Gospel of Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

Matthew 8:23-27

At that time, when Jesus entered into the boat, His disciples followed Him: and behold a great tempest arose in the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves, but He was asleep. And His disciples came to Him and awaked Him, saying: Lord, save us, we perish. And Jesus saith to them: Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith? Then rising up, He commanded the winds and the sea, and there came a great calm. But the men wondered, saying: What manner of man is this, for the winds and the sea obey him?


Verse 23. This bark is the Catholic Church. The sea denotes the world, the winds and tempests shew the attempts of the wicked spirits to overturn the Church. The Lord seems to sleep, when he permits his Church to suffer persecution and other trials, which he permits, that he may prove her faith, and reward her virtue and merits. Chry. hom. xxiii. in Mat. viii. The apostles had followed their divine Master. They were with him, and executing his orders, and it is under these circumstances they are overtaken with a storm. If their obedience to Jesus Christ, if his presence did not free them from danger, to what frightful storms do those persons expose themselves, who undertake the voyage of the present life without him? What can they expect but to be tossed to and fro for a time, and at last miserably to founder? Faithful souls ought, from the example here offered them, to rise superior to every storm and tempest, by invoking the all-powerful and ever ready assistance of heaven, and by always calling in God to their help before they undertake any thing of moment. A.

Verse 25. Should God appear to sleep, with the apostles, we should approach nearer to him, and awaken him with our repeated prayers, saying: “Lord, save us, or we perish.” A. — Had our Saviour been awake, the disciples would have been less afraid, or less sensible of the want of his assistance: he therefore slept, that they might be better prepared for the miracle he was about to work. Chry. hom. xxviii.

Verse 26. Why are you fearful, having me with you? Do you suppose that sleep can take from me the knowledge of your danger, or the power of relieving you? A. — He commanded the winds. Christ shewed himself Lord and Master of the sea and winds. His words in S. Mark (iv. 39,) demonstrate his authority: Rising up he rebuked the wind, and said to the sea: Peace, be still. Wi. — As before our Lord restored Peter’s mother-in-law on the spot, not only to health, but to her former strength; so here he shews himself supreme Lord of all things, not only by commanding the winds to cease, but, moreover, by commanding a perfect calm to succeed. Chry. hom. xxix. How many times has he preserved his Catholic Church, when (to all human appearance, and abstracting from his infallible promises) she has been in the most imminent danger of perishing? How many times by a miracle, or interposition of his omnipotence, less sensible indeed, but not less real, has he rescued our souls, on the point of being swallowed up in the infernal abyss? A. — He commands the mute elements to be subservient to his wish. He commands the sea, and it obeys him; he speaks to the winds and tempests, and they are hushed; he commands every creature, and they obey. Man, and man only, man honoured in a special manner by being made after the image and likeness of his Creator, to whom speech and reason are given, dares to disobey and despise his Creator. S. Aug. hom. in Mat.

From this allegory of the ship and the storm, we may take occasion to speak of the various senses in which the words of Scripture may be occasionally taken. . . . The sense of Scripture is twofold, literal and spiritual. The literal is that which the words immediately signify. The spiritual or mystic sense is that which things expressed by words mean, as in Genesis xxii, what is literally said of the immolation of Isaac, is spiritually understood of Christ; and in Coloss. ii. 12, by the baptism of Christ, S. Paul means his burial. The spiritual sense in its various acceptations, is briefly and accurately given in the following distich:

Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria,
Moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia.

Catena Aurea

23. And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. 24. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. 25. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, "Lord, save us: we perish." 26. And he saith unto them, "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" The he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. 27. But the men marvelled, saying, "What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!"

Pseudo-Origen, Hom. in div. vii: Christ having performed many great and wonderful things on the land, passes to the sea, that there also He might shew forth His excellent power, presenting Himself before all men as the Lord of both earth and sea. “And when he was entered into a boat, his disciples followed him,” not being weak but strong and established in the faith. Thus they followed Him not so much treading in His footsteps, as accompanying Him in holiness of spirit.

Chrys., Hom., xxviii: He took His disciples with Him, and in a boat, that they might learn two lessons; first, not to be confounded in dangers, secondly, to think lowly of themselves in honour. That they should not think great things of themselves because He kept them while He sent the rest away, He suffers them to be tossed by the waves. Where miracles were to be shewn, He suffers the people to be present; where temptations and fears were to be stilled, there He takes with Him only the victors of the world, whom He would prepare for strife.

Pseudo-Origen: Therefore, having entered into the boat He cause the sea to rise; “And, to, there arose a great tempest in the sea, so that the boat was covered by the waves.” This tempest did not arise of itself, but in obedience to the power of Him Who gave commandment, “who brings the winds out of his treasures.” [Jer 10:13] There “arose a great tempest,” that a great work might be wrought; because by how much the more the waves rushed into the boat, so much the more were the disciples troubled, and sought to be delivered by the wonderful power of the Saviour.

Chrys.: They had seen others made partakers of Christ’s mercies, but forasmuch as no man has so strong a sense of those things that are done in the person of another as of what is done to himself, it behoved that in their own bodies they should feel Christ’s mercies. Therefore He willed that this tempest should arise, that in their deliverance they might have a more lively sense of His goodness. This tossing of the sea was a type of their future trials of which Paul speaks, “I would not have you ignorant, brethren, how that we were troubled beyond our strength.” [2 Cor 1:8] But that there might be time for their fear to arise, it follows, “But he was asleep.” For if the storm had arisen while He was awake, they would either not have feared, or not have prayed Him, or would not have believed that He had the power to still it.

