Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: Jesus Walks on Water, Road To Emmaus
Volume 7 No. 414 May 5, 2017
II. Lectionary Reflections - Matthew 14:22-33

Authority in Turbulent Times!

by Thomas Beam

Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33

Then he (Jesus) made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them.

And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, "Take heart, it is I; have no fear."

And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water." He said, "Come."

So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me."

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?" And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
(Matthew 14:22-33)

Overwhelming Authority…

In this Gospel reading our spoken witness provides us with a word portrait of our Lord and his power over all creation…

This text was likely written by Matthew's church in Antioch of Syria within in the eighth decade of the first century. The script faithfully repeats a story told decades earlier in the Markan gospel. That earlier witness was penned in Alexandria, Egypt. We consider then, that Mark's writing was likely one of the sources used by our Matthean writer. The story was also found as penned at the cusp of the next century in brief account in the Gospel According to Saint John. Somewhat startlingly, however, is that the account does not appear in Luke's gospel. This is so, even though Luke is believed to be written during the same decade as Matthew's gospel, and that Lukan writer seemingly used much the same resources. Thus, we might rightly ask, "Why was this wonderful historical tradition included in Matthew and not in Luke?"

I believe the answer to this question is found only when we consider the community of the writings. Was a conflict or consensus present that made Matthew include this section and the following story? Did it address an issue that was not important for the emergent churches of Luke?

While it may have been a simple practicality that made Luke omit the account, possibly because of space limitations in the parchment they had available… in my opinion it seems more likely that there was an issue of authority challenge going on in Matthew's audience. This issue was seemingly not important for Lukan communities, but was far more important for Matthew. The population of the church in ancient Syria was challenged far more by traditional Hebrew politics and theology than Luke's communities. Here we see that the text we examine today, not found in Luke, does firmly establish the authority of Jesus over all of creation.

We read in this story echoed from the Markan tradition, how Jesus went "alone" to the mountain to pray. Meanwhile the disciples rowed a good distance out from the seashore on their own. To me this sounds uncomfortably a lot like any church population that leaves the sanctuary on any given Sunday. But we know that here, in somewhat prophetic fashion for any person or church trying to go it alone, the waves described in the story became very violent. We may ask, "How violent?" I say.., "Very violent!"

Look closely and compare from the story in Mark (Mark 6:45-52). We note a slight change of text for the writing of the Matthean church! In Mark the church made their way "painfully" as the waves flowed "against" them. Here in Matthew, however, we note with emphasis that they were "beaten" by the waves. Though this linguistic difference seems subtle, I think it is surely significant for us as we consider this text. We can ask, "Was Matthew's church beginning to encounter a greater storm in later decades than their earlier counterparts found within Mark's church in Egypt?" For our initial purpose here, let us assume so.

We follow this assumption with the fact that in both accounts the environment portrayed was "dark", so much so that it was the DARKEST… the fourth watch of the night. It was during this time of deep mystical uncertainty that our Lord came to them… striding as Master upon the turbulent water. Jesus thus demonstrated his power over the natural forces of creation… even those that cause death. Note here, that Matthew does not relate that he immediately calmed the waters. The gospel writer instead tells us that the disciples first thought that he was a fearful ghost (Greek - phantasma). Indeed of such horrid ghastly were phenomena, like mermaids, who would lure and drag pre-scientific souls from the nave of their boat into the realm of the sea dragon.

However, in answer to their cry, Jesus walked upon the turbulent water. He drew near and his words echoed perfectly… repeated exactly from Mark's gospel. Our Lord stated to the Matthean church community going through a dark time of authoritative uncertainty… "Take heart, it is I; have no fear."

Graceful Salvation!

We note with great importance here… that the second part of the story was read initially only to the Matthean church of the late first century. It was written during a time when waves of stress and persecution were growing high for those early Christians. The reading gives credence to my thoughts that this is why the second scene, not found in the other gospels, related the story of Peter's watery walk. It was told to a church who had inherited the traditions and stories of that great disciple. Matthew told his church of the startling and miraculous event. He wrote about how blessed Peter got out of the boat… and surprisingly walked on water in faith. But consider the mind of the hearer! Even the one upon whom Jesus told he would build his church, soon found the watery tempest is a bit more than his belief could handle.

