Sinking like a rock

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

Last night, Fr. Nathaniel drew some wonderful parallels between the story of Joseph and the story of Jesus, besides the obvious of going down to Egypt. Joseph was sold for twenty pieces of silver; Jesus for 30. Joseph later saves his brothers and family from starvation; Jesus saves his household. It is clear that the writers of the story of Jesus had before them the story of Joseph. We noticed a couple of other parallels as well. Judah sells Joseph; Judas (the Greek spelling of Judah) sells Jesus. The caravan of Ishmaelites was carrying gum, balm and resin — frankincense and myrrh.

Reading through this great saga, we are coming to the portion of the story in Egypt, which will culminate in the crossing of the Red Sea. The Gospel story of Jesus walking on the sea bears many parallels with the story of Moses leading the children of Israel across the sea. Moses is on the mountain alone, watching the progress of the people; Jesus is on the mountain alone watching the progress of the boat. All this happens in the night watch (Exodus 14:24); and in the fourth watch of the night (Mt 14:25). There is a strong wind (Exodus 14:21; Mt 14:30). And so it goes. Clearly the writers of the story of Jesus walking on the sea had before them the story of Israel crossing the Red Sea, most likely in the Septuagint.

But, then an interesting thing happens. Peter asks Jesus to command him to walk on the waters (not the sea; Jesus does not walk on the waters, but on the sea; Peter walks on the waters). Mark’s account does not have Peter walk on the waters. Matthew is telling us something new. This episode is also a resurrection appearance. The disciples think they are seeing a ghost, an appearance of one dead. When he enters the boat, they worship. Peter doubts (literally, is of two minds). When the disciples see Jesus on the mountain in Galilee “they worship, but doubt (are of two minds — the only two occurences of this word in Matthew). Jesus then instructs them to make disciples of “all the nations” baptizing them in the name of the Trinity.

In Galatians 2, Paul recounts the encounter between himself and Peter in Antioch. Before certain men from James came down from Jerusalem came down to Antioch, Peter used to eat with Gentiles (in the mixed community in Antioch). But when those men arrived, Peter drew back and separated himself, “because he was afraid of the circumcised.” In what follows the story of Jesus walking on the sea, the Syro-Phoencian woman will approach him and ask him to heal her daughter (remember Jairus?). He will refuse, because she is a Gentile: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.” She will retort, “True, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” So, this episode is about table fellowship; do Jews and Gentiles eat together? Jesus is shamed by her response, and heals her daughter. Peter’s sinking in the water is Matthew’s way of telling us the story of the Antioch incident. Peter’s small faithfulness prevents him from stepping out over the waters of baptism into the mixed Jewish and Gentile community.

It has always been terrifying for the church to go to the new places Jesus asks us to go. Jesus, after Peter’s confession of him as the Christ, gives Peter the keys of the kingdom, and a new name, “Rocky.” But for his fear, Rocky sinks like a stone.

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