Connections 08.13.2017: To Be Bold…

Matthew 14:22-33

I love many things about this brief story: (1) Jesus tells the crowds to go home and then wanders up the mountain to spend some much-needed time alone with God; (2) Jesus walks on the rough waters toward his disciples, who are exhausted after a stormy night at sea; (3) the disciples don’t recognize Jesus at first, and the sight of him makes them even more fearful; (4) Jesus, as always, has compassion on them and soothes them with assurance of his care; (5) Peter is still uncertain and needs a little more proof, and he’s brave enough to step onto the water; (6) Peter gets distracted by what’s happening around him and cries out to Jesus, who, as always, has compassion on him and helps him; (7) the disciples respond with worship and praise and declaration: Jesus is truly who he says he is. The title of our session is “Come with Boldness,” and every element of the story requires people to be bold.

(1) Surrounded by adoring, needy crowds, Jesus is bold enough to tell them enough is enough; it’s time for them to go home and move forward with their lives. He needs to recharge on his own with the Lord.

(2) As the sun rises on the morning after a stormy night, Jesus boldly steps onto—not into—the choppy water, trusting that the divine side of himself will overcome any human limitations. He needs to continue to step firmly into his identity as the Son of God, and he wants his disciples to witness that boldness.

(3) When they see the miraculous figure of a man walking on the sea, the disciples are bold enough to express their doubts, to question what they see, to be sure before they place their faith in their eyesight.

(4) Jesus senses their fear, hears their uncertainty, and boldly affirms that he is their beloved friend and also their Lord; they have no need to be afraid.

(5) Peter, always one of the most human of the disciples, still isn’t sure this ghostly figure is Jesus. With boldness, he asks for proof, and with even more boldness, he steps onto—not into—the choppy water toward the one who says he is Jesus.

(6) This incredibly human disciple, like many of us, takes his eyes off the Lord and realizes the danger that surrounds him. He gets distracted and starts to sink, but he is bold enough to cry out and admit his weakness: “Lord, save me!” And Jesus does.

(7) After witnessing this dramatic interaction between Peter and Jesus and feeling the wind die down, the other disciples, still clinging to the boat, make the bold declaration that Jesus truly is “the Son of God.”

What’s the lesson for us in this little story, so packed with events? The lesson is to be bold. When you are overwhelmed, be bold in insisting on a retreat from the busyness of the world. When you are sure of your calling by God, be bold in showing others who you are. When you feel uncertain about what you see, be bold enough to question it. When you get distracted and make a mistake, be bold in asking God for help. And, when you have witnessed the incredible power and compassion of Jesus, be bold enough to proclaim it.

Discussion

1. This brief story contains several important events in the lives of Jesus and his disciples. Which one stands out to you and why?
2. If you have read this story before, what are some new things that you discovered about it in this reading?
3. In what ways do you identify with the disciples? With Peter in particular?
4. What does it mean to be bold? How can boldness be a positive quality in any kind of situation? When might it be negative?
5. Why do you think it’s important to be a bold disciple of Christ, no matter the situation? What exactly does that mean to you?

Reference Shelf

It has often been pointed out that walking on water is something only God can do in the Old Testament (Job 9:8; Ps 77:19), which means we should indeed see this scene as an epiphany revealing the divine character of Jesus, an appropriate focus in a biography. Interestingly it is Wisdom of whom this ability to walk on water is predicated in Sirach 24:5-6, and it can be said with certainty that the portrayal of Jesus as the incarnation of divine Wisdom is an early christological thrust. Jesus’ act instilled terror. The disciples thought Jesus was a phantasm, a ghost, perhaps even a sea demon, since it was believed that demons dwelt in such places. Their response then was not to shout hooray but to scream in panic. Jesus responded to the crisis immediately, saying “Courage, ego eimi. Do not fear.” At this juncture we have the Matthean addition to the Markan storyline, but before we discuss vv. 28-31, it needs to be said that it is certainly possible that ego eimi here means no more than “It is I myself ” or “It’s me.”

There was indeed the issue of identity raised at this juncture since the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost, and in the Matthean account this motif is heightened by adding the query of Peter as to whether it actually is Jesus. However, Psalm 115:9ff.; 118:5f.; Isaiah 41:4ff., 13ff., 43:1ff., 44:2ff., 51:9ff. suggest that such words coupled with an admonition to take courage and have no fear appear to make up a formula of divine self-revelation. Then too the walking on the water points us to the more theophanic interpretation of these words. Notice for example Psalm 77:19: “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters, yet your footprints were unseen.” One must conclude that while the disciples in the story simply take the words as Jesus’ way of identifying himself (and so again show their spiritual imperceptivity), nonetheless the Matthean audience was likely supposed to take these words as of a more pregnant ilk. Jesus is being portrayed as a divine person, indeed as Wisdom walking on the water as in Sirach 24. Moses never walked on water.

Ben Witherington III, Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 290-92.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a local charity serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (12) and Natalie (10) and her husband John. For fun, she tries to stay caught up on the latest amazing TV series (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and The Crown).

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