Musings on Scripture

– and what isn’t always said

Tag: Galilee

Trinity 10A

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Matthew 14:22-36: Jesus Walks on the Water

22Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while He dismissed the crowds. 23After He had dismissed the crowds, He went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25Early in the morning He came walking towards them on the lake. 26When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ They cried out in fear, 27but immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is me; do not be afraid.’

28Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus, 30but when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased, 33and those in the boat worshipped Him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

34When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35After the people of that place recognised Him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to Him, 3636and begged Him that they might touch even the fringe of His cloak; and all who touched it were healed.How long, O Lord?

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.


Last week’s gospel told us the story of the feeding of the 5000, which was reportedly only the count of men, not of the women and children who made up the rest of the crowd. The disciples, having cleaned up twelve baskets full of remnants – but not having done anything with them – are told to get into a boat and head for the distant shore while Jesus makes sure the crowd dissipates. Having accomplished all He needed to do in that place Jesus makes time to be alone with God, and, like any introvert, to recharge His battery. Crowds can be tiring, and can make too much noise for God to be heard. Extroverts, please note! This was one of many occasions on which Jesus disappeared from view so He could spend time with God. Those who want to follow in Christ’s footsteps, as any good Christian should, need to take time out for God.

It was dark; it was windy; the waves were creating quite a spray; yet Jesus came walking on the water, in the middle of the lake, or Sea of Galilee. No wonder the disciples were terrified. I think I’d need some clean underwear too! Despite them having spent time with Jesus, learning His ways and His teachings, and getting a sense of who He really was, to see a human figure walking across the water would have appeared very much like seeing a ghost. I don’t know how effective it would have been, but Jesus continues towards them and tells them not to be afraid. They were already afraid before He spoke. Surely speaking to them would make them more afraid, not less. Most English translations take the Greek εγω ειμι (ego aimee) and give us “it is I” when good English grammar, as distinct from the Greek grammar, needs “it is me.”

εγω ειμι is The Great “I AM”, not only of the Hebrew Scriptures but also of Christ’s own discourse with the disciples, in which He said “I AM the bread of life”, “I AM the way”, “I AM the truth”, and more.

Peter was still unsure of what he was seeing, so blurted out for Jesus to call him across the water. With eyes firmly focussed on Christ, and having accepted the invitation to come to Him, Peter sets out to meet up with Jesus. While his focus is on Christ he succeeds in his efforts, but as soon as his concentration is taken up by what he is doing he begins to sink. Anything is possible with God, even walking on water, but once we lose sight of Him we fall for everything that can go wrong. What does that say to us when we don’t follow the teachings of Christ, or the example He set with the foot-washing, and the establishment of the Eucharist?

Peter, the one held up as a founding father of the Church, failed to keep his focus on God, and had to be rescued, again, and again. How many times was Peter rescued by Christ? Let’s just say “a lot”. In Matthew 8 Jesus was asleep in the stern of a boat when a storm raged, and after He was woken He rebuked the wind, and it stopped, so why did He not rebuke the wind this time, before He got to the boat? Doing so would have been just as effective for the disciples as calming the storm when He had reached them. Was their declaration that Jesus is the Son of God truly a revelation for them, or a response to seeing someone calm a storm as quickly and easily as Christ did for them? We may never know until we get a chance to ask in the next life.

I was trying to locate Gennesaret on a map of the region in the time of Christ, and to work out where the earlier gathering might have been, but there are different renditions of where the town might have been. That, of course, is the analyst in me wanting to get an accurate picture of where things happened, but what happened is far more important than where it happened. Jesus was recognised – despite His habit of disappearing His fame went before Him and He couldn’t escape being known. Not only that, but also people were so sure of His power to heal them that they only needed to touch the hem of His dress (robe) to be healed. Does that remind us of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years (Matthew 9:20)? Even just her touch of His robe was picked up by Christ, who felt the healing power go from Him. Those who succeeded in touching Him or His robe were healed, such was their faith. We don’t have the luxury of having Christ visiting us in the same way, or do we? Those who walk as Christ can often heal just by their presence and people listening, and we won’t know if Christ is in the person next to us in the street, or in the supermarket, or at a sporting event – where they can be held – unless we are open to that possibility, and thinking of others rather than ourselves.

