Do you fight power with power, or do you understand authority? When chaos raises its ugly head in your private world do you match it strength for strength as you are able, or will you accept your interconnectedness with others and the divine?
Jesus is crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat with a group of his students. This is familiar territory for these men; a number of them are fishermen by trade, at ease in these waters. However, water has always been perilous for humankind and in biblical literature the sea often signifies chaos, the realm of turmoil outside the control of God.
This voyage is fraught for another reason: its destination. The far shore is known to be inhabited by a wild man who runs naked among the graves and whose crazed cries the fishermen have sometimes heard skipping across the surface of the water as they hastily haul in their nets. They have always avoided the far shore.
All of us have power encounters in our lives. Knowingly or not we have submitted ourselves to masters who demand our allegiance, who rule our days, promising structure and order if only we will acquiesce to their governance. For many the master with which we are most familiar is money; our societies are now structured so that having access to money means having access to education, healthcare, social standing, grooming, recreation and so much more. But there are other masters too, some we publicly adore (the Church) and others we privately deny (alcohol).
And we discover an odd thing: if the winds of adversity blow from just the right corner, the power that provided order and stability, comfort and ease, suddenly becomes an untamed monster threatening to overturn our boat and drown us. We can’t keep up with the demands. The disciples, who built their lives on the power of the Sea of Galilee now find themselves in a struggle of life and death with that very same master.
Many of us, likewise, now experience as threatening the thing that once brought us life; our marriages, our careers, our finances, our health…
We strain at the oars, we trim the sails, we frantically begin to bail. We shout at those near us in the boat, those who have not lifted a finger to help us: “Don’t you care that we are being destroyed?” Desperate to keep our heads above water we fight power with power, mustering all our personal resources as so many tin sailors.
Our journey to become fully mature human beings is a journey which, among other discoveries, teaches us the difference between power and authority. Power is the weapon of the here and now, of the individualist, the true believer in self-discipline and determination. As important as these are for the routine maintenance of much of life, a trial will come – for some, if only at the last – where these are not enough to see us safely through. An appeal must be made to something greater.
Jesus was a man who was keenly aware of what was beneath the surface; there was a coherence to his life which rested on the realization that the powers answer to a greater reality, one which is not only in the heavens but also lives within. He knew his time had not come, the bond which had been given with the others in the boat could not yet be broken. Why should he fear? This threat which did not match what he knew to be the trajectory of his life could not possibly rob him of it. “Silence!” he commanded the wind; “Be still!” he demanded of the waves. And they obeyed him. The waves on the outside are a mere reflection of the condition within, the real threat.
And the disciples feared a great fear, we are told. Language which scriptural tradition has reserved for the undeniable presence of God. Their eyes too are now open.
Later, a trial would come to Jesus that brought his death; his time did come. And to that trial he willingly submitted himself, resting in the knowledge that his surrender was right, that it somehow, mysteriously, fit the way the universe is put together. His death, at 33 years of age, was timely, and he knew it. When he emerged from that trial he was able to say the most astonishing thing ever spoken by a son of man, born of a woman: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…”. By his authority he had conquered even the most feared power, the power of death; his journey was complete.
Our journeys continue. Let us pray that we might learn to live in right relation with the powers that structure our lives. We look to them for life, to sustain us, to give order to our days, to give us a horizon. Yet we are not bound by them. Should the winds of adversity blow, stirring them up, bringing chaos to our world, threatening our demise, we can move beyond our frantic scurrying to control the situation, our recriminations in each other’s direction, and into a knowledge of God’s presence with us.
And if it should be that these waves really are to be our end and we must go down, we discover this: when we drown, we drown in a sea of grace.