Yes! Consider now that they were told that even blessed Peter sank and began to drown, but in rather baptismal representation he was rescued from the water by our Lord. Peter, in being bold, found that indeed the Lord is not a vaporous entity, a ghost… but was, and yet still is for them and us… very real and very God. Jesus is not a phantom that lures to death, but is the Son of God who shall soon give the Holy Spirit (Greek - hagios pneumatikos) to those who dare believe. The Holy Spirit is the divine Spirit that is not harmful, but is very God who hovered over the waters of creation at the beginning of all things. The Spirit that Christ Jesus sends is the Spirit that provides those in the church with life eternal through baptism. The story tells each of us, therefore, to hold tightly to the hand of God who comes to us walking on baptismal water! This is the message of Matthew written using the seafaring imagery familiar with the Greco-Roman culture to whom the early church witnessed. The Matthean writer clearly stated that Jesus Christ is Lord over all of creation… even to the point of mastery over nature, drowning, demons, dragons and death. The writer related to us so long ago about our having faith today over against doubt. We then reflect as people who walk in the footsteps of the disciples and know that whenever we think we are failing due to fear, we are called to receive heart and forever proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. My readers, I offer that of such is the miracle related by Matthew… and it is very good to be found in the nave."

Fear and Chaos on the Sea

by Rev. Dr. Luke Bouman

Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33

Fear and chaos on the sea

The captain of the ship had ordered the shutters closed on the ship that sailed out of Folkestone Harbor toward Ostende, Holland. The sea, in late November could be gentle as a lamb, as it had been when my companions and I crossed over from the European continent to England two weeks earlier, or it could be tempestuous, as it was when an early winter storm battered both coasts. In the fall of 1980 there was no "Chunnel" and the hovercraft for a quick crossing were grounded by the storm, and expensive beyond our means. Our classes at the University would start again on Monday, final exams in fact, so there was no opportunity to wait and travel later. Thus we found ourselves on the boat with the shutters closed, clueless as to what that meant for the moment. We soon found out.

The ferry, no small vessel, left the safety of the harbor and began its slow and wild ride across the English Channel. The ship tossed on its night crossing so violently that even usually seasoned seafarers were struggling with sea-sickness and hastened to find places to ride out the storm. Several times the front of the vessel dipped completely below the swells of the waves. My travel companions and I could not flee to the outer decks, where it was cold and wet, even on the topmost part of the ship. We finally found an outdoor bench, out of the wind and relatively dry and four of us huddled together, bundled against the cold, faces pale green, and trying very hard to keep our composure. Supper had departed long ago. Dignity abandoned us not long after. Had we known, we would have made excuses for our final exams and traveled on a later date.

Fear is a word that comes to mind: fear of being out of control, either of ship or wave, fear that death could be just a wave away. Such is the fear I felt in that moment. Such is the fear, I’m sure that the disciples in the boat felt when they were "battered by the waves" on Lake Galilee one evening as they waited for Jesus to finish his private prayers.

Calm in the midst of the storm

I can hardly imagine someone walking on a sea when it is calm, much less when waves are roiling and wind is whipping the surface of the sea. Yet Jesus comes along, adding to the disciples fear. They exclaim that it must be a "Ghost" (The Greek word here is phantasma, which appears only here and in parallels in the New Testament). In order to calm their fears, Jesus immediately asks them to "take heart," and he identifies himself.

But something changes in this exchange, at least for Peter. He seems to see and hear more in Jesus action on the water than the other disciples because he challenges Jesus to call him out of the boat, to join Jesus on the water. I can’t help but wonder, though what possessed Peter to want to leave the boat in the first place? Were things so rocky, so fearsome so far from shore ("many stadia from shore" certainly meant anywhere from a half a mile or more). Was the boat filling with water? Was Peter trying to show off? Was Jesus personal presence so calming and so reassuring that Peter needed to be where Jesus was? Why would Peter request such a task? We can’t know the answers to most of the questions. We just know that Peter suddenly found himself out of the boat and walking on the water towards Jesus. When his attention returns to the wind and the water, he begins to sink, and then, as if it had not already been so, his only hope is now Jesus.

In and out of the boat

As we struggle to understand the meaning of this story for our lives today, my guess is that we really don’t expect to see Jesus walking to us when we are on the sea, nor so we expect to go walking on water ourselves any time soon. Most of us joke from time to time that someone we know "thinks they walk on water" but we know otherwise. But the question remains is this a morality tale about our faith and the extremes that we should be willing to go for Jesus? Or is there more to discover in this text.

One of the first places that some of the earliest Christians went for understanding this tale was to the boat itself. They understood that the boat was a symbol for the Church, the very body of Christ. They understood the boat as a place of safety in the midst of life’s storms, and with the hostility they experienced from a variety of places we know their storms could be severe. But this understanding only makes Peter’s response to Jesus all the more puzzling. Peter, "the rock," the leader of the early Christians surely would not abandon the Church?

