Stepping out in faith

13 August 2017
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 14A (RCL)
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

The pericope from Romans is chopped up and badly translated. In the first five verses of Chapter 10, Paul returns to the theme he opened in Chapter 9 – his desire for the salvation of the Jews, for their entry into this new covenant that includes Gentiles. He contrasts God’s righteousness to “their own” righteousness. The NRSV translates “God’s righteousness” as “the righteousness that comes from God.” This entirely misses the point. God’s righteousness implies God’s faithfulness to God’s covenantal obligations. God is righteous regardless of what we may do or not do. A “righteous of their own” could be translated “a righteousness distinct to them.” The phrase implies that the Jews took God’s covenantal loyalty and twisted it to mean that they alone were righteous in God’s eyes.

In the passage we read this Sunday, Paul quotes and glosses Deuteronomy, chapter 30. This chapter speaks of the return from Exile. When, in the lands where God has driven them, the people turn their hearts to keep the law, then God will bring them back, but this ‘word’ is not hard. Paul substitutes the confession of Jesus’ lordship for the ‘word’ of the law. This new righteousness, which includes all, was God’s intention all along. In that sense, Christ is the purpose or goal of the law (10:4). It is the human tendency to think that our group is favored by God that interferes with God’s intent, but God is righteous, loyal to God’s purposes, and this righteousness is open to all.

The reading from Matthew’s Gospel, I believe, presents in narrative style the conflict between Peter and Paul in Antioch related by Paul in Galatians 2. Peter had begun to eat with Gentiles, until certain men from James showed up, and then he withdrew and would only eat with Jews. Paul withstood him to his face and called him a hypocrite.

Both Mark and Matthew organize large chunks of their narrative material around a pair of paired miracles: sea crossings and feedings in the wilderness. These remind the reader of Moses and the people crossing the Red Sea and eating manna in the wilderness (John makes the connection between the miraculous bread and the manna explicit in his 6th chapter). In each instance, three healings occur between the sea crossing and the feeding. In the first instance, these include the Gerasene demoniac (which reminds the reader of Pharaoh’s army being drowned in the Red Sea), the women with the flow of blood and Jairus’ daughter. In Mark, after Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter, he instructs those standing about to “give her something to eat,” precisely the vocabulary he uses in instructing his disciples to give the crowds something to eat. These stories suggest people crossing dangerous social boundaries through baptism to join the miraculous table fellowship on a new journey through the wilderness.

In the second instance, Jesus is not in the boat, but comes walking on the water. The disciples mistake him for a ghost. I believe this indicates that this narrates a post-resurrectional encounter. One of the miracles between this water crossing and the next feeding is the healing of the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman (in Matthew, she is a Canaanite). A Gentile women is making the dangerous crossing to be incorporated into table fellowship. Significantly, Jesus’ argument for excluding her and her rejoinder involve bread. After Jesus’ resurrection, the Church found itself crossing a new boundary, including Gentiles in its table fellowship. Paul records this same struggle in Galatians.

When Peter sees Jesus, he says, “If it is you, instruct me to come to you on the water.” He steps out of the boat, but when he sees the storm of controversy, he sinks. Significantly, when Jesus reaches out his hand to save him, he says, “You little-faith one. Why were you of two minds?” Oligopistos in Greek could mean ‘little-trusty’ just as easily as it could mean ‘of little faith.’ Matthew uses the expression ‘to be of two minds’ exactly twice. Once here, and once when the disciples encountered the resurrected Jesus on the mountain. The disciples rejoiced, but some were of two minds. Jesus gives instructions that they are to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Trinity. The connection of baptism and sea crossing cannot be accidental. Peter almost made the leap, but not quite. Still Jesus brings him back into the boat.

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