Tag Archives: Matthew 14

Matthew 14: 34-36 To Know Christ is to Know His Benefits

Jesus Healing the Blind From 12th Century Basilica Catedrale di Santa Maria Nouva di Monreale in Sicily.

Matthew 14: 34-36

Parallels Mark 6: 53-56

34 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, 36 and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

This short little transition may not seem to add much to Matthew’s narration, but Matthew (like most ancient writers) does not waste words. Even small additions to the narrative can point to important links and serve a structural point in oral storytelling. Matthew follows the pattern of Mark’s narration and slightly reduces the length of Mark’s narration, but Matthew’s decision to keep these transitional stories of healing is revealing.

The reformer Philip Melanchthon famously said, “To know Christ is to know his benefits.” As we compare this scene in Matthew to others in the gospel, I think this is a helpful frame to see some of the structure that underlays Matthew’s narration. At the end of the previous chapter (13: 54-58) the people of Jesus’ hometown knew Jesus’ family but they were unable to accept the wisdom he brought or to have faith in his ability to bring God’s kingdom to them and there were very few healings done there. In contrast in Gennesaret, which is close to Capernaum where Jesus has done many acts of power, the people come and they send word to the neighboring places to bring the ones who need healing. These demonstrations of the power of Jesus play an important part of understanding who Jesus is and a receptiveness to these acts point to the nature of faith and prepare the disciple to hear Jesus’ teaching. Matthew used a scene of healing many to prepare the reader to hear the Sermon on the Mount, (4: 23-25) and a description of the healing serves as an demonstration to John the Baptist’s disciples sent to inquire if Jesus is the one they are expecting. (11: 4-6) The neglecting of these demonstrations of power by Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum have placed themselves below Tyre, Sidon and Gomorrah in the coming judgment (11: 20-24). The two other brief insertions of healing are both preceded by a miracle for an outsider (the healing of the Centurion’s servant/child before 8:14-17 and the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter prior to 15: 29-31—both possessing faith not seen in Israel). Structurally both this passage and 15: 29-31 are also bracketed by feeding miracles which also highlight Matthew’s organization (and by extension Mark’s organization since they share the structure of these chapters). One additional linkage that Matthew highlights is the healing of the woman with the flow of blood (9:20-22) who touches the fringe of his garment and hears that ‘her faith has made you well.’

These short readings highlight one of the primary ways that Matthew’s gospel wants us to understand what faith in Jesus looks like. Faith is an openness to the kingdom of heaven’s power at work in Christ, and to amend slightly Melanchthon’s wording: to know Christ is to remain open to his benefits or works. The crowd at Nazareth knows Christ primarily according to his family and are not open to his wisdom or works, the Pharisees, the scribes and soon the Sadducees in the narrative will judge Jesus’ works by their expectation of what the works should be, but those of faith are open to the works as they appear. They

trust that even the fringe of his garment, if touched, can heal/save (the Greek sozo translated healing means both) them completely.

 

Matthew 14: 22-33 Little Faith One

Extract of Herbert Boeckl’s fresco “Saint Peter’s rescue from the Lake Galilee” inside the cathedral of Maria Sall, Carinthia, Austria

Matthew 14: 22-33

Parallels Mark 6: 45-52; John 6: 16-21

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

This is the story within Matthew that initiated some of my questions about the way that Matthew’s gospel had been translated and interpreted. This well known story with Matthew’s unique addition of Peter coming to Jesus upon the water is a common image on stained glass windows and paintings in churches, and while it is often an image of hope: of Jesus who rescues those sinking in the stormy waters. Yet, it also is often paired with a condemnation of Peter who doubts in the face of the strong wind. I never anticipated my discomfort with the traditional translation of ‘you of little faith’ in this scene becoming this project which became a much larger examination of the gospel as a whole and its history of interpretation, but often one question leads to many others.

Normally when Matthew takes a story present in Mark (assuming Mark as the first of the gospels written) he shortens it to quickly move us to the instruction by Jesus, which comprises many of the additions in Matthew’s gospel, but here Matthew adds and entire scene of Peter getting out of the boat and coming to Jesus. One of the things to pay attention to when there are parallel narrations of an event is the places where an author introduces new or unique elements because they often give critical insights into what the gospel writer wants to express about who Jesus is and the nature of following him. Matthew has structurally placed this narrative in roughly the middle of the gospel and almost doubled the length that Mark (and John) dedicate to this story. It is also worth remembering that this is the second time Jesus has done the incredible upon the sea and there are unique aspects in both stories in Matthew’s careful narration that invite us to hear this story and the story of Jesus calming the storm in Matthew 8: 23-27 together.