Perhaps the early Christians were comforted with the knowledge that their first leader was so human, so vulnerable, that he was not the Lord and could not face the water and the storm without Jesus’ help. Perhaps the early Church knew that if Jesus were not in the boat (in other words was not with the Church) then there was no refuge there. There may be a dozen other "perhaps" and questions most of which make great Sunday School morality tales, but not such great preaching. This will be true so long as we keep our attention on Peter, and through Peter on ourselves, rather than on Jesus.

"I AM"

When we turn our attention back to Jesus, then we have a better chance of seeing what God is up to. Where the story starts to get strange is at the point where Jesus identifies himself to the disciples to calm their fears. "It’s me," he says. But the phrase that Matthew uses here is more than a mere greeting. Jesus uses a phrase that in the Greek Scriptures, both old and new means so much more than "Hey guys, It’s just me!" The Greek phrase here is Ego Eimi, which is the same identifying phrase that God uses in the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, when Moses asks for God’s name.

Now, at this point, several scholars disagree with this interpretation, citing Peter’s response that seems to indicate that he understood Jesus to say, "It’s me" and he responds, "if it is you..." But I’m not so sure. As I look at Peter’s actions as well as his words, and his unusual request, I can’t help but think that Jesus’ self identification is exactly what sets Peter off on his wild water adventure. Peter is basically asking something like this. "If you really are ‘I AM’ here with us, then give me a command that I couldn’t possibly obey and I’ll know it is true."

When Peter steps out of the boat, the reader and Peter are given the startling truth that this indeed is the one who commands the waves. This is the "I AM" who has intervened with saving power so many times in the history of Israel and if we weren’t convinced by the reprise of the manna (in the feeding of the thousands story) in the last section of the Gospel, we should pay attention now.

This changes everything in terms of how we now see ourselves in this story. In Jesus, the great "I AM" has come to dwell with us and for us, whether we are tossed about on the seas or hungry on the hillside, whether we are in the boat or out of the boat. This blessed presence does not show us that God has supernatural powers so much as it give us calm in the midst of our stormy world to imagine that we too might wade out into the storm with God’s help. In fact, like Peter, when we recognize God present in our world, are commanded to go out into the water, knowing that the storms of this life cannot hurt us, even when we are outside of the safety and comfort (well, relative comfort) of the Church.

In a recent movie, several Characters are about to embark on a dangerous journey. One of them, fearfully asks, "Is it safe?" The leader replies, simply, "No. Lets Go!" This is, I suppose the very situation that we face, really when we wake each day. We rise in the morning and look at the news to discover that our world continues to be rocked by bombs and terror, by kidnapping and murder, by disease and famine. We might not even know that we do it, but each of us prays wordlessly to God, "Is it safe?" And the reply comes back, simply, "No. Lets Go!"

Even when we lose heart

The final good news in this passage comes as Peter falters and starts to sink. We too will surely falter. We too will feel that we are drowning in the depths of our world’s darkness. We too will surely feel that the chaotic waters of life are too treacherous for our tentative footsteps. We too will sink. That is real. Only fools pretend otherwise.

Then we will see, with Peter, that Jesus’ hand reaches out to us. We discover, at times to our relief and at times to our chagrin, that we are not the heroes of this story. We also discover that our doubts and fears, while the cause for a rebuke from our Lord, do not, in fact take us outside of his care and concern. This is important. For even when we are back inside the boat of the Church, when the waters about us appear to be calm, we find that we are still in the midst of a storm.

I expect just such a storm will be raging as political forces of one side or another try to co-opt the mission and direction of the ELCA (my denomination) as it assembles in Orlando Florida over the next few weeks to debate and discuss many issues of our life together. Foremost in people’s minds will be the subject of homosexuality. It is a storm that has gained a life of its own in our surrounding culture and I find that the church feels very much like a boat being tossed about on a sea of controversy.

It is my prayer that many in the church will look not to our own feelings for a way out of the Chinese finger puzzle that this issue has become, but rather look to the one who walks calmly in the midst of our storms. Will we see the "I AM" coming not to condemn either side of this debate, but rather to bring healing life to all? Will our fears be calmed long enough to bid him command us out of our boat, our safe places, and into the storm with all of our being? When, surrounded by the moving waves, we falter, will we too catch our flailing limbs upon Jesus' steady hand? Or will we huddle in the safe and comfortable boxes in which we have always existed (both Liberal and Conservative voices take note!). The choice is ever before us! The great "I AM" continues to walk out in the chaotic waters of the world. How will we answer when he bids us, "Come!"?