8th January 2017

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment
acts-10-b
©2014 new-life.org.au

Acts 10: 34-43

34Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation, anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him. 36You know the message He sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — He is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39We are witnesses to all that He did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree; 40but God raised Him on the third day and allowed Him to appear, 41not to all the people, but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.’

Text © The New Revised Standard Version (English Edition) alt, used with permission.


It horrifies me to think of all the times I’ve heard people say, or imply, that someone isn’t a Christian because that person doesn’t belong to a particular denomination.  Peter, talking to a Gentile group after being summoned by Cornelius, a Roman soldier, is very specific here in declaring that God shows no partiality. Unfortunately for native English speakers, “fear” now has the connotation of “dread” as if something nasty will happen. Though “fear” is derived from the Greek word used here, a better translation of phoboumenos would be “hold in awe” because that is the sense implied in the Greek. To his audience Peter would have been quite clear: just because you are of Roman origin, and have had no contact or relationship with the God whom the Jews have been worshipping for centuries, does not preclude you from God’s love and grace. Peter was, of course, speaking out of his experience with the risen Christ, and encouraging his audience to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Note the challenge, though. If we are to emulate God in this world then we must show no partiality at all. When I was asked how a priest should respond if an openly homosexual person should enquire about being part of the parish I responded: ‘we can consider the person to be sick, and we are called to minister; we can consider the person a sinner, and we are called to minister; or we can consider the person normal, and we are called to minister; so the only choice available is to minister, and not to judge.’ I wish I could claim I always respond in the same way when faced with other situations which might disturb my well-being, but that is the challenge. Our partiality, of course, isn’t limited to how we relate to other Christians; it is deeply ingrained in the way our society works, so it is hard to set it aside. Do we shudder when asked to help someone who has no food, no home and no money? Do we run the other way when an openly homosexual couple walks into church? Do we expunge from our lives all the good memories of people whose encounter with Satan has led them astray, or do we celebrate the good and pray for forgiveness for the bad? We should ask ourselves how God would respond, and do the same.

Peter’s summary of Christ’s ministry is very succinct. Though physical and time restrictions meant that Jesus spent His entire ministry in a small area there is no indication in what Peter says that the message is limited only to that geographic area. Indeed, his comments to the people gathered by Cornelius show that there is no limit. Jesus went about doing good. He also went about “healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” Are we following in Christ’s footsteps, healing those who have been oppressed by the devil? At least one priest I knew was told to stop casting demons out of the lives of those who sought him, even though we are all commissioned to do so by Christ himself.

One question I have asked myself many times is did Christ rise from the dead or was He raised from the dead. “What’s the difference?” do I hear you ask? It all boils down to who did the raising, was it Christ (as second person in the Trinity), or was it God (as first person)?

Christ may not have appeared to a large number of people, after his resurrection, but to those who had lived with Him through His ministry He was as bodily intact as they were. Peter tells us that He ate and drank with them. This was no figment of someone’s imagination: there were too many who had the experience, and all of them were transformed into people who had the confidence to preach the Good News, irrespective of the consequences. Is that how our churches work today? Are our priests expected to be the only ones jumping up and down with joy at the Good News, or are we going to share in that ministry? How often do priests not do what they feel called by God to do because of some perceived possible consequence? When a priest’s licence can be withdrawn at any time and without explanation because someone else shows partiality, God’s work can be threatened by humans.

The last verse of this reading is a first century Christian slant on how the prophets, well known to the Jewish people but not to the Gentiles, tried to bring people back to worshipping God, and having their sins forgiven as a result of the new righteousness. That message rings loud and clear for us today, too. If we, like sheep, have gone astray, but return to the flock then, just like any doting parent of a child who has wandered off, God will forgive our sins – forgive, not forget. God doesn’t keep a count of our sins, but might just remind us if we are about to stray down the same path again. Whether we are listening or not is another matter.

