By Amber Noel
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 8:18-27
18 Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19 A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 21 Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 26 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. 27 They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”
“The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” says Jesus. And then he nods off. “Let the dead bury their dead,” says Jesus, and then his disciples scream that they’re going to die.
Jesus warns the people what life with him will be like; he takes the twelve along and shows them.
This follows Jesus’ method: speaking to “the crowd” in parables, and being far more plain with his closest friends. But his “plainest” words still mystify, because everything Jesus says and does is so replete, so thick with God’s life.“O you of little faith” is simple and flabbergasting. It’s meaning is easy enough. Yet what were the twelve supposed to do? “If you follow me, you’ll have nowhere to lay your head.” And then comes a raging storm, a dramatic object lesson in being unmoored. “God must come first. If not, you’re just the living dead, burying the dead.” And then his disciples in the boat know what it’s like — to the bone, past the point of human hope — to be entirely out of control, dead meat. Under this lesson, they (rightly) cry out for their Lord: “Save us!” And yet they’re told: Have more faith.
Jesus’ friends get a cold dose of reality, no illusions and no apparent consolation: You need God’s salvation; and you must have utter trust.
With Jesus, you will go beneath the surface of the way things seem to what they really are. And yet, even with nothing in this world you may entirely rely on, nowhere to lay your head or settle into a spiritual sleep, you are now free to take your rest anywhere. In the stern of a sinking boat. On a mountaintop. On the comfortable pillow in the comfortable home God has afforded you. With Jesus, instead of dead burying dead, we are the live living, and when we ourselves are eventually buried, we’ve already had so much practice at it, that St. Paul tells us it’s a lot like falling asleep. But it takes practice.
Amber Noel, M.Div., is Associate Editor at the Living Church and Associate Director of The Living Church Institute. Off the clock, she is the author of short fiction, book and culture reviews, and work for the stage.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Christ Church Episcopal, Tulsa, Okla.
The Diocese of Gahini (Eglise Anglicane du Rwanda)