Summary: Jesus’ handling of and interpretation of His witness at the seashore is a parable of our witness in shaky, stormy circumstances.
A few weeks ago I caught the TV show, “America’s Funniest Videos.” You may know that on that show there are clips of poignant scenes from the human drama, as captured by someone’s home video camera. This particular clip caught my attention. A father was trying to show his small son how to fish, specifically how to use a rod and reel. Dad, from his place in the boat, cast his line smoothly and perfectly, and then motioned to the little boy to try it with his. The boy picked up his smaller rod and reel and swung it out, not just with his wrist, nor just with his arm, but with his whole body. Of course the momentum of that mighty swing and the unsteadiness of a boat in the water meant that he fell forward and almost threw himself out of the boat. But that wasn’t the funny part. The funny part came when Dad, acting on reflexes, dropped his own fishing rod, sprang out of his seat, grabbed for the boy, missed him, and promptly went head over heels, into the water, got tangled like mad in his own line, and came up sputtering bleep-bleep! The camera recorded it all faithfully .. the little boy safe and dry in the boat, dad all tied up in his own line, making frantic signals to shut that blessed camera off!
In all of that I see a parable about our witness as Christians. When we go to show somebody else what it is to live, we need to be sure of our own footing. Where we stand is not always solid ground; it is sometimes a shaky place. And if we are unprepared and insecure, the place where we stand will throw us overboard, and we’ll be no good to anybody.
Let’s peg down some things. Few if any of us are on completely solid ground. We face challenges, every day. We face unsteadiness, shakiness, and uncertainty. The place where we stand is more like that father’s rowboat. It shifts, it slips, it rocks. We have to make decisions, consider our health, attend to our finances, handle conflicts, do it all – and then the church comes along and says, “You ought to be witnessing to somebody else. You ought to be telling others about Jesus.“ The trouble is that we are in a shaky little boat, without a good place to stand; and trying to show others how to live, when we are unsteady, well, that just may tangle us up and drown us too. That’s a shaky business.
And then, in fact, it gets worse. Not only do we have a lot to do just to keep ourselves standing, but we also get tossed around with extra stuff, don’t we? In the midst of all our daily responsibilities and the stuff that has to be done, we run into storms. We run into things we didn’t expect and don’t believe we deserve. Storms. Controversies, opposition, and conflict. Storms. Sickness, death, and crisis. Suddenly our little boats are rocked, not so much anything we do, but by what is happening all around us. Storms take over. Now nobody would teach a child to fish if a storm was brewing, would they? And nobody stops to bear a spiritual witness if his own life is caught up in a stormy mess.
So have we pegged down this much? That our responsibility to witness depends on our getting a secure place to stand; and second, that life is sometimes lived in a stormy sea. So what does that mean? Does it mean that it is impossible to do witness? Does it mean that we will never be effective for Christ?
The explorer Balboa, in 1513, saw from a mountain in Panama something he had never seen before – a great ocean spreading westward from the new world. Balboa noticed that this great ocean, compared to the Atlantic, which he had just crossed, was calm and peaceful and quiet. He named it Pacific. The Pacific Ocean; the peaceful ocean. Of course, Balboa had never seen a typhoon; he had not experienced the terror of a tsunami. But by comparison with what he had known, the waters before him were tranquil and peaceful. It was Pacific.
If we are going to stand in a little rowboat and lead our lives, we’d like it to be on the Pacific Ocean, where things are calm and manageable.
But when Jesus stood in a boat one day, it wasn’t on the Pacific Ocean. It wasn’t in a quiet and placid place. It was a stormy place. Literally, the Sea of Galilee is the kind of water on which sudden squalls arise. Mark shows that happening later on in the chapter. It was a stormy place; It was the kind of place where little boys can be thrown out of fishing boats and their dads can come up sputtering, all tangled up. It wasn’t the kind of place you would want to be if you were going to teach someone how to fish, or how to live. It wasn’t the Pacific Ocean. But Jesus stood in that boat to teach there one day, and taught us much about our witness to others.