9th October 2016

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment
The Healing of the Ten Lepers - Luke 17:11-19
JESUS MAFA, ‘Healing of the Ten Lepers’ from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Luke 17:11-19

11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As He entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” As they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him. He was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? but the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then He said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Text © New Revised Standard Version, used with permission.


In biblical times lepers were far more shunned than they are now, and were forced to live outside the towns for fear that they would infect everyone else, so Jesus meeting a group of lepers on the outskirts of a village should be no surprise, but their reaction to His presence raises questions. How did these people, who could not associate with the rest of the community, find out about Jesus and His healing ministry? Some people will explain that by claiming that they must have had some contact with people, or they had heard others talking about Him, but why couldn’t the Holy Spirit let them know so that this story could be told, to show how far from God the Jewish leaders of the day, and ultimately that includes us, had strayed? Jesus claimed that He came not to those who were well, but to the sick, and He showed His compassion for these ten outcasts. However, for them to be integrated back into the community they had to show themselves to the local priest for confirmation of their healing. All ten had enough faith in Jesus for them to head to the priest as if they were already healed, but only one, realising that he had been healed by Jesus, came back to give thanks. I thought the almost total disappearance of “please” and “thank you” in today’s world was bad, but this is the same story two thousand years ago, and Jesus was not happy! As a Jew, Jesus was reminded, by the Canaanite woman who said “even the dogs eat the scraps from the Master’s table” [Matt. 15:27] that His ministry was not limited to people of His own faith. Here, again, it is the foreigner, the highly despised Samaritan – remember the story of the “Good Samaritan” – who is so moved that he wanted to thank both the source and the means of delivery for the healing he had received. Such was his gratefulness that he prostrated himself. How many times have we done that when we give thanks to anyone for something they’ve done for us? I certainly didn’t when I saw my surgeon last week. We aren’t told if this man returned immediately or after being seen by the priest, but the important point isn’t whether it was before or after; the important bit is that he sought out Jesus to give Him thanks.

I’m also struck by the immediacy of this healing. Like Jairus’ daughter, and Peter’s mother-in-law, and many others, a prayer for instant healing was answered with instant healing. I’ve long held the belief that if we ask for what God wants to give us then our prayers will be answered in the way we want them to be – just like these lepers; but if we ask for something which God is not prepared to give us just yet, or in the form we ask for, then we risk being disillusioned about our prayers. That, however, shouldn’t stop us from asking for instant healing and being prepared to accept what is offered by the one who knows what is in our best interest, even if we don’t. Are we stopping ourselves, or do we need some more mustard seeds? [Matt. 17:20]

The last verse is interesting, and the interest relates to translation of the text. What we see as “get up” comes from a Greek word used in the early church in relation to resurrection, not just physically getting off the ground, and the word which most English translations render as “made … well”, or something similar, is actually the verb “to save”, also as in the sense of resurrection. Hence it would be better to finish this passage with “your faith has saved you.” Of all the different translations of the Bible in my collection, only the Jerusalem Bible renders it closely to the meaning of the Greek verb. My Jewish New Testament Commentary – yes, there is such a thing – also highlights that this has to do with salvation, not just healing in the here and now. The Samaritan has not only been healed, as were the other nine, but has been given a new life as well.

What does that revelation mean for us? This Samaritan had the faith not only to realise that God had healed him, but also to want to give thanks to God, through Jesus, for that healing. In exchange, though not as a bait for his actions, he knew he would be in the community of the resurrected people. Do we give thanks when God does something for us? When I’m running a little late and approaching a set of traffic lights which could turn red at any moment I often give thanks if the lights don’t change before I get through; but are those thanks really genuine, or have they become so frequent as to render them somewhat automatic?