All of us have probably seen a representation of that statue that sits on the desk of Pope Francis—the sleeping Joseph. When the Holy Father came to Rome from Argentina, he brought this statue with him. His devotion to the patriarch of the Holy Family is evident. He celebrated the initial mass of his papacy on March 19th and has declared 2021 as the Year of St. Joseph. He has said:
“Even when Joseph is asleep, he is taking care of the church! Yes! We know that he can do that. So when I have a problem, a difficulty, I write a little note and I put it underneath St. Joseph, so that he can dream about it! In other words I tell him: Pray for this problem!” Pope Francis said. “Do not forget St. Joseph who sleeps! Jesus slept with the protection of Joseph.”
Yes, Jesus slept confident in the care of Joseph.
This Sunday’s Gospel drew my attention to an older slumbering Jesus. If a sleeping Joseph has something to teach us, what about the sleeping Lord?
The fourth chapter of Mark’s Gospel begins:
On another occasion [Jesus] began to teach by the sea. A very large crowd gathered around him so that he got into a boat on the sea and sat down. And the whole crowd was beside the sea on land. And he taught them at length in parables . . . (4:1-2)
He teaches the parable of the sower and the seed, the lamp lit to give light to a room, the mustard seed, and other lessons. Then, “on that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, ‘Let us cross to the other side’” (4:35). Clearly, Jesus has been pouring his heart into his ministry with his healing and teaching. Thus, after a full day, he is tired and he lies down to relax in the boat from which he had preached. He rests because he had worked hard, and every human needs sleep to recover his/her strength. His sleep comes because of his labors. I like that idea. After being busy with his ministry, he needs his rest.
Second, Jesus can sleep in the boat because he places his confidence in his companions. Most are capable and experienced fishermen. Crossing the lake should be easy for them. With confidence in the skills of his disciples, sleep comes naturally to Jesus. The fishermen do not need a carpenter’s help to sail across a familiar lake. His slumber comes because of his trust in his followers.
Third, Jesus rests easy because he knows that this world abides in the hands of God. He can confidently leave its care to his heavenly Father who accomplishes his will according to his own time and in his own way. Jesus reposes as he places everything before the one who loves him and holds the universe in existence. Sleep comes readily with that surety.
Thus, Jesus sleeps in the boat for (at least) three good reasons: he is tired after a day of work; he trusts in the talents of his friends; and he knows that the Father is in control and nothing happens that does not conform with the divine will. We can imagine those same reasons directed to us. In our work, we should do the best that we can and then accept the call to relax. There is a reason for the Sabbath. We can also celebrate the good that so many other people do and allow that assurance to spur us to cooperation and collaboration. Finally, we can place our trust in Divine Providence. Vincent understood that thinking:
Let us give ourselves over to the providence of God
and be very careful not to run ahead of it.
Thus, alongside our statue of the sleeping Joseph, we might place the statue of the sleeping Jesus. Both have something to teach us when we stay awake to the possibilities.