Pseudo-Origen: Wonderful, stupendous event! He that never slumbereth nor sleepeth, is said to be asleep. He slept with His body, but was awake in His Deity, shewing that He bare a truly human body which He had taken on Him, corruptible. He slept with the body that He might cause the Apostles to watch, and that we all should never sleep with our mind. With so great fear were the disciples seized, and almost beside themselves, that they rushed to Him, and did not modestly or gently rouse Him, but violently awakened Him, “His disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us, we perish.”

Jerome: Of this miracle we have a type in Jonah, who while all are in danger is himself unconcerned, sleeps, and is awakened.

Pseudo-Origen: O ye true disciples! ye have the Saviour with you, and do ye fear danger? Life itself is among you, and are ye afraid of death? They would answer, We are yet children, and weak; and are therefore afraid; whence it follows, “Jesus saith unto them, Why are ye afraid, O ye of little faith?” As though He had said, If ye have known me mighty upon earth, why believe ye not that I am also mighty upon the sea? And even though death were threatening you, ought ye not to support it with constancy? He who believes a little will be reasoned with; he who believes not at all will be neglected.

Chrys.: If any should say, that this was a sign of no small faith to go and rouse Jesus; it is rather a sign that they had not a right opinion concerning Him. They knew that when wakened He could rebuke the waves, but they did not yet know that He could do it while sleeping. For this cause He did not do this wonder in the presence of the multitudes, that they should not be charged with their little faith; but He takes His disciples apart to correct them, and first stills the raging of the waters. “Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”

Jerome: From this passage we understand, that all creation is conscious of its Creator; for what may be rebuked and commanded is conscious of the mind commanding. I do not mean as some heretics hold, that the whole creation is animate [ed. note: Origen is accused of maintaining that the sun, moon, and stars had souls, (which had been originally created incorporeal, and for sinning had been united with the heavenly bodies,) that they were in consequence rational, that they knew, praised, and prayed to God through Christ, that they were liable to sin, and that they, and the elements also, would undergo the future judgment. vid. Jerom. ad. Avit. 4] - but by the power of the Maker things which to us have no consciousness have to Him.

Pseudo-Origen: Therefore He gave commandment to the winds and the sea, and from a great storm it because a great calm. For it behoves Him that is great to do great things; therefore He who first greatly stirred the depths of the sea, now again commands a great calm, that the disciples who had been too much troubled might have great rejoicing.

Chrys.: Observe also that the storm is stilled at once entirely, and no trace of disturbance appears; which is beyond nature; for when a storm ceases in the course of nature, yet the water is wont to be agitated for some time longer, but here all is tranquility at once. Thus what is said of the Father, “He spake, and the storm of wind ceases,” [Ps 107:25] this Christ fulfilled in deed; for by His word and bidding only He stayed and checked the waters. For from His appearance, from His sleeping, and His using a boat, they that were present supposed Him a man only, and on this account they fell into admiration of Him; “And the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, for the winds and the sea obey him?”

Gloss., non occ.: Chrysostom explains thus, “What manner of man is this?” His sleeping and His appearance shewed the man; the sea and the calm pointed out the God.

Pseudo-Origen: But who were the men that marvelled? You must not think that the Apostles are here meant, for we never find the Lord’s disciples mentioned with disrespect; they are always called either the Disciples or the Apostles. They marvelled then who sailed with Him, whose was the boat.

Jerome: But if any shall content that it was the disciples who wondered, we shall answer they are rightly spoken of as ‘the men,’ seeing they had not yet learnt the power of the Saviour.

Pseudo-Origen: This is not a question, “What manner of man is this?” but an affirmation that He is one whom the winds and the sea obey, “What manner of man then is this?” that is, how powerful, how mighty, how great! He commands every creature, and they transgress not His law; men alone disobey, and are therefore condemned by His judgment. Figuratively; We are all embarked in the vessel of the Holy Church, and voyaging through this stormy world with the Lord. The Lord Himself sleeps a merciful sleep while we suffer, and awaits the repentance of the wicked.

Hilary: Or; He sleeps, because by our sloth He is cast asleep in us. This is done that we may hope aid from God in fear of danger; and that hope though late may be confident that it shall escape danger by the might of Christ watching within.

Pseudo-Origen: Let us therefore come to Him with joy, saying with the Prophet, “Arise, O Lord, why sleepest thou?” [Ps 44:23] And He will command the winds, that is, the daemons, who raise the waves, that is, the rulers of the world, to persecute the saints, and He shall make a great calm around both body and spirit, peace for the Church, stillness for the world.

Rabanus: Otherwise; The sea is the turmoil of the world; the boat in which Christ is embarked is to be understood the tree of the cross, by the aid of which the faithful having passed the waves of the world, arrive in their heavenly country, as on a safe shore, whither Christ goes with His own; whence He says below, “He that will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” [Matt 16:24] When then Christ was fixed on the cross, a great commotion was raised, the minds of His disciples being troubled at His passion, and the boat was covered by the waves. For the whole strength of persecution was around the cross of Christ, on which He died; as it is here, “But he was asleep.” His sleep is death. The disciples awaken the Lord, when troubled at His death; they seek His resurrection with earnest prayers, saying, “Save us,” by rising again; “we perish,” by our trouble at Thy death. He rises again, and rebukes the hardness of their hearts, as we read in other places. “He commands the winds,” in that He overthrew the power of the Devil; “He commanded the sea,” in that He disappointed the malice of the Jews; “and there was a great calm,” because the minds of the disciples were calmed when they beheld His resurrection.

Bede: Or; The boat is the present Church, in which Christ passes over the sea of this world with His own, and stills the waves of persecution. Wherefore we may wonder, and give thanks.

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