Jesus compels the disciples to get into the boat, presumably a boat owned by one of the disciples, and after the feeding of the 5,000 remains to dismiss the crowds. The Greek enagkasen is more forceful than the NRSV’s translation of ‘made’, Jesus compels or forces the disciples to embark on the boat and sends them on their own into the waters to travel to the other side while he dismisses the crowds. Jesus goes up a mountain to be alone in prayer, but in this time the situation of those on the boat changes. The disciples in Matthew 8: 23-27 felt alone in the midst of the storm while Jesus slept, but now they are isolated from Jesus as the wind become hostile towards them and the boat is tormented under the waves. The wind and waves become, in the narration, active entities working against the disciples on the sea and from evening until the fourth watch of night, traditionally 3 am-6 am, the disciples struggle on their own against the elements. I think it is helpful to notice in this narration that there is a significant time of struggle for the disciples and it takes time for Jesus to move from the mountain where he is praying to the shore and across the many stadia (great distance in the NRSV) that the disciples are out upon the sea.

In Mark’s narration of this story Jesus intends to pass the disciples by, which may be an allusion to God passing by Moses to reveal who he is, but Matthew removes this highlighting the destination of Jesus being these ones on the boat. There are plenty of hints that Matthew shares with Mark, and some unique to Matthew, that point to the identity of Jesus, but Matthew has the boat squarely in Jesus direction of movement as the disciple see him approaching. In the midst of struggling against the wind and waves for hours and seeing what they perceive is a phantom or a ghost (Greek phantasma) their response is to cry out in fear. Jesus’ response to ‘be of good courage, I am, fear not’ is crafted to again alert the reader that more is happening than meets the eye. The initial command to ‘be of good courage’ or ‘take heart’ is a normal response to the cry of fear, but the next two statements are theologically rich. I am (NRSV it is I) is the same language that John’s gospel uses in all the I am sayings (I am the bread of life, I am the good shepherd, I am the way, the truth, and the life, etc.)  and Jesus declaration that ‘I am’ in John 18: 6 causes the soldiers step back and fall to the ground when arresting Jesus. The phrase ‘I am’ recalls the name of God in Exodus 3:14 and while it can simply be the first person pronoun with the being verb in normal speech, in scriptures this frequently causes the hearer to ask about the person’s relationship to the LORD the God of Israel. In addition, this linked with the command ‘Fear not’ or as it is commonly rendered ‘do not be afraid’[1] is also commonly associated with a divine message either from an angel or directly from God.  As we wondered in Matthew 8, ‘what sort of man is this?’ we are now again directed to wonder about the identity of the one approaching his disciples upon the water. The wind and the waves are unable to prevent this one who proclaims ‘I am, fear not’ from approaching.

Matthew is the only gospel who includes the story of Peter approaching Jesus on the water, and this is where Peter begins to stand out among the disciples and be a major actor in the narrative. In the coming chapters Peter will become the one out of the twelve who speaks and acts in answer to Jesus questions and will become the one who represents in many ways the community. Peter moves down from the boat and towards Jesus upon the water, but he sees the strong wind which has been against the boat and he begins to sink. The word translated sink (Greek katapontizesthai) can also mean drown, so Peter in this narrative is experiencing true peril in the midst of his fear as he cries out “Lord, save me.” Just as the disciples in Matthew 8 cried out ‘Lord save us’ as they were in the windstorm on the sea, now Peter echoes this rich phrase with resonance between Israel and the people of God (see comments on 8:25) to Jesus as he finds himself overwhelmed by the wind, waves and water. Immediately Jesus responds by extending his hand and taking hold of him.

This is the third of five uses of oligopistos (NRSV ‘you of little faith’) in Matthew’s gospel, a phrase always used in relation to those following Jesus. Rendering this term ‘you of little faith’ while correct adds a negative connotation that doesn’t need to be there (try saying ‘you of little faith’ without it sounding judgmental) and I do believe that ‘little faith one’ is a better translation. Jesus in this narrative has moved directly toward the boat, told the disciples to be of good courage because of his presence, and told Peter to come to him in the midst of the wind and waves. I know I am pushing against the interpretive tradition of this phrase, but I do believe that Jesus is fond of his ‘little faith ones’ and in this particular story of Peter. Instead of castigating Peter for experiencing doubt, perhaps he is reassuring Peter (and ‘little faith ones’ throughout the ages) that he indeed is ‘God with us’ in the midst of the storm. This is reinforced by the use of the word diatazo here which is only used one other time in Matthew’s gospel, on the mountain in Galilee after the resurrection where the disciples doubt is paired with the encouragement “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[2] Like the disciples on the mountain, who even in their doubt worship, so the disciples here worship saying “You are the Son of God.” As I mentioned when discussing the Son of’ titles for Jesus the Son of God title has relationship to the identity of Jesus being the Davidic King, but Matthew also pushes the boundaries of that title to include something greater in relation to the God of Israel. For Matthew, Jesus is one who is worthy of worship by the disciples, like the God of Israel.[3] The wind and the waves which threaten the disciples are stopped by his presence and we are invited beyond the wondering of ‘what sort of man is this’ the disciples voiced when Jesus calmed the storm before to the stance of worship this one who meets his little faith ones in their doubts and trouble and saves them.

