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God-With-Us in Action

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Matthew 14:13-33 gives us two episodes which are always joined in all three Synoptic gospels: the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on the waters. Both stories actually show us the identity of Jesus as God and Lord. He is truly "God-with-us". In the episode of the feeding of the five thousand, Matthew made sure that his readers would recognize Him as the Healer of Israel and as the one who gives the Bread of Life. He prepared this by underlining the fact that the people left their homes on foot and followed Him to the wilderness. He used a word for "wilderness" that would remind one of the desert sojourn of the Israelites. With the feeding of the crowds then, we have the Church in the desert being fed with the bread that is multiplied in love.

 

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In the episode following, Matthew has rewritten the account of Jesus walking on the waters to highlight three Christological images: the High Priest, Lord and Savior. Augustine caught the first one when he says:

Leaving the crowds, you see, the Lord alone ascended into heaven after his resurrection, and there he intercedes for us (Romans 8:34) as the apostle says. (Sermon 75)

The first image then is that of Jesus praying on a high place while down below, on the waters, the bark of Peter is being assailed by contrary winds and the waves of the sea. Even now, the Lord intercedes for us, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews would say

During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of the death and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation and was acclaimed by God with the title of high priest of the Order of Melchizedek.

He is the High Priest then who prays for the Church. But then there is a second image: He walks on the waters and He presents Himself as "I Am."

Jesus walking on the sea like one on a Sunday stroll (the verb peripatein is used) is a manifestation of God. There are Old Testament passages that declare it is God alone who can walk over the waters. In the Creation account, we find the Creator God breathing over the waters of the Deep. The Sea symbolizes the primordial Tohu-wa-Bohu (formlessness and nothingness) upon which God pronounces His creative Word. In Matthew’s account, the Lord shows forth His mastery over the saves of the sea by walking on it. Allied to this image is the identification of Jesus as "I Am" the name that God reveals to Moses in Exodus 3:16. "I am I AM", he declares, "tell them I AM has sent you." And so when Peter asks the Lord to let him come towards Him on the sea, he was asking for something that we all want: to be where the Lord is, since where He is, there is peace and security.

The third image immediately follows the second one. Peter sinks because he had "small faith." He flounders because he grew frightened of the winds and the waves. He cries out then, "Lord, save me!" And the Lord immediately extends his hands to grasp Peter and save him from being totally overwhelmed. The Lord is Savior. He extends his big hands to those who like Peter, cry out to Him in prayer, "Lord, save me!"

This theophany of the Lord’s mastery over the waters ends with the disciples worshipping Him and confessing: "Truly you are the Son of God." It is a confession that anticipates what the Roman centurion and his companions will later on declare at the cross: "Truly this was the Son of God" (Matthew 27:54). The title "Son of God" also means that the one who bears it is "God", just as the Imperial religion presents Tiberius Caesar and Caligula as "gods". But on the lips of Jews who have known and recognized only one God, to say that Jesus is "Son of God" is not only a declaration of religious recognition, but also a declaration against the false gods of the Empire.

Originally posted 2011-08-06 22:29:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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