In the story of Jesus calming the sea, the sea is not named in the gospel of Matthew, suggesting that it is a representative body of water, perhaps symbolising life itself.
Those of us that live or have lived near water think we know water. Like those among the disciples, who were fishermen, we use to sea for our own purposes. We chart its tides. We know how to exploit its bounty, and we approach much of the rest of our life in the same way. We deal with daily tasks. We chart our goals. We manage our resources carefully until something interrupts us: our employer lays off thousands of workers, and we lose our job. A significant relationship deteriorates and is broken. We are confronted with serious illness. The necessary loss of age forces us to face our own death. In all these events, when compelled to reimagine, reconfigure, or even redesign our lives, like Jonah, we resist.
Although we may be challenged or may feel threatened by the prospect of discerning new directions, Christian self-understanding is enlightened by being tested in different contexts. Jesus seems intentionally to place his disciples in new contexts to expand their understanding of discipleship. They know the sea, but they do not know it from the perspective they are about to encounter.
This first miracle, in a succession of three on the sea or along the seashore, illustrates what it means to follow Jesus. In creating a community of disciples, Jesus calls upon his followers to renounce old ways of looking at the world and risk a new direction, exercising the faith they already have in order to grow.
Giltus Mathias CP is a Passionist that lives at St.Brigid’s Retreat, Marrickville.