Choosing a Focus
Choosing a Focus
Scripture: Matthew 14: 22-33
Most sermons I’ve ever heard on this passage go like this. When Peter began to sink Jesus rescued him. If Peter, the individual who Jesus built his church on, can falter and have moments of doubt, it’s ok if I do too. And when I do, Jesus will rescue me. End of sermon.
Which sounds great, except I can list of a litany of times when I needed rescued and nothing miraculous happened. Cue the well wishers who will tell me, that everything happens for a reason. I’m not so sure. There are those who will say, God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. Again, I’m not so sure and that last one isn’t in scripture though many, many people think it is. In his commentary on the passage Dale Bruner makes the following observation, “Peter doesn’t ask Jesus to promise that he will be safe if he goes out on the water, he tells Jesus to command him to come out.” (https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2023-08-07/matthew-1422-33-3/)
Those are two very different things. The mindset of Jesus will protect versus Jesus calls us to go out into the storm. And the storm is significant, we might ask of this passage what does the storm represent? Think about it, Jesus has previously calmed a storm. Why does he now feel the need to walk on the water, during a storm?
What is the significance of the storm. Is this storm there to represent something in our life or could it be hinting at something else? Both. The usual sermon that you’ve heard on this passage says that these are the storms of life and Jesus is with us. And that is true. Life is full of storms. In her book Holy Envy, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, the following “Strong winds really do blow through people’s lives, and the Spirit does not hand out maps showing where the wind came from, where it is going, how you are supposed to handle it, and how everything will turn out in the end. Only the Weather Channel does that.” (Taylor, Barabara Brown. Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others. 2019, p. 167). While Brown is referring to the Holy Spirit the analogy holds. Storms and strong winds blow through our lives. We use old saying like Christ is my anchor, there’s a hymn about that, to help us navigate and understand what is occurring.
But what if, what if we didn’t read this passage through the lens of Peter. What if we didn’t read this passage through the lens of modern Christians who believe we have been saved by God through Christ. Now that’s a tenet of Christianity, but we highly personalize it rather than reading it on a collective level. And when we personalize it like that, suddenly we are Peter and the story is about us. I want to be clear, interpreting this passage from the lens of Peter is fine. There is nothing wrong with considering the passage from that angel. However, today I want us to shift and consider what this passage is telling us about Jesus. Similar to last week there is a lot going on. Matthew is pointing back to the Old Testament and forward to the end of his gospel. Much of that is lost on us in translation, but let’s see if we can make some sense of it.
This passage comes right on the heels of last week. Last weeks passage about feeding the 5000 had us reflect on Exodus and God providing a feast in the wilderness and then it moved our focus to the Last Supper. When we are reading the gospels, specifically Matthew, we also need to be Old Testament scholars. Because Matthew is making links for his audience between Jesus and what is found in the Old Testament. All of these links are designed to connect us to God and reveal a little bit more of what God’s character is like.
What is the connection that Matthew is making with Jesus walking on water? Consider, this passage from Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2) Matthew is making a direct and very bold claim about the sovereignty of Jesus.
Nicolas Schaser frames it like this, “Every description of Jesus’ life in the Gospels has theological meaning related to the God and people of Israel. Jesus decides to walk on water because this is what God had done at the creation of the world.” (Nicholas Schaser – https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-19/commentary-on-matthew-1422-33-6#)
When Jesus approaches the boat, the disciples think they have seen a ghost. Modern translations have Jesus respond with the words, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” We translate this as ‘it is I’, the Greek says ‘I am’ which is what God says to Moses during the burning bush. We loose that nugget of information because it doesn’t make a proper sentence in English, but in Greek it works and provides us with a meaningful reference. (Nicholas Schaser – https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-19/commentary-on-matthew-1422-33-6#)
When we focus on the words and actions of Jesus, we realize that Matthew is painting a picture for us. We are provided with a picture of Jesus who is in tune with how God has interceded for the people in the past. And this is the exact point Matthew is making with this passage, that Jesus is here to intercede for us. Not us as individuals, but all of us. Back at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel Joseph is told of his fiancé, “Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21)
Peter while sinking in the saw will shout out ‘Save me’ and Jesus will.
Later in Matthew gospel, others will ridicule Jesus as being able to save others, but not save himself from death on the cross. They miss the point. Matthew has already told us that Jesus doesn’t come to save himself, but to save others. It is stated at the beginning of the gospel, it is repeated here at the almost halfway point of Matthew’s gospel and it occurs again at the end. Matthew is using this passage to point us forward to what Jesus will do for us.
It is high theology, a high Christology of how Jesus will intercede and save us from sin. What is sin, all that causes our relationship with God and each other to breakdown. The evil and ill we inflict upon one another. Jesus by saving Peter, demonstrates how we are to respond to one another.
After witnessing Jesus rescue Peter. After taking all of this in during the midst of a tempest of a storm the disciples utter the words, “Truly this is the Son of God.”
Later, when Jesus is hanging on the cross a Roman centurion will repeat those same words. The significance of Jesus Jewish fishermen followers stating these words and them being affirmed by a Roman centurion remind us that Jesus same not just to save a people, but all people.
Our passage this morning of Jesus walking on water once again reminds us of what God has done for us and what God, through Christ continues to do for us. The storms will blow, the winds will bustle, but Christ remains committed and is ever the same. The great I AM who walks with us through all of life’s turbulence. Amen.
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