Scripture for this Sunday: Genesis 2.4b-9, 15-24 (the second version of the creation story); Psalm 65; Revelation 4; Luke 8.22-25 (Jesus calms a storm).
Whenever the gospel reading about Jesus in the boat in a storm arises, I’m reminded of a lady whom I knew in Canada. Her husband had been a merchant navy captain, and she quoted him as saying, “Jesus probably just told them to turn the boat into the wind.”
Perhaps he did. Does that diminish the miracle? Probably not. Subduing a group a panic-stricken fishermen is almost as much of a miracle as telling the wind to stop. On one of the last trips in his sailing boat that my late friend, James, and I had together, we talked about the effect that panic has on people: when crisis or danger arises, it’s usually panic that results in danger and fatality, rather than the problem itself.
Turning the boat into the wind, is to work with nature, rather than to fight it. One of the joys of sailing is to learn to work with the wind, to be in harmony with nature, even when the going gets rough.
Back in the boat with Jesus, the disciples seem to have experienced fear and panic – evidence of the way in which humanity has gradually lost its affinity for the created order from which we were formed. There’s a marked contrast between the fearful disciples and the innocence and harmony of the newly created human being, adam (in Hebrew, ‘earth creature’) and partner, at one with God in God’s garden.
The Hebrew scripture uses words that play upon one another: God creates the human, adam, from dust (adamah) and then from man (ish) forms woman (ishah). Some authorities have wondered whether this use of different words means that the authors of the Hebrew bible understood the original human, adam, to have been androgynous. Perhaps. While this might seem a bit fanciful, biologically speaking, it might express an understanding that to be made in the image of God is to be made to be together. And this creation account is expressed as harmony in God’s idyllic garden: humanity (adam, dust creature) has been made from, and is a part of the created order.
The temptation that has plagued humans for generations is to subdue, exploit and possess what is around us. But this is based upon a misunderstanding of the role of humans to be stewards of creation. The Hebrew scripture uses language that implies shepherding, caring and exercising good stewardship – to till, and to keep, to quote Genesis – not pillaging and plundering to get the most that we can out of it. That path leads to a desire to possess more and more – which is simply not God’s way.
Living in Menorca is a blessing in terms of finding harmony with creation, with the beauty of the unspoilt, or carefully tended earth and sea. “Give thanks for the wonder,” says my wife’s note on our fridge. Indeed. I watch the children and teenagers learning to sail in Mahón and Es Castell in their little training boats, and I feel a sense of warmth that these young people are learning how to work with nature. I witness people cleaning up the beaches and I feel a sense of hope, because not only are they doing something to mitigate our fellow humans’ rather destructive tendencies, but they become witnesses to speak up against exploitation and destruction of the environment.
Is this at the root of the miracle in the boat? Was it that Jesus, being as one with the creator, possessed a sense of harmony with the elements?
What is the message for us? Let’s work with God’s creation, not against it. Let’s try to find harmony in our relationship with the world around us, and not exploit it. When our boats are tossed by storms, let’s remember Christ’s example, and not panic, but try to be calm. Remember that Christ’s authority is extended to his body in the world – and that means us!
Meanwhile, remember this image of the idyllic garden in 2 months when someone is mistaken for a gardener outside an empty tomb … something to think about until then!