I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 14:22-33
B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …
C. Other texts for Year A Sunday, August 7th, in Ordinary Time
- First Reading Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
- Psalm Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
- Second Reading Romans 10:5-15
- Gospel Matthew 14:22-33
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
22 This is immediately after the feeding of the 5,000. Is this sending merely a plot device so Jesus must catch up with the disciples? Or is there some other significance to Jesus ordering the disciples on ahead as well?
23 Finally Jesus gets an opportunity to grieve the loss of his cousin John. Allusion to Moses ascending Sinai alone to receive instruction from God?
24 If the boat had not been battered by the waves would it have reached the other shore? How long would one expect this passage to take? Is a night crossing reasonable?
25 Is this as matter-of-factly in Greek as it appears to in the NRSV?
26 Why did Matthew not convey this kind of fear in verse 25?
27 A charge and a benediction.
28 Do we dare to challenge God to command us to do the miraculous?
29 But when we respond to God’s commandments we find that we can do what we had not dreamed possible.
30 When we shift our focus from Christ to worldly thinking, our faith sinks with it.
31 Jesus is with us on the water and answers our pleas for aide.
32 Jesus welcomed Peter out onto the water in the midst of the storm.
33 How often do we realize that Jesus is one who calms the storms of life and declare such salvation as from God?
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- Picks up immediately following the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 men.
- Chops off a brief passage where those in Gennesaret recognize Jesus and bring the sick to him to be healed just by touching the hem of his cloak.
F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?
- Verse 29 in Greek begins with the conjunction /de/ (But), perhaps suggesting that Peter did not expect to be called on to the water.
III. Question the text.
A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.
If presented from the point of view of the disciples, verses 25ff might read:
And early in the morning, after working most of the night keeping the boat from capsizing in the storm, the disciples saw a figure walking on the water towards them. They were terrified, and cried out in fear saying, “It is a ghost!” But when the figure spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,” they recognized the figure as Jesus.
Peter feared the figure was trying to deceive them and said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?
If the preceding event was near Bethsaida and the following event is at Gennesaret, then the disciples need only row down the shore about 5 miles. In a strong wind, a walker might easily catch up and pass a boat traveling a similar route. Since this route would parallel the shoreline, suggestions that Jesus merely waded in the edge of the water are plausible, necessitating proof that Jesus walked on deep water. Peter’s venture from the boat and sinking provide that proof.
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Center of Gravity: Jesus calmly walking on the water as if out for an early morning stroll.
- Emotional Center: Peter venturing out of perceived safety into the storm to stand with Jesus.
- Music: I Have Decided to Follow Jesus no turning back
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
M. Eugene Boring (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Matthew,” Abingdon, 1995) notes this is the first time in Matthew that Jesus sends the disciples out without him physically with them. It is also the first time that Matthew portrays Jesus as praying. Boring connects this passage with 8:23-27 as both using imagery of a boat to portray the church being “tortured” as it goes out without Jesus physically present. He also notes that the ancient thought limited walking on water to deities. He defines Peter’s problem as taking his eyes off of Jesus, leaving the boat (community of faith), and desiring proof of God’s presence. Thus he reflects that if Peter had enough faith, he would have remained in the boat (community of faith) and believed that Jesus mediated the presence of God.
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. – Rabbi Chet Diamond
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
- When we have faith, we recognize Jesus in the storm.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
- Confidence that Jesus is really with us, mediating God, when he sends us out in to the storm of the world around us.