Trinity 3

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Hello. I'm Jonathan Kimber, and I am Director of Ministry and Discipleship for the diocese of Worcester.

In today's gospel reading, Jesus has spent yet another day with the crowds: teaching with insightful stories, healing the queues of sick and distressed people, giving his all, hour after hour after hot hour. By the end of the day, he is exhausted and needs a break. So he asks his boat-savvy followers to take across the lake. Even if the crowds are waiting for him when he gets to the other side, at least he can use the commuting time to begin to recover. Within minutes, he is fast asleep, curled up on the cushion in the stern.

But the weather turns quickly in that part of the world. It doesn't take long for the wind to really pick up. White crests appear on the waves. And still it gets stronger. Water starts coming into the boat. It keeps getting worse. His friends are experienced enough to know their limits. Things are now genuinely dangerous. The odds are now stacked against them. These men have spent half their lives in boats, and they know when fear is appropriate - namely, right now. Eventually, they wake Jesus up. He commands the wind and the sea to be still – and, stunningly, that's what happens.

But it's what happens next – what he says to his friends – on which I want to focus. What he says to his friends, and especially the manner in which he says it.

The words Jesus says are translated in this way: "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"

The King James version puts it like this: "Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?"

Or a more contemporary rendering: "Why are you such cowards? Don't you have any faith at all?"

I wonder what tone of voice you imagine Jesus using to ask these questions? The simple fact is that, when it comes to the manner in which he spoke, we are told nothing. There are no clues in the text.

What are the possibilities?

One is basically critical: Why are you such cowards? Don't you have any faith at all?

Another option has frustration at the forefront: Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

Or the words could be spoken much more kindly and compassionately, reassuringly: Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

I think it matters what was Jesus motivation when he spoke, and thus how his words came across. However much we hear of God's love, some of us will be highly attuned to any sense of criticism. And if we think we're being criticised for being afraid, the impact is easily counter-productive. Rather than using our fears, the likelihood of criticism can make the fears go underground. We can deny them, even to ourselves, until we genuinely believe they're not there. Afraid? Me? Never? No no no! I trust in God! I'm a Christian!

Rather than hiding our fears, let's be truthful before God. Jesus is described as being full of grace and truth. His grace can cope with our truth. The more we are truthful in his presence, the greater our appreciation of his grace.

I don't have the answer as to the tone of voice Jesus used when he spoke. But we can have a good guess as to his intention. We can make an informed judgement as to his purpose, what he wanted as the outcome. I wonder how you would describe what he hoped the impact of his speaking would be?

In this encounter, I think Jesus is doing three things:

first, acknowledging that, in these life-threatening circumstances, his friends were indeed fearful. It is okay to truthfully name this primal emotion, to register its presence.

Second, by speaking in questions, he is encouraging them to question themselves, to be curious about the source of their feelings. Why exactly is it that they are afraid? What are they afraid of? Probably, death. OK. Let's face that fear. Let's be truthful with ourselves, and gracious with ourselves, in registering what's going on inside.

Third, he is encouraging them towards reassurance. Fear may still be a regular feature of our lives. But the more secure we are in God, the less that fear need have the final say in dominating our experience.

So let's seek to grow in our truthfulness and our grace, in acknowledging and working with our own human emotions, and with those of others. And may we grow in our trust that God knows our truth through and through, and responds with the deepest grace.

Questions:

  • When you hear readings from the Gospels about Jesus speaking, what tone of voice you to imagine him using?
  • How do you relate to your own fear? For instance, with self-criticism? Or perhaps with friendly curiosity?


Page last updated: 11th June 2021 2:38 PM
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