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?’
When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tomb met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. Suddenly they shouted ‘What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’ Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. The demons begged him, ‘If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.’ And he said to them, ‘Go!’ So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. (Matthew 8:25-32)
Our focus is not actually on the story itself, but more in the way we tell it. There are some stories in the Scriptures that have an entirely different point depending on where you stop reading. The book of Jonah is a good example. If it is only read to the end of the third chapter, then it is a story about doing wrong and then repenting. This version is what is heard in most group studies or houses of worship. However, when one adds the fourth chapter in, the story is transformed into a warning about self-righteousness and proof yet again of God’s never-ending mercy toward people no one else likes. What a difference!
The same holds true for this passage. Usually, this story of Jesus and his disciples in the boat is told in a tsk-tsk, shame on them kind of way. The verse I started at is usually the ending of the more traditional reading. They are all in the boat after a long day, a fierce storm comes up (which Jesus sleeps through) and the disciples wake him to beg him for help. He, of course, calms the waves immediately, but is veeerrrry disappointed in their lack of faith. We all get to shake our heads, thank God we’re not like THEM, say our prayers, and head to the social hall for coffee.
It was three years before I heard the story read all the way through, from the boat to the group swan dive the pigs do after the demons are cast out, and it was given a whole new meaning. Try this out:
Jesus and his disciples get into the boat to escape the HUGE crowd that has kept Jesus busy all day teaching. As they cross the lake, this storm threatens to sink their boat. The disciples, being fully human, are a bit on the clingy and whiny side. Jesus puts out what has to have been an amazing amount of energy calming nature, and then they reach the other side of the lake, where two people who are demon-possessed meet him. Even though he’s quite probably worn out completely, Jesus heals them of their possession so that they can rejoin the human community. Interesting difference, huh?
Short version: Humans seem to have a hard time having consistent faith in God. (Duh)
Long version: There is nothing God won’t go through or put up with to reach out and help us.
I don’t know about you, but the longer version has a lot more to say to me. Where we stop reading, stop seeing, and stop asking has a big impact on the way the stories that shape our existence are formed. When we decide that youth won’t have anything intelligent to say until they are older, that older people have already outlived their usefulness, or that other oppressions are of no concern to us because we’re too busy fighting anti-gay issues, we are stopping the story before we can fully experience it. Sometimes that might be necessary, but more often than not, what’s really happening is we’re missing out on extra insight and blessings that could help us be better people.
Seeing the whole story takes a lot of work. You won’t get it right every time, and you may not always be in a space to do it, but give it a shot. The more you practice, the more you open yourself up to letting life surprise you.