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Matthew 14:22-33 The Message Translation (with liberties) Walking on the Water 22-23 As soon as the meal was finished, she insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while she dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, she climbed the mountain so she could be by herself and pray. She stayed there alone, late into the night. 24-26 Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror. 27 But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.” 28 Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Mistress, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.” 29-30 She said, “Come ahead.” Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when she looked down at the waves churning beneath her feet, she lost her nerve and started to sink. She cried, “Mistress, save me!” 31 Jesus didn’t hesitate. She reached down and grabbed her hand. Then she said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?” 32-33 The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s daughter for sure!”
Another week, another opportunity to hear the Goods News anew. Another moment to open the Bible and let the Word of God break us open and soften the hardness of our hearts.
In my weekly Bible Study we hear the scripture in various translations and sometimes a difference in emphasis or nuance in the text opens to us an insight that hadn’t previously been seen. One of the ways of encountering scripture with fresh eyes is to regender the pericope as I have done with this reading from Matthew’s gospel. I offer this regendering not to shock or offend but to give us access to what is, maybe, hidden in plain sight.
This passage comes immediately after the feeding of the 5000. You will remember that immediately before the feeding Jesus had heard of her cousin John’s beheading and had taken a boat across the lake to have a moment alone. She was thwarted in her desire for solitude. Someone saw her go and a crowd followed her, walking around the lake to claim her time and attention. She took pity on them and healed and taught all day. In the evening came the miraculous feeding and the twelve baskets of discarded food left over from the multitude. That brings us to the moment where today’s reading begins.
Doesn’t it sound like the end of a house party? There are the stragglers who want to stay till the last crumb is consumed and the last bottle empty. The host’s closest friends and children have done the major clean up. Everyone is exhausted. Jesus sounds like the consummate hostess. “I’ve got this,” she tells her crew. “Thank you for all your hard work, go get some rest. I’ll see off the rest of the guests” Relieved, the disciples clamber into the boat to head back across the lake. Relieved Jesus claims the alone time she so desperately needs.
Usually, in a sermon, this is where our attention turns from Jesus to the disciples. Particularly to Peter and his faith or doubt. The miracle of Jesus walking on water stops being a story about Jesus walking on water and becomes a story about stormy seas, frightened followers. I think we know much of what Peter can teach us about doubt and faith. If you have heard this passage preached before you have likely heard how Peter rushes in where angels fear to tread. And we know the lessons to draw from him. We have mined that Peter coal seam for much of the riches it yields. Even as I prepared this sermon I kept getting pulled into the Peter vortex. Watching that Jesus woman is like watching a mother with her daring child: “You want to try, go ahead, you can do it?” and when the child falls or fails, loses their focus, let’s their attention wander, sets their eyes on the chaos and not on the Christ… the mother Jesus is ready to scoop up the child and encourage rather than chastise”What got into you? Why did you doubt?” In the tone of, “Of course you are able.” There! I am watching Jesus but the story has become about Peter.
I don’t know if any of you ever watch tarot readings on YouTube. The reader lays out a spread of cards and offers a reading. Somewhere along the way they come upon a card for which they want to pull a “clarifier”. They shuffle the deck intoning as they shuffle, “Why is the ten of pentacles here? Why is the ten of pentacles here?”. As I read this passage I hear myself in my head sounding like such a reader: “Why is Jesus walking on water? Why is Jesus walking on water?” The obvious answer, it’s the shortest route back home and she didn’t have a boat. “Why at this hour of the morning?” She was done with her prayer and ready for bed. “If she could walk on water surely she could just decide to be home and immediately arrive at her own doorstep. “So why is she there?” She had to save the disciples from the storm. “Even that she could have done at a distance. So why is she here?” She is here to be seen.
It’s four o’clock in the morning. Yesterday was a full day of teaching and healing after being assaulted by grief at the news of her cousin’s death. Last night was spent in solitary stillness. The craved alone time to commune with God. Was that all the time she needed to recharge? I don’t know, but I suppose like many women she took what was available and made it work. And now she knows her disciples are in trouble. They are terrified battling heavy seas. So the time apart ends and she walks across the water to meet them where they are.
Do you know that feeling you have when you’ve gone for a massage and you get back home and the house is empty and clean, you can take a nap or relax with a book or your favorite show and a glass of wine. No one wants anything from you. The deliciousness of restoration just lingers with you. In this Covid time a massage may be an unattainable dream. An empty house is probably a distant memory. If you are an essential worker self care seem like a mirage. Many of us know the feeling. Every time you take a pause for self care you return to chaos. And yet, right here, you see the first fruits of self care. The gentle ease with which Jesus says “Come.” And the focussed attention on this one person who needs special attention. No rebuke, just compassion. The pause may not have been everything she needed for restoration but the act of taking the time gave her back to herself. Why is Jesus walking on water.In this telling of the story, not because it’s the shortest way home but because he is coming to the disciples to meet their need.
When we pray from the midst of our chaos we often prescribe how we want God to show up for us. We dictate what is possible. But sometimes God just wants to come to us walking on water. God wants to show up in an unlikely, even what we may deem as an impossible way to turn our lives right side up.
And each of us will experience moments when we step into the stormy seas of life trusting that all will be right. And many of us will experience moments when we don’t keep our eyes on the Christ and, instead, allow ourselves to be consumed by the chaos that surrounds us. In those moments when we feel are drowning God will heed our call of fear and come to us. Our cares and concerns are not too small for God. But did you notice the lesson for our Covid time, its only when Jesus and the disciples are all in the boat that Jesus calms the sea.
In the beginning Covid reminded us that we are all in one boat. With all of our diversity of race, religion, gender, language and national origin we discovered that we were all vulnerable to the invisible virus that stalked our planet. In time we learnt that although we were all in one boat we weren’t all in one cabin; some of us had state rooms, others of us sat in steerage. As the world shut down some governments had and used their resources to ease the burdens of economic collapse on their populations. Others had neither the will nor the wherewithal to absorb the shock the virus inflicted. And then all the inequalities in our societies started to show. The multimillion euro bailouts for big companies while frontline health workers continued to battle stress, grief and burnout with no financial recognition of their essential service. The prepurchase of the yet-to-be-developed vaccine by wealthy countries while the inhabitants of poor countries will have to “ zoek het maar uit.” We have locked down towns, cities, countries, regions, as though this virus respects the borders we have named. Each of us stepping into the chaos hoping to claim our individual salvation. We still refuse to recognise that it is only when we are humanity in one boat that the chaos will be calmed.
(foto’s: Marjolein van Panhuys)
gepubliceerd op 23 augustus 2020