"Our Little Faith" Bible Study on Matthew 14:22-33
August 5, 2020, 1:01 PM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Matthew 14:22-33 (Common English Bible).

22 Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. 23 When he sent them away, he went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone.24 Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land.25 Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed.

27 Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

28 Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”

29 And Jesus said, “Come.”

Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!”

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?”32 When they got into the boat, the wind settled down.

33 Then those in the boat worshipped Jesus and said, “You must be God’s Son!”

Last week I skipped the Gospel Reading from Matthew 14:13-21 so that we could look at our texts from Genesis 32:22-31 and Romans 9:1-5.  So I think I'll return to Matthew's Gospel and focus on faith from Jesus' viewpoint.

Crammed in Matthew 14 are three stories.  The first third of the chapter details the death of John the Baptist, a rather sinister plot involving Herod, his wife, and her daughter that ends in John's beheading.  Jesus hears about the plot second hand, though Matthew does not tell us who told him.  That sets up a principal, if not overlooked, plot point for this chapter: Jesus spends much of the chapter trynig to sneak away to mourn.  It is not to be, though, as the crowds converge on him.

Jesus decides to feed the crowds, even as the disciples want to send them away.  There is sparse dialogue throughout, which contrasts with the previous chapter, where Jesus tells parables.  The lack of dialogue -- namely, the lack of response to the disciple's continued mistakes -- tends to highlight Jesus' desire to be alone.

After Jesus has some time alone, the conversations resume, culminating in a rather scathing rebuke to Peter: "You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?" (Matthew 14:31)  It's a rebuke of Peter's immediate actions, where Peter's doubts overwhelm him as he walks on the water.  It also serves as an effective rebuke to all of the disciples for their lack of trust and faith throughout the chapter.

The verbs in this passage are forceful and urgent.  Jesus "made" the discipesl go on a boat.  The boat is "battered" by the storm.  The disciples are "terrified."  In the Common English Bible, they "scream" when Jesus approaches.  Peter "sinks" and "shouts."  Jesus "immediately reached out and grabbed him."

All of this contrasts with Jesus' original personal goal in both this morning's passage and the preceding one: to be alone.  In fact, Matthew heightens this contrast.  Just as Jesus finds a moment of peaceful prayer alone, Matthew yanks our attention to the disciples who are being tossed about in a storm.  That contrast illustrates the very real disconnect between Jesus and his disciples.  The disciples know that Jesus is special.  After all, they've decided to follow him.  But they still have not quite grasped the fullness of what that means.  They know he can do miracles, but they still seem uncomfortable whenever it happens.  They respond more to Jesus' rebuke than to the impossible-made-possible fears of walking on water and calming storms.

We are often tempted to make Peter a hero of this story.  After all, he is the one who was willing to hop out of the boat and walk towards Jesus.  Matthew is not content to let us do that.  Matthew wants to remind us just how incapable the disciples are, Peter included.  In fact, Peter's actions receive no praise from Jesus, but his inability to stay on top of the water receives a scathing critique.  Here, Peter is no hero.  His attempts to get it right, followed by abject failure, will of course be repeated.

Fortunately for Peter, so will Jesus' redemption of Peter's actions.  Jesus reaches out to bring Peter back above the water, and his rebuke spurs on some understanding amongst the disciples.  This will be repeated a few chapters later, when Peter confesses his belief in Christ, but then is quickly rebuked after he tries to correct Jesus' predictions about Jesus' death and resurrection.  Likewise, it is Peter who claims that he will go to the cross with Jesus, only to deny him.

If Peter is to be a hero figure in Matthew at all, it is in the role of a tragic hero.  He longs to be faithful, but when push comes to shove, his doubt and fear overtake him.  That Jesus constantly redeems and restores Peter's lack of faith is a reminder that our own faith is hardly strong enough to stand on its own.  Like Peter, our own faithfulness is naive and thin, even when we think it is strong and bold.  That Jesus rescues Peter should be a comfort that Jesus will continue to rescue us when we start to sink beneath the overwhelming waves of life's storms.

I don't know about you, but that sure gives me a sense of hope.

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Greg Rupright


08-08-2020 at 9:32 PM
Pat May
Very comforting to know Jesus is always there, even when we mess up and forget...
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