12 April, 2013
The Unknown Forces of Chaos
This story addresses the primal fears that cripple us as human beings and as followers of Jesus, which are fears of the power of chaos in its many and varied forms, from the uncontrollable powers of nature to the irrational forces that suddenly arise from the depths of our personal lives. Symbolized as storms, wind, and ghosts, these unknown forces of chaos blow through our lives and the fear of these powers often leads us into weak resignation, cowardice, and withdrawal. This story is an experience of testing those powers, discerning who is truly in control and taking the first steps toward true discipleship. The Exegetical Background
A comparison of the different ways in which Matthew and Mark tell this story is interesting, as both of the stories are epiphanies of Jesus on the sea. Mark presents this story as a theophany that reveals Jesus’ divine character. Mark’s puzzling inside view of Jesus intending to “pass by them” (Mark 6.48) is related to the frequent motif that “alludes to God’s veiled self-disclosure to Moses (Exodus 33.18-23) and Elijah (1 Kings 19.11-12)” (Attridge 2006, 1736). Matthew has included, in this story, other elements from the Old Testament traditions of divine appearances. “It is I” is a translation of the Greek ego eimi, which is the name of God in the theophany at the burning bush (Exodus 3.14). Translating this phrase as “I am” more clearly preserves that “Jesus’ words suggest the name of God or his mysterious divine presence” (Attridge 2006, 1694). These motifs in Matthew are the most explicit characterization of Jesus as a divine figure to this point in the narrative. However, the most distinctive element of Matthew’s telling of the story is “the incident of Peter’s attempt to walk on the water” (Brown 1968, 89). This transferal of Jesus’ divine power to Peter is Matthew’s unique contribution to this narrative tradition.
The story has an unusually complex setting that requires two episodes to get everything in place. The first episode draws the “remarkable miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish” (Casciaro 2000, 140) to a close and introduces the boat and the trip across the sea to “Bethsaida, on the north-northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee” (Attridge 2006, 1736). The second episode sets the scene for the walking on the water. “The same atmosphere of rife messianic expectation is subtly suggested by Mark and is essential to this episode” (Brown 1968, 35). The scene in the evening is one of increasing anxiety: “Jesus’ private prayer, in an interlude between one demanding activity and another” (Casciaro 2000, 140); the boat way out on the sea, being beaten by the waves. Once again, as in the description of the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7.26), the narrative comment here, “for the wind was against them,” explains not only why they were having so much trouble with the waves but also why the storyteller described it with so much intensity. The climax of the setting is then this confidential comment by the storyteller to the listeners which describes the disciples’ frightening and lonely journey.
“Galilee [at this time] was the hotbed of revolution” (Barclay 2001, 185) and this passage takes place in the “springtime […] near the Passover time, which was in the middle of April” (Barclay 2001, 122). The implication of the setting, “in the fourth watch of the night,” is that the disciples spent most of the night trying to get across the lake against the wind. “The Romans divided the night into four parts or watches…” (Casciaro 2000,258) from 6:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. into four three-hour shifts. The fourth night was “the period of about three hours before dawn” (Brown 1968, 89). The Theological Lesson
The atmosphere of this setting is the tone of impending terror typical of ghost stories, the deep darkness of the night when spirits walk among the tombs. Matthew...
Bibliography: * Attridge, Harold W., ed. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.
* Barclay, William. The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark. Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
* Barclay, William. The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew. Volume II. Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
* Brown, Raymond E. The Jerome Biblical Commentary. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1968.
* Casciaro, Jose M., ed. The Navarre Bible: Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. New York: Scepter Publishers Inc., 2000.
* Laymon, Charles M., ed. The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1971.
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