The Sea of Galilee is a medium-size lake but it is surrounded by long, narrow valleys that are like wind tunnels funneling the winds into it. When winds arise in these valleys, they sweep into the Sea of Galilee with concentrated force, quickly whipping it into a frenzy. The drama of our Gospel was played out in one of these storms. After having calmed the storm, Jesus turned to his disciples with a rebuke, "Why are you afraid?" He asked. "Have you no faith?" (v40). This is the issue in any kind of crisis: whether we trust God's love and power. As sinful people, we do not possess this kind of faith. In crises, like the disciples we cry out in fear, wondering if we can be confident in God's promises. Jesus uses His power to calm our fears. He gives us faith. Jesus gives us faith through his word, He keeps us from panic. We are not helpless. God is in the storms as well as the calm. No matter what happens, we are in His hands. The disciples began with fear because they lacked faith. They ended with another kind of fear, the consequence of faith. They were filled with awe of Jesus and His power over wind and sea. This is a different kind of fear. We stand in awe and fear of God's being with us, however little we can understand of his workings. The Greek word for fear, phobos, is the root of our word, phobia. In the Gospel for this Sunday, the disciples go through two kinds of fear: first, they are frightened by the storm; and second, they are "filled with awe" of "frightened with a great fear," as the Greek says (v41) because they do not understand who Jesus is that He can still the storm. Later, after the cross and resurrection, a new kind of fear will grip them: the fear of God that goes with faith. This is the fear Luther speaks of in his explanation of the First Commandment: "We are to fear, love, and trust God above anything else.
One of the most striking features of the teaching of Jesus is his use of parables. He told down-to-earth stories that had the ring of real life and made his points in a memorable way. What are the parables? Some points about interpreting parables can be made. First, a parable is not an allegory. An allegory is a story in which every item stands for something else. Second, the parables are not illustrations of a general truth. Such generalized truths are usually trite, and rarely applicable. Third, parables should be placed in the context of Jesus' ministry. Much information is now available on the times in which Jesus lived. This kind of information provides important help in the interpretation of His parables. Fourth, we must be careful with the usual introductory formulas to the parables, which usually go as follows: "The kingdom of God is like…" The temptation is to identify God's kingdom with the first object mentioned in the story. But the comparison may be in the conclusion, or in the contrast between the first item and a later one. Fifth, if we understand the parable in its own context, it will find its own authentic way to speak freshly and forcefully to our situation. Using these principles of interpretation, how would you interpret the main thrust of the first parable in our Gospel? The key to the first parable is the coming of the harvest. "You may only see a few signs of the kingdom." It is as if Jesus says, "But when your eyes are truly opened, you will see that the kingdom is ready and that I will bring in the harvest." The parable encourages us to confidently grasp the sickle and reap the harvest. It is not up to us to sow the seed of the gospel, as if without us it would not be in the world. Our task is to claim for God what he has already prepared. What is the central point of the mustard seed parable, then? It relates to the humble appearance of Jesus and his disciples. Like mustard seeds, they are small. "But don't judge by appearances," it is as if Jesus says. "Rather, judge by results."
It is said that no words of Jesus have caused more anguish and misunderstanding than these words about the unpardonable sin. What is this sin? Can I know whether I have committed it? An important step toward answering this question is understanding what sin is, according to the Scriptures. We tend to think of sins in the plural as individual acts. The Bible speaks of sin in the singular as a state of mind or a way of being. It is enmity with God. All sins as individual acts can be forgiven, Jesus says. But when, in enmity toward God, we definitely rely on ourselves and reject God completely, there is no forgiveness possible. Wondering and worrying about this sin, therefore, is probably the best sign that it has not happened to us. The unforgiveable sin is a paradox: On the one hand, it is not a passive sin; it requires a specific intentional action. So if you're not worried about having committed it, then you probably haven't. On the other hand, it is a sin that requires a total emotional and spiritual disconnection from God and everything that is important to God. So if you are worried about having committed it, then you probably haven't. The Holy Spirit is the one who makes us aware of our sinfulness, who makes us thirst for forgiveness, and who announces the gift of forgiveness to us in God's word. Even our worries and anxieties can be signs of the fact that he is at work in us.