[1] Anna Case-Winters notes that this is the fourth of seven significant texts with the message “do not be afraid” (1:20; 8:26; 10: 31; 14: 27; 17: 7; 28:5; 28:10). Note that all of these except 10:31 are in some manner a theophany (angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in a dream, the two water narratives, the transfiguration and the resurrection. (Case-Winters, 2015, p. 194)

[2] Matthew 21: 21 in the NRSV “if you have faith and do not doubt” is the other place doubt occurs in English in the gospel, but the Greek word behind it is different: diakrino

[3] This is reinforced when you realize that Matthew uses proskuneo (to prostrate, worship) more than Mark and Luke combined and when you look at the thirteen times it is used (The Magi ‘paying homage’ 2:2, 8, 11; the women and disciples at the resurrection worshipping Jesus 28: 9, 17 and the temptation narrative where ultimately instead of worshipping Satan, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13 where one is to worship the Lord only. (Hays, 2016, p. 396 n. 52)

Matthew 14: 13-21 Bread in the Wilderness

Mosaic at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha near the Sea of Galilee

Matthew 14: 13-21

Parallels: Mark 6: 32-44; Luke 9: 10b-17; John 6: 1-15

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

The rejection in Nazareth and the death of John the Baptist puts both Jesus and the crowds in motion and they both arrive in the wilderness. Jesus and his disciples get into a boat and come to an uninhabited place along the sea, and the crowds abandon the towns to follow him on foot. Matthew shortened version of this story (if Mark’s narration is the original) continues to invite the followers of Jesus to reflect upon his identity by echoing other portions of both Matthew’s narration of Jesus’ life and scriptures. The feeding of the five thousand men, plus women and children, is unique among the miracle stories of Jesus because it is the only one included in all four gospel accounts.

The wilderness was where John the Baptist began his story, where Jesus was baptized and where Jesus was tempted. People once came into the wilderness to see John the Baptist instead of Herod (see comments on 11: 7-15), but now the come seeking Jesus. Jesus has compassion on this large crowd and begins to heal those who are sick. Matthew drops Mark’s allusion to Ezekiel 34 where the crowd is like sheep without a shepherd, but the contrast with the compassion Jesus shows towards the crowd and the fear Herod Antipas shows highlights the contrast in relations between these ‘kings of Israel.’ Matthew also drops the teaching of the crowds, but since Jesus teaching the crowds in parables comprises the previous chapter this is not necessary to Matthew’s narration. Now in the absence of John the Baptist and instead of Herod Antipas, the large crowd journeys over land to meet Jesus in this wilderness place.

The defining story of the Hebrew people is the Exodus and central to the people’s journey through the wilderness is the provision of bread by God on that journey. In this wilderness the people are now fed by Jesus, he becomes the one who makes an excessive amount of bread in the wilderness. Like the woman who folded the yeast into three measures of flour (13: 33) he prepares a feast to this great crowd. This story also resonates with the final meal that Jesus will share with his disciples where again he will bless and break bread to be distributed (26:26-30). Matthew, following Mark’s structure, will have Jesus do two feedings of large crowds in the wilderness. (15: 32-39) In both feeding stories the disciples of Jesus in addition to distributing the bread are also invited to wonder about the one who can provide an abundant feast where all are satisfied in a wilderness place. Like God providing for the people in the Exodus or promising a great feast on the mountain of the Lord (Isaiah 25: 6-9) we are invited to consider who Jesus is in relation to God. He is more than a prophet like John the Baptist and more than a king like Herod even if those in his homeland cannot recognize it.

Matthew 14: 1-12 The Death of John the Baptist

By Jean Benner – [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23152785

Matthew 14: 1-12

Parallel Mark 6: 14-29; Luke 9: 7-9

1 At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 3 For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had been telling him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod 7 so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; 10 he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. 12 His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.

