Alternate Endings to Matthew 8:23-27

Envisioning an alternative ending to Matthew 8:23-27 haunts me.

As it is written, events unfold like this: Jesus gets into the boat, and His disciples follow Him.  A violent storm appears out of nowhere.  We know that this is a violent storm, a life-threatening one, because Scripture takes pains to tell us that “the boat was being covered by the waves.”

Jesus, meanwhile, sleeps through it.

The disciples (presumably frantic) shake Him awake, begging Him to save them because they are going to die.  Jesus says in response, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?”

Then Jesus gets up, rebukes the unruly waves and sea, and everything calms.

As a child, I found the disciples to be almost a bit silly in their terror.  I wondered how they could be afraid.  Sure, I was sometimes afraid—but they had Jesus right there in the boat.  How is it possible to be fearful when God is physically present beside you?

But as an adult, the parable hits differently.  A lot differently.  And more than anything, I find myself wondering: what ending to that story would have been appropriate to Jesus?  What did He want His disciples to do?  And what would that have looked like, on the boat?

Because in truth, what we see from the disciples is often what we assume God wants: us to rush to Him in a time of desperate need.  The disciples see a storm; they gauge how bad it is; they immediately run to the One whom they believe can do anything.

“Lord, save us, we are going to die!”

In some ways, don’t we perceive this to be the right answer?  To flee from fear and danger to the Lord, who is the only one who can do anything about any of it? To depend on God rather than ourselves?  To pound on the door of heaven?  God!  There is a lot going on down here!

Surely grabbing Jesus by the collar and shaking Him awake seems, if desperate, at least a feint in the right direction?

But Jesus calls them men of little faith, for their fear.  And so I wonder, over and over: what might God have preferred here?  What does faith look like during the storm, on the boat?

Does it look like the disciples rebuking the elements in Jesus’ name?

Does it look like waking Jesus calmly?  Picture a disciple, casually navigating the waves sloshing into the boat and the listing of the tiny vessel, to come perch by Jesus.  “Lord,” he says, nudging Jesus gently awake.  “This is a terrible storm, but with you here, I cannot fear it.”

Does it look like not rousing Jesus at all?  Picture the disciples sitting trustingly in the embrace of the rocking boat as the waves threaten to swamp the vessel.  If Jesus wants to save them from the sea, they think, He’ll wake up.  And if He doesn’t, that’s fine too.  They trust Him.

I can only speculate, though I suspect the last version might be closest to the truth.  Regardless, the answer always leaves me uncomfortable.  Because the response for which the disciples are chided often mirrors mine.  At the first hint of discomfort or upset, I am pounding down God’s door, begging that He gives me some evidence He is paying attention.

But visible, direct, miraculous intervention is not always what God wants to perform for us. Jesus showed what Philip Yancey aptly calls a certain reluctance about miracles.  In other words, God often seems to prefer that His immediately visible, wondrous works remain hidden.  In the Gospels, Jesus does many marvelous healings—and then immediately tells those he has healed not to spread the news around.  He initially resists Mary’s exhortation to perform a miracle at Cana.  And Scripture reminds us over and over again that God is a still small voice, that growth happens largely underground, that God’s focus on relationship and redemption is in many ways more subtle and far more profound than ours.

So when I think about what the correct choice might have been for the disciples on the boat, I think it must involve something like expectant endurance: a willingness to accept the circumstances, to accept and acknowledge suffering and peril, while holding in mind God’s great goodness, provision, and love.  Trust, God seems to be pointing out both here and elsewhere, does not demand miracles as proof of concept—or proof of love. 

It is a hard tension to hold.  It is also where faith grows teeth.

Because the faith that follows God through darkness is formidable, indeed.  It is a faith that recognizes the tunnel vision spawned by peril—one in which concepts like “love” and “joy” and “eternal life” lose their appeal in the face of immediate discomforts—and understands it as a sort of blindness.  It is a faith that does not demand to be released from miseries but instead asks, “What shall I do for you from here?”

It is a faith that understands and accepts the inevitability of suffering.  Sees it as a place of great transformation, and yes, redemption.

When my mother died, very few things that should have been comforting were.  I knew my mother was with Jesus, and I was pleased about that in an abstract sense, but it didn’t dull the sadness.  I knew she was no longer in pain, but while I was relieved at the thought it didn’t exactly brighten my spirits. 

What did comfort me was the image of the suffering Christ.  It was a reminder of a simple truth: the suffering we endure here is in some way be deeply critical to who and how we become in Christ. It must in some way be deeply critical to the transformation God intends to work in us. 

I know it’s critical because God didn’t exempt Himself from it.

So when I return to the boat, and I view it with fresh eyes, I see that the issue is perhaps maybe not that the disciples ran to Jesus, but that it wasn’t Jesus they wanted.  What they wanted—then and in many other small ways—was an assurance of circumstance.

Stop the boat rocking.

Make it so I’m comfortable.

Let me know what’s happening and why.

To all of these, God sometimes answers with assent and sometimes dissent, but almost always with this:

I am here.  I am here.  I am here.

The heartbeat of the presence of God is the comfort, if we believe He is who He says He is.

If.

If.

If.

Oh we, of little faith!

And spared all the same.

2 thoughts on “Alternate Endings to Matthew 8:23-27

  1. I admire your deep meditation on the story within this passage!

    Is it possible faith in God and trust in God are not necessarily one and the same thing on all occasions?

    I don’t think Jesus was berating them. He was simply reminding them of the fact that their faith as of that time was ‘little” as yet, in comparison to what it would become.
    However, I agree with your conclusion at the end of your presentation. It is very well done.

    Like

    1. No, I don’t believe He was berating them. That’s a good point to make! I did read it as a rebuke to their lack of faith, so I rather like your framing of it as a reminder.

      I don’t think they’re the same, necessarily, on all occasions, but I admit I think of them myself as being in much partnership. Maybe a bit of chicken and egg, enabling each other. One makes the other come much easier, I find!

      Liked by 1 person

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