Job 38:4-18; Ps. 18:1-16 (ant. v. 46); Romans 10:5-17; Matthew 14:22-33.
Word, [T]he righteousness based on faith says… “The word (of faith) is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” vv. 6a, 8a.
On occasion Jesus is inconveniently interrupted; still he came to do his Father’s will, not his own (Jn. 6:38). Last Sunday Jesus was in need of communion with the Father, but crowds pursued him; their need for healing and teaching, for God’s “compassion” (Mt. 14:14) outweighed his own.
When evening approached, his Apostles wanted to dismiss the throng to find their own supper; instead Jesus commanded they feed the 5,000- plus with resources at hand, five loaves and two fish. When all were sated, Jesus sent the disciples on-ahead, a sea crossing in the dead of night, after which he dismissed the crowd, ascending the mountain for prayer.
What was his prayer? Jesus was shaken at the news of JB’s murder by Herod Antipas’ family. Violence against his kingdom was ramping up (Mt. 11:12); now his own passion and cross was graphically in view.
God’s glory would be revealed in Jesus’ spilt blood and broken flesh; an all-sufficient sacrifice for sin and restoration of communion with God in the NT. For this glory Jesus had come into the world; still Jesus was distressed, such that only his Father’s voice could provide peace and renewed resolve for his mission.
From atop the mountain Jesus no doubt beheld his apostles in their own distress on the sea. Jesus’ prayer would have included them as well; for faith’s strengthening, and their confession of his Lordship on which his church would be founded.
Being alone in the middle of the sea is a “perilous place” (LSB 717, Navy Hymn); at the moment the Twelve were seemingly separated from Jesus’ protection and proximity. Night sailing in stormy weather is not for faint of heart. Dark and tempestuous water is the home of Leviathan, cypher for demons, chaos and evil, lurking monsters, and life snatching death. The disciples were “tormented” by wind and wave.
Fortunately, it was the last watch of night, harbinger of dawn’s early light and hope of calm. But then the Twelve were assaulted with an utter impossibility; Jesus walking toward them, a divine “hill and gully rider”, treading the deep as though on dry land. The disciples thought Jesus a specter that magnified their terror.
St. Mark reports Jesus intended to pass-by his Apostles (Mk. 6:48c), an allusion to YHWH’s by-passing Moses for revealing his glory (Ex. 33:17—34:8). But Jesus’ Pearl of Great Price, his NT church for which he would give all, feared his approach; Jesus would have no less “compassion” toward his own than earlier shown the crowd.
Jesus assured the boat that he was not a phantasm, projection, or source of mass delusion; he was himself in his flesh and divinity. Jesus then employed the language of divinity; an absolution, “Take heart; it is I (ego eimi). Do not be afraid.” (Mt. 14:27).
St. John informs that the Passover was at hand (Jn. 6:4), giving the disciples to connect Jesus’ appearance with YHWH parting the Red Sea to save his people from Pharaoh.
In walking over the sea Jesus displayed man’s intended dominion in the creation and over evil powers in it. Jesus acted over nature and Leviathan. In our walk with Jesus we associate ourselves with the One of whom the Psalmist boasts, “[Y]ou broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan, you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness” (Ps. 74:13b, 14).
Jesus’ multiplication of loaves and fish in a desert place focused the Twelve that YHWH fed Israel in the wilderness with manna, the bread of angels (78:25) and quail by way of the sea (Num. 11:31).
Feeding the 5,000 was a “collect”; a summation demonstrating Jesus’ “bread and fish” parables: the Sower, Wheat and Weeds, Woman Leavening Loaves, and the Dragnet of Good and Bad Fish (Mt. 13:1-9 & 18-23; 24-30 & 36-43; v. 33; 47-50). Jesus’ multiplication, distribution and dismissal (de missa) was a catechetical event that Jesus is God’s word “come near to men” to be confessed with mouths and treasured in hearts (Rom. 10:8, 9).
The reserved bread and fish in the twelve apostolic baskets was sign of the church’s feeding ministry, for advancing her to the new reality that you and I approach Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day: that Jesus comes to us, the Divine-Man who judges sin and bestows forgiveness in sharing his crucified and risen flesh and blood to the glory of the Father.
Unique to Matthews water walking is that Peter challenged Jesus for something more than his word of absolution; “Lord, if it is you, bid me to come to you on the water” (Mt. 17:28). Peter is invited and enthusiastically entered where angels fear to tread (Isa. 6:2), face-to-face communion with the God of all creation.
Religious enthusiasm, seeks experience(s) beyond trust in Jesus’ word; it rarely ends well. For a moment Peter possessed “faith in the nearness of the incarnate word of God” (Rom. 10:8a); but by experiencing wind and wave lost focus; being at arm’s length of Jesus, Peter began to sink into the realm of Leviathan, crying for Jesus to save. Before Thomas in the Resurrection, Peter was first to earn the moniker “doubter”, “little-faith” (Mt. 14:31b).
Feeding 5,000 and water walking reveal Jesus who gives his church her food received in Thanksgiving for advance from faith to faith.
Today, Peter by foment of worldly distraction, the sea splashing about his ankles, caused him to move from enthusiasm’s faith to doubt. Peter lost focus on Jesus who by his word alone saves, joining himself to us in the water of our Baptism and Eucharistic feeding.
In the Resurrection “Doubting Peter and Thomas”, and you and I, locate our salvation by faith in Jesus’ word alone. YHWH challenged Job to gird his loins and tell him, “if you know understanding” (Job 38:3, 4, 18). Only by God’s word do we know understanding; it is revealed in what Jesus tells us, discerned in the command to partake church’s breaking the Bread for faith to faith. Amen.