9th Sunday after Pentecost
August 10, 2014
Matthew 14: 22-33
Just this last week I saw a cartoon of toddler Jesus taking a bath. He’s standing on the water, and his long-suffering mother, the Virgin Mary, complete with blue scarf wrapped over her hair is pointing downward, as she insists, “In!”
All kidding aside this is truly a story that reveals beyond question who Jesus is. It’s called “theophany,” that moment when people realize that it’s God who’s there. Matthew is not just unrolling a story of Jesus’ ministry for us, he is slowly and skillfully drawing us into the point he wants to make. Jesus is not some special being – angelic or magical- who has extraordinary powers. He is not just here to make us pay attention to the injustice of the world we live in, like the prophets of old. He is truly God with us, and he is about to change the world we live in forever.
All the stories Jesus has been telling about the Kingdom of God, or God’s Empire have shown us that God is undaunted by humanity’s unwillingness to see and hear God’s presence and care. They tell us of a God of infinite patience, of a God who continues to work in the hearts of humans, of a God who sends out loving emissaries to change the world one act of love at a time.
Then we have the story of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. This amazing story should have convinced anyone that Jesus is truly God with us, as he looks up to heaven, blesses the bread and begins to hand it out. Jesus’ absolute trust that God will not let these people go unfed is astonishing, and his power to make it come true is now unquestioned.
Matthew now deals us another theophany. Jesus finally gets his chance to get away. He sends even the disciples away, spending the night on the mountain talking to God, and, I would suspect, sorting out all the crazy emotions he is experiencing at the death of John the Baptizer and his new precarious visibility in the eyes of the political authorizes. If he didn’t know where this adventure of being human was going before, it must be pretty obvious now that this will not end well.
The disciples, meanwhile, have their own struggle. I am sure that as professional fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, they are well acquainted with the storms that can blow up, and how to navigate them. You just have to keep rowing and wait it out. They’ve been at it for hours, apparently, when Jesus decides to join them. Even though at first they can’t figure out who’s out there in the wind and waves – who’s expecting anyone they know? – Jesus reassures them. If you read this in the Greek that Matthew used, you’d recognize Jesus identity right away. In English, Jesus says, “It is I.” In Greek, he says, “I Am,” the ancient name God uses to Moses. The power of that name is not lost on the disciples. “Take heart,” Jesus tells them, “do not be afraid.”
Peter gets out of the boat at Jesus’ command in the middle of the wind and waves all around them. Don’t you wonder where that idea comes from? Is he daring Jesus, or daring his own faith? But the difference between human capability to trust and divine capability to accomplish becomes clear when Peter notices the storm in which he’s standing, and he begins to sink. Jesus saves him, of course, but calls him ‘little faith.’ If anyone had any doubt that Jesus was God among them, it’s all gone now. Their lives have changed forever.
To me, this story is the culmination of Matthew’s treatise on trust in God as revealed in Jesus. From here on, we will find Jesus predicting his death, schooling the disciples in how to care for each other, preparing his followers to understand that the power of God is not going to be revealed in political overthrow of the Roman oppression. The power of God will be revealed in Jesus’ willingness to confront evil, to stand up under it’s weight, and in his resurrection, to destroy the power of death and evil to separate the world from God’s love.
In our lives we struggle to find safety, stability, and sense that we can relax and be at ease in the world. That doesn’t seem to be where God sends us. If you thought that being a Christian was going to keep you safe from sorrow, untimely loss, or distractions that pull you away from God’s love, you were wrong. The world works on us in ways that don’t feel safe at all. I think these stories of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes and the story of Jesus walking in the storm tell us that the only power we can trust is the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead. There is no other stability, there is nothing else to trust.
These stories tell us that Jesus always comes to be with us, and to pull us back into the boat with him when we are overwhelmed, when we are of ‘little faith’. I invite you to take a minute to reflect on what scares or challenges you right now. While you are surrounded by others who put their trust in Jesus, ask him to hold onto you and bring you to safety.
The love of God that we trust comes to us simply as a gift. It is not because we are so good or deserving, so it is not something we can ever lose. I invite you to sink into Matthew’s message of the trust-worthiness of God in Jesus, to learn to trust it. This theophany is for you, too. And for us as a ministry. How daring will we be, how trusting can we become?