Jesus (and Peter) walking on the water in Matthew 14

The Sunday lectionary reading for the Ninth Sunday of Trinity in Year A is Matt 14.22–33, Matthew’s instinctive account of Jesus’ walking across the water and Peter’s response to it. I am finding this recent, sustained immersion in Matthew’s narrative very interesting. We have often noted how Matthew’s accounts are more compressed than the other gospels, particularly Mark, and that he compensates for that by including additional episodes. But the compression itself actually gives the narratives an intensity and power that I had not expected. 

In the previous episode, Jesus has been seeking solitude (with his closest followers) after hearing the news of John the Baptist’s death, with all its discouragement and foreboding. But, just as he has postponed the urgent task of responding to Jairus’ daughter in order to attend to the needs of a woman in Matthew 9, so he postpones the meeting of his own urgent need to respond to the desires of the crowd. 

He took command in feeding them, and now he takes command in dismissing both them and the disciples, so that he will be truly alone. There is one fascinating detail here: once all have eaten and are satisfied, Jesus ‘immediately’ dismisses them. This pericope is the only place in the whole of Matthew where Jesus acts ‘immediately’—a contrast to Mark where the term occurs ten times in his first chapter! Jesus has been postponing his own need for solitude and reflection, and his desire to be alone with his Heavenly Father can wait no longer. This time, the phrase κατ᾿ ἰδίαν ‘by himself’ means that he is, physically, truly alone.

In Matt 14.15, evening (that is, the time after sunset but before complete darkness; compare Mark 1.32) was approaching and this prompts the debate about feeding the crowd. Now, evening has come; some considerable time must have passed, so R T France translates this ‘well into the night’. This need not make seeing the boat impossible if the darkness is moonlit. 

Is the kingdom of heaven about God’s initiative or our response in Matt 13?

Having, in previous weeks, pulled out the parables of the sower/soils and of the weeds, together with their interpretations, from the collection of ‘kingdom of heaven’ parables in Matt 13, the lectionary for Trinity 7 in Year A now mops up the remaining, mostly short, parables about the kingdom to complete our reading of the … Continue Reading

Staying faithful under pressure in Matt 10

The gospel reading for Trinity 2 in Year A continues to work through Jesus’ teaching on mission in Matthew 10, but has jumped across from the specifics of his sending out the Twelve to more general teaching about being faithful under pressure. 

It is easy to see that Matthew has here drawn together teaching of Jesus from several contexts, and integrated it thematically, for at least three reasons:

a. The beginning of this section appears to recount a particular occasion, when Jesus sends out the Twelve, but from Matt 10.16 the context changes to a more general one, and appears to make reference to later challenges in ministry after Jesus has gone, even looking towards the completion of the ministry in Israel in v 23. 

b. The material in the later parts of this chapter has parallels in several different places in the gospels, mostly in Luke. So the sending of the Twelve is found in Luke 9.1; the saying about the secret and hidden comes in Luke 12.2; Jesus’ bringing of division rather than peace comes in Luke 12.51, and so on. Some of the later sections of this chapter also reiterate teaching from the Sermon on the Mount earlier in Matthew—and there are several sayings which are unique to Matthew.

c. Though this is presented as continuous discourse, there are some sudden changes of subject, language and focus (for example, at Matt 10.24, 10.26 and 10.34) so that commentators differ on how to understand the overall structure of this section. 

Because of this, there is a wide diversity of material, and different elements of the text raise some large and important issues. The challenge in preaching on this passage as the lectionary will be to find a coherent set of issues that relate to the contemporary context of preacher and congregation. 

Before looking at the text within our lectionary reading, it is worth just noting the extent of the previous discourse up to verse 23. Jesus’ general description of opposition, division and persecution ends with a prediction that the disciples’ mission to ‘all the towns of Israel’ will not be complete ‘before the Son of Man comes’. There is a long history of Christian interpretation of this text which understands this as a reference to Jesus’ return—but this would make not only Jesus mistaken about the imminence of his parousia, but Matthew also either mistaken or happily recording that Jesus is mistaken, which would be rather odd. In fact the quasi-technical term parousia does not occur here (and in fact only occurs in Matt 24 in all the gospels); instead, Jesus is alluding to the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ in Daniel 7.13, in which this human figures comes not to the earth but to the throne of God in heaven, and is vindicated by being given authority and a kingdom. As with Matthew 24, this phrase is therefore Matthew’s way of talking about what Luke describes as Jesus’ ascension.