If we understand the Incarnation, we know that God is nothing like that. He is much more like a general who chooses to know his men by marching into battle at their sides, exposed to every danger that his men suffer, and enduring every hardship that they endure. The Incarnation, Jesus coming to dwell among us as a true human being, means first and foremost that God cares about everything that happens to us.
And meanwhile, back in the little fishing boat bouncing around on the Sea of Galilee, the apostles were so much like we are in another respect. It doesn’t seem to have even entered their minds to ask Jesus to rescue them. I’m sure, before they went to wake Jesus up, they had hauled in the sails or battened down the hatches or whatever it is that fishermen do when they are out in a storm. This was their element; they were supposed to know what to do; they were supposed to be in control. Jesus was just a passenger. They did the sailing; he got the cushion. They went to him for solidarity, they woke him because they were terrified and they needed him to be with them. But they didn’t expect him to do anything about it.
How often are we like that? I know I have been exactly like that before. There have been times in my life when I have gone along trying to maintain control, to endure the winds and the waves on my own, and it wasn’t until I felt ready to go under completely that I thought to call out for help. Flailing around helplessly, or gritting my teeth and complaining, or making lists, or reading books, or doing whatever I could think of to keep things in control, there came a time finally when I had exhausted every other resource. And then and only then I remembered that I had tucked God away in the corner of my mind. And then I remembered to cry out. And just like the disciples I cried, “Where have you been? Are you asleep? Don’t you care?” And Jesus, not just like Jesus, but the very same Jesus, reached his hand out to me as he did to the disciples that night in the storm, and he said, “Do you trust me?”
And that’s when things get interesting. I don’t have any way of knowing what Peter and John and the others expected when they woke Jesus up, but I do know that they were blown away by what really happened. Jesus looked out at the wind and the waves, and he said, “Peace! Be still!” Essentially, the second Greek word means, “Shut up!” And instantly – instantly – the winds stopped blowing and the waves grew quiet and a great calm fell over the sea. And Mark doesn’t say that they all rejoiced or cheered or sighed with relief. He says that they were filled with great fear, because suddenly they saw that Jesus was not the man they thought he was. He wasn’t just a good teacher and a faithful companion; he had power they hadn’t even begun to understand. Jesus had power to help them in ways they hadn’t even dreamed of asking for.
They looked at this man they thought they knew so well, and they asked one another, “Who is this man? Who can he be, that even the wind and the waves obey his voice?” They were filled with the kind of fear that is a mixture of awe and amazement and bewilderment, because they hadn’t even begun to understand who Jesus really was. And really, we are still learning that ourselves, aren’t we? What does it mean for us to know God? What does it mean for us to give up trying to fix our lives ourselves and bring our storms and messes to him? What can he do if we take the hand he holds out to us, and trust him?
If you think that is a little bit frightening – well, of course it is. It means stepping off of the solid ground of our own control, and that in itself is terrifying. But it also means finding out what the power of God can do, and that might be even more terrifying. The disciples in the boat had very low expectations. They just wanted to know that Jesus cared whether they lived or died. And I think generally our expectations are low also. We want to know that God loves us and cares for us. But do we expect him to heal us; do we expect him to do something when we bring our broken relationships or our financial problems or our discouragement or our weakness to him?
We are really no different than Jesus’s disciples: we still haven’t even begun to understand all that Jesus can do when we cry out to him. But this story is here to encourage us to call out, over the winds and the waves of our lives, and to trust, with all the faith we have, that not only does God care, but that he will answer us, in his own powerful way, however unpredictable and unexpected that way might be. Like the man whose son was tormented by a demon, we come to Jesus and say, “Lord, we believe – help our unbelief.”
Next week we will offer healing prayer after the Mass, and I want to encourage you to come – not only for physical healing, but for healing or strength or help of whatever kind you need. It takes courage to ask, but when you do, there is no telling what you will learn about Jesus, and about what he is able to do when you stop trying to battle the waves on your own. When the wind stopped and the waves stilled, the disciples asked one another in amazement, who is this man? And as they walked with him throughout the rest of his ministry, they learned more about who he is – they learned that Jesus is truly man and truly God, all-caring and all-powerful. Jesus was so powerful that even the winds and the waves had to obey his voice that night, but he cared so much that he gave himself for them, and for us, on the cross. And he is the one who asks you, “Do you trust me?”
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