Saturday, August 5, 2017

Overwhelmed by God's Love

Matthew 14:22-33, the gospel lesson appointed for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, is almost as well-known as the preceding lesson, the Feeding of the Five Thousand.  He "walks on water" is a phrase which has made its way into secular parlance for someone who is noticeably virtuous.  The real message of this text is not, however, that Jesus walks on water, but that Jesus reaches down to save us who don't.  This story is filled to overflowing with good news.

(The following questions are those that may be fundamental to Law and Gospel preachers.  There are many other fine sets of questions which attempt to unearth other concerns.  For more on Law and Gospel preaching, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  This text is full of good news:  1) Jesus comes to us in our distress, amidst the chaos of this world; 2) Jesus makes himself known and tells us, "Do not be afraid"; and 3)  Jesus reaches out his hand when we falter in faith.  These are all gospel functions.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  Like the preceding story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, even though we are made aware of the disciples' faltering faith, we do not hear Jesus casting judgement on them for it.  Peter is called "you of little faith" but there is no condemnation in that, but mercy.  Even when the disciples fail to recognize Jesus and call him a phantom they are treated with love and compassion.  There is no word of Law here, which means as preachers we are also not called to berate our listeners for their lack of faith, lest we be untrue to this text.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  Undoubtedly we are the disciples.  We are the ones forced to "get into the boat".  We are the ones who find ourselves  terrified in stormy seas.  We are the ones who doubt, who falter, who call out to Jesus, but who finally fall down in worship saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."  This is a story about God's people and the Lord who loves them.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The message in this text is clear:  "You can trust Jesus."  The call to trust Christ and fall down in worship is certainly here.  Beyond that we will need to go to other texts to discover what our call is as people whom Christ has saved.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  There is only one that is obvious:  Terrified and anxious/At peace, safe, and assured.

6.  Exegetical work:  It is noteworthy that only Matthew's account of this event includes Peter's adventure on the water.  John has a brief account of this story (John 6:16-21), and Mark 6:45-52 includes a version close to Matthew's, but neither include Peter's wobbly faith.  If Peter is a symbol for the people of God, this story might well be a reminder to the early church of their need to reach out to Christ when all seems lost, and be assured of his ability to save.  One piece of this story that is common to all three accounts of it is the phrase, "It is I; do not be afraid."  A look at the original texts reveals that this is an "ego eme" moment, sometimes translated "I am who I am." It might be interesting to consider this as a response to the disciples' fears: "I am who I am; do not be afraid."  Another word which is present is translated "Take courage" by both Mark and Matthew.  This word is used sparingly in the NT, but when it is, it always signals good news:  To the paralytic,"Take courage, your sins are forgiven." (Matt 9:2)  To the bleeding woman, "Take courage, your faith has made you well." (Matt 9:22).  To the blind man, "Take courage, he is calling you." (Mark 10:49).  To the disciples, "Take courage; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)  Augustine, in commenting on this story, sees the boat as the Church of Christ.  His advice when stormy days assail us?  "Stay inside the boat and call on Christ."  (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol. 1b, p. 12)

Blessings on your proclamation!

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