And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?"
In Mark’s account of this incident Jesus reproached the disciples after the calming of the storm for their lack of faith (4:35-41). But Matthew (whose version you read on this page) has him reproach them before the miracle. This is telling us that at least some faith must precede a miracle. It is consistent with Matthew’s general account. Take for example the scene with the blind men. “Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith let it be done to you’” (9:28-29); or the scene where the woman had touched the hem of his garment; “your faith has saved you,” he told her. Have faith and then something will happen – not the other way around.
Does it always have to be that way? Must we have faith first?
Language is tidy: words and phrases line up like polite people in a queue. But in real life things are much more mixed up; things happen together, like people rushing in. Faith doesn’t simply come first; it comes along with everything else that is happening. Mark’s account is just as valid as Matthew’s.
The Gospel is telling us: When you feel your boat is about to sink don’t sit around waiting for faith. Do what needs to be done, and faith will be given to you. Douglas Hyde (not the Irish president of that name, but the author of I Believed, published in 1950) described his first fumbling steps to faith. He had observed a girl praying in church, had seen the light in her face; and he forced himself to go through the exact motions. “When I was sure no one was around I went, almost hang-dog fashion, down the aisle as she had done. Down to the front, round to the left, put some coins in the box, lit a candle, knelt on the stool – and tried to pray…. The candle spluttered and flickered, growing shorter and shorter but no words came.” Instead, gradually, faith in God dawned on him, replacing his faith in militant Communism.
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