Source: Göttinger Predigten im Internet, ed. by U. Nembach, J. Neukirch

Jesus Walks on Water
Gospel: Matthew 14:22-36

Do you remember the story we read a few days ago when Jesus and His disciples were caught in a violent storm in a boat on the Sea of Galilee? After He rebuked the wind and waves, Jesus rebuked His disciples for their lack of faith. They had been filled with fear, even though Jesus was asleep and had clearly said they were going to the other side. He expected them to believe His Word. In the similar story we just read, there was one thing that was different from the start: Jesus was not in the boat with them. This time they were on their own!

Certainly the disciples were in the center of God's will that night, rowing across the Sea of Galilee. They were just following Jesus' orders. And certainly God knew they would encounter threatening winds on their journey. He must have been giving them another opportunity to exercise their faith. From this story, we can learn what we should do when we face opposition that is hindering us from fulfilling God's will.

According to John's record of this same story, Jesus' disciples had rowed about three-and-a-half miles when the wind and waves grew menacing (see John 6:19). Jesus, after spending time praying high on a mountainside, saw that "they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves" (Mark 6:48). They had been rowing for hours, and now it was the middle of the night. They were sleepy and their muscles were aching. They were probably yelling directions at each other to keep their boat from capsizing. In their own strength, they were trying to make it to shore, but it looked impossible.

There is no indication that any of them even tried to exercise any faith. No one suggested that they pray. No one said, "Let's stop rowing and start praising God that we are going to make it to the other side, because we've been sent by Jesus to do just that." No one attempted to rebuke the wind, imitating Jesus.

Jesus, after waiting until three o'clock in the morning, finally stepped out onto the water and began walking toward the same destination as His disciples. When they saw Him walking by, they were terrified, not recognizing Him in the darkness, thinking He must be a ghost! But Jesus tried to calm their fears by telling them who He was. That is when Peter requested that Jesus command him to walk on the water.

Jesus actually said only one word to Peter: "Come!" Before then, Peter had nothing to stand on but water, and had he stepped out of the boat, he would have immediately sunk. But once Jesus spoke, Peter could stand on the Word of God. By faith, he stepped out of the boat and began walking toward Jesus on the water. He was literally walking by faith. When did Peter begin to sink? It was when he doubted. And why did he doubt? Because he began looking at the high waves around him, becoming fearful.

This is a great illustration of how we can walk by faith. When we have a promise from God to believe, it makes no difference what our circumstances are saying to us. God's Word is always true, and if we'll believe in spite of our circumstances, we'll experience the blessings God promises. If we doubt, however, we may well begin to go down, just like Peter.

Peter almost made it all the way to Jesus. When he began to doubt and sink, he cried out for Jesus to save him, and Jesus mercifully did. Praise God that even when our faith is failing, Jesus still loves us and will help us in our troubles.

Clearly it was Peter's doubts and lack of faith that caused him to sink. Proud people would rather find something else to blame, and amazingly, they often blame God for their failures, claiming that failure must have been God's will. I wonder what Jesus would have said if He had overheard Peter, once he was back in the boat, saying to the other disciples, "The reason I sank, of course, is because it wasn't God's will that I make it all the way to Jesus!"

Q. Jesus apparently wasn't initially planning on rescuing His disciples from their predicament, because Mark's Gospel said, "He started to go past them" (Mark 6:48), walking on the water right by their boat. Why do you suppose Jesus did that?

A. Perhaps because Jesus is so polite. He won't get involved in people's business unless they invite Him. This is a picture of many Christians. In the midst of life's storms, they try to make it in their own strength, and Jesus walks right by, wishing they'd ask for His help. Have you invited Jesus into your boat?

Q. When Jesus and His disciples arrived on the shore of their destination, people soon began bringing all their sick to be healed. The Bible says that all who touched the fringe of Jesus' robe were healed (see Matthew 14:36). What does this teach us about faith?

A. It was obviously God's will for everyone who was healed to be healed, but each sick person had to exercise faith to receive what God wanted him to have. People who have faith will demonstrate their faith by their actions.

Application: Have you begun to sink in some area of your life because you've been doubting God? If so, look again at God's promises regarding your situation, and get back up on the water by faith!

Source: (c) Heaven's Family. Used with permission

How to Face Life's Storms

by Dr. Stephen Felker

I have gone through several storms in my life. At times God allowed the storm or defeat to get my eyes back on Jesus. At times I believe God was just strengthening my character, and teaching me some important lessons. But through it all, I can say that none of those storms really hurt me, but only made me a better person...

Read the full article in Malankara World


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