Immediately after Jesus is not received in his hometown, Matthew narrates the death of John the Baptist. Herod Antipas may, like his father Herod the Great, want to be the ‘King of the Jews’ but his actions run contrary to the vision expressed in the law for how a king is supposed to be. He also is sharply contrasted with Jesus in the coming narrative: while Herod fears the crowd Jesus has compassion on them, while the death of one who came ‘neither eating of drinking’ occurs at a feast at Herod’s birthday party, Jesus will provide a banquet in the deserted place for thousands. This story of sex, intrigue and power demonstrates the nature of the kingdom of rulers like Herod. The kingdom that Jesus and John pointed to is an alternative to this Herodian tragedy.

Herod Antipas is the tetrarch, he ruled a quarter of his father’s former kingdom including Galilee. His brother Herod II, also known as Herod Philip, was the husband of Herodias not to be confused with Philip II the ruler of Trachonitis. We learned in Matthew 11:2 that John the Baptist was in prison and now we hear the reason that Herod Antipas took notice of this prophet. The divorce of Herod II and Herodias is also mentioned in Josephus and we know that eventually Herod Antipas married Herodias, but their marriage would have been a scandal among the people of Galilee. Unfortunately, rulers often feel above the law that their followers adhere to. Jesus will speak against divorce multiple times in Matthew and, like John, he wouldn’t have endorsed a brother marrying his brother’s wife serving as the king of the region where Jesus’ ministry begins.

Rulers making wild declarations which have lasting consequences are common characters throughout the bible and these rulers are bound by their words. Herod makes Herodias’ daughter a promise to give her what she asks for. Generations earlier Esther when given a similar opportunity by King Ahaseurus uses the opportunity to save the people and to bring about the death of Haman, the enemy of her people (Esther 5:3, Mark’s parallel telling of this uses identical language in Herod’s and Ahaseurus’ promises) but here the daughter of Herodias asks only for the death of the prophet. Herod Antipas is bound by his rash promise and the presence of those reclining at the table with him.

Herod expresses a belief that John the Baptist has been raised from the dead to his children (NRSV renders the word servants), which points to an understanding of the resurrection of the righteous which would have been an idea shared by the Pharisees and the followers of Jesus. I don’t believe that Herod Antipas would’ve considered himself a Pharisee, but he probably had enough in common with them for them to work together when it served their interests. This may lie behind the collaboration between Pharisees and Herodians in 22:16.

Matthew shortens Mark’s narration of the death of John the Baptist’s, but it does serve  important functions in Matthew’s narration of Jesus’ ministry. By coming immediately after the rejection in Jesus’ hometown it demonstrates the resistance to the kingdom of heaven and the cost that prophets and messiahs will pay. It also ends John the Baptist’s role in the story. In Matthew, Jesus and John share identical language in their proclamation but have different roles. Yet, we also will hear others understand Jesus in terms of John the Baptist (16:14). John’s disciples have come to Jesus before, and now they come to Jesus a final time with the news of John’s death, which sets Jesus in motion. Jesus will withdraw to a deserted place, perhaps to grieve and perhaps to avoid Herod Antipas. Herod will stay at his celebration with those who have seen Herodias’ daughter dance and John the Baptist beheaded with the crowds outside. Jesus in going to the deserted place will find the crowds coming and seeking him like sheep without a shepherd, or at least without a good shepherd.

Little Faith Ones

Extract of Herbert Boeckl's fresco "Saint Peter's rescue from the Lake Galilee" inside the cathedral of Maria Sall, Carinthia, Austria

Extract of Herbert Boeckl’s fresco “Saint Peter’s rescue from the Lake Galilee” inside the cathedral of Maria Saal, Carinthia, Austria

Do we enter into the storms of life under the judging eyes of some untouchable creator?
So enmeshed in the separation between the our own unworthiness and his perfection
And the magnification of every misstep to the point where each trespass and violation
Is magnified to take upon the unshakeable weight of the world in our lives
Tipping the scales of justice from the possibility of salvation to certainty of damnation
Living a purgatorial existence of trying to love a creator that seems to no longer care
In a world that is anthropocentrically centered around our actions and failures
“You of little faith, how could you doubt?”
 
Yet, perhaps we enter the storms of life under the eyes of a God who approaches us
Who comes to us in the storms, who beckons us to come beyond the safety of the ship
And perhaps rather than pointing out to us every failure, instead in the moment of need
Reaches out the hand and grasps the hand thrashing about in fear and returns us home
To the belly of the boat where the winds can subside and the waves diminish
Tipping the scales of justice from the certainty of damnation to the possibility of healing and life
Entering the purgatories of our own lives and opening to us kingdoms of hope and peace
Where steadfast love and faithfulness meet and righteousness and peace kiss
In a world that is theologically centered upon the God who comes near uttering
Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid as I come to you in the midst of the storms of life
“My little faith ones, why do you doubt?”
 
Neil White, 2014