Matthew 8:23-27 – Jesus Stills the Storm
SummaryJesus' disciples follow him into a boat as they cross the sea. When a storm arises, the disciples plead for the Lord to save them. Jesus first reproves them for their little faith and then rebukes and silences the winds.
AnalysisThis story is a significant representation of Matthew's themes and structure. It stands as part of a series of miracles in chapters 8 and 9 that Matthew has carefully structured in modification of his model Mark. After the account of the call of the first disciples in 4:18-22, Matthew departs from Mark's outline so as to insert the major teaching material of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and so focus Jesus' role as a teacher. After the Sermon, Matthew returns to the stories of healing and the miracles of Mark's outline, but with major reworking. He has carefully structured the stories into a series of nine miracles arranged in sets of three (the numbers seem significant: 9=3x3) in what seems to be in an ascending order of awe and power (this story is the first member of the second set). Interposed between the sets are two sections on the theme of discipleship-the radical call of following Jesus (8:18-22; 9:9-17). Then the whole major section comprising the Sermon on the Mount and this cycle of miracles (5:1-7:29; 8:1-9:34) is framed by two parallel structured summaries of the teaching, preaching, and healing of Jesus (4:23-25; 9:35-38). The structure seems too obvious to be accidental.
In addition to this structure of which it is a part, Matthew has carefully recast this story of the stilling of storm to emphasize the themes of discipleship and faith in Jesus as Savior. He states explicitly that the disciples "follow" Jesus into the boat (8:23). When they are in danger from the waves, they acknowledge that without his presence they are perishing and plead to him, "Lord, save us!" (8:25). Jesus responds with words of reproof which, while acknowledging their faith, criticizes it as being too "little" (8:26; see 6:30), and then rebukes and calms the storm. By reversing Mark's order at this point he places greater emphasis on the theme of faith and also avoids Mark's reference to their having "no faith" (Mark 4:40).
In sum, Matthew has carefully reworked this story so that it stands as a kind of parable of Christian discipleship as it is buffeted by the "storms" on the "sea" of life but is encouraged to ongoing confident faith in its saving Lord (see in the Sermon 6:24-34). As such it is an important clue both to central themes of Matthew's Gospel and to Matthew's way of narrative composition.