Even when grieving for John the Baptist, Jesus has compassion on the crowds and cures their sick. As evening approaches, the crowds are hungry and Jesus responds by producing much from little, a symbolic reflection of the growth of the kingdom of God. Jesus has given a banquet in the wilderness from very little, and Matthew deliberately contrasts this with Herod’s birthday party earlier in the chapter, where the very few at his banquet had great abundance.
Herod’s selfish banquet and Jesus’ joyous feast in the wilderness sit in contrast. Herod’s self-indulgence leads to his murder of God’s prophet. Jesus compassion leads him to satisfy the needs of the sick and hungry crowds.
The banquet Jesus holds is a foreshadowing of the heavenly banquet. It is simple and everyone has enough to satisfy them. The two events together demonstrate some fundamental truths found in this gospel. In John and Herod’s case, it is better to risk death and live on in glory than be alive and dead in spirit.
Where do we sit today in this story? Are we satisfied with enough or surrounded by excess? Are our churches truly alive in spirit? Or have we been beguiled our own wants?
Jesus has gone alone to pray on a mountain, and the disciples are still in the boat on the lake. They are alone and drifting on an increasingly stormy sea during the night.
Early in the morning they see what they think is an apparition walking on the waves towards them. Jesus reassures them it is him and calls Peter to walk across the water to him. Peter becomes afraid and has to be saved from sinking in the water. Jesus chides the disciples for their lack of faith.
This story symbolises the opposition that both Jesus and the disciples will meet. Their progress in preaching the gospel will be impeded by stormy times and resistance. When Jesus leaves the disciples alone to face the growing storm, they are afraid and panic. Their faith wavers and they do not perform well in this dress rehearsal and are in danger of sinking amidst the turmoil.
Peter stands as a prototype of all post-Easter Christians. He mixes fear and boldness, faith and doubt, obedience and confusion. He plays out the life of the Christian community in all its facets.
What are the stormy times we face as a church today? How might we face them boldly?
Every one of us can be caught in the familiar and well-worn patterns of our lives. We know what we think about certain issues; we know what we think about certain people. In the familiarity of our lives, we can perhaps breed contempt all too easily.
This Gospel story provides us with an unexpected picture of Jesus, confronting a woman who acts out of character, who transgresses the rules of behaviour for her day, and who provokes Jesus into seeing things differently.
The Gospel story also provides us with a role model of faithful discipleship as the woman was not constrained by social mores and acted in ways that she might once have thought inconceivable. Her behaviour raises interesting questions about how we are called to live out our beliefs, to put into practice our ideals, and to travel in different ways along the path that we are called to follow.
Today there are still voices that press us to toe the line and follow the well-worn conventions of society and tradition. There are voices that invite us to remain comfortable, settled, and unchanging. But the path of discipleship invites us into a risky adventure and beckons us into a new and different way of being.
In Matthew’s Gospel, the conversations reported in our reading today symbolises a major turning point in the story. The question “Who is this man?” is asked at a number of places in the Gospel (8:27, 11:3). In this section, Jesus himself asks the question “Who do people say I am?” The disciples report that there are a number of views. Jesus presses on, querying who they think he is. Here for the first time, Jesus’ full identity is named by a human character, Peter, who recognises that Jesus is in fact the Christos, the Messiah.
There have been a lot of clues as to the answer to this question. Both demons and heavenly voices have suggested Jesus’ identity, as well as the deeds of Jesus themselves. But it is only now that the secret of Jesus’ identity is spoken aloud by the disciples.
The use of the word ‘church’ (Greek ekklesia) is unique to this Gospel. It suggests that Matthew is writing at a time where his Christian community is keen to establish its identity. The question of ‘who am I’ is not just about Jesus, but also about his followers.
Who are we as a church? How do we identify our faith journey?
From this point on in the story, Jesus turns towards Jerusalem and his destiny. The walk along the road to his persecution and crucifixion has begun. Jesus now reveals to his disciples the fate which awaits him, including the necessity of dying on the cross.
Despite the protests from Peter, Jesus calls his disciples to take up their cross, and follow him along the path of martyrdom to ultimate glory, asking the question: What will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?
Surely this is calling us to a sacrificial way of being, where we go beyond ourselves and our own needs and comforts. Surely this is saying to us that we are called to die to self and be raised again in generous lives that are lived for the love of the neighbour.
Jesus calls us to actually live our lives in line with our beliefs, to let our ‘works’ be seen as a light on a hill would be seen. The path we walk as followers of the risen One requires we that we embody in all ways what we proclaim.
Rev. Elizabeth Raine