Matthew 14:22-36 – 15:1-20

Gospel Readings:

Matthew 14:22-33
Matthew 14:34-36
Matthew 15:1-20

Devotion 1

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, allowing space for God’s voice to be heard.

Read: Matthew 14:22-33

After the feast in the wilderness, the disciples begin to cross the lake, while Jesus dismisses the crowds and goes up the mountain, to pray. In what follows, a number of themes emerge which would be significant for Matthew’s community.

At the time of Matthew’s writing, the Roman Empire was likely under the rule the emperor Domitian. He was a ruler who, like other other emperors, claimed the title of “Son of God”, and was said to have power over sea and land.1 Of course, such claims to divinity were refuted in Israel’s tradition, which was fiercely monotheistic and refused imperial claims of divinity. Moreover, the centrepiece of Israel’s tradition was an event, the Exodus from Egypt, whereby Israel’s God acted to save them from such totalising imperial claims by parting the waters in a miraculous story of salvation. In this story, as the wind blew all night, the Israelite people, having been told by Moses to “take heart,” stepped out where the sea had been and, as dawn broke, were delivered from Pharaoh’s oppressive regime.

Today’s reading bares striking resonance to Israel’s Exodus tradition: the disciples out on the sea, the strong wind, the breaking dawn, Jesus’ command to “take heart.” The stage is set for something remarkable to happen. And it does. In narrating this story, Matthew invites his readers into a deeper recognition of who Jesus is. As Jesus walks toward the disciples on the water, evokes the words of Psalm 77: 2

“Your way was through the sea,

your path, through the mighty waters;

yet your footprints were unseen” (Ps 77:19)

The words which Jesus speaks to the disciples: ““Take heart, I am; do not be afraid” use the divine self-designation which God spoke to Moses (Ex 3:14). And the disciple’s response recognises that Jesus is the Son of God.

For Matthew’s community, “battered” by the forces of foreign domination,3 the story is an invitation to faith—to commit to living out the way of Jesus even in the teeth of empire, knowing that the emperor Domitian’s claims to power over sea and land, even to divinity, and so to have absolute power and authority over the empire and its subjects, are false claims. They have been countered by the peasant from Nazareth in Galilee, who has exposed the empire’s domination as fragile and unsustainable and has shown another way. At times they will be afraid. At times, they will feel like all they can do is cry out “Lord, save me!” And, Matthew’s Gospel affirms, he will.

Reflect:

  • In what ways can you relate to Peter’s cry, “Lord, save me!”?
  • How do you sense God’s Spirit inviting you to live out this story?

Pray

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

1.  Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2000), 310.

2. Ben Witherington III, Matthew: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2006), 293.

3. Carter, Matthew and the Margins, 309, notes that “[t]he verb battered evokes political tyranny; its use is pervasive in 2 and 4 Maccabees in relation to torture from Antiochus Epiphanes.”

Devotion 2

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, aware of God’s presence in a broken world.

Read: Matthew 14:34-36

As Jesus lands at Gennesaret, a Galilean village between Capernaum and Magdala, the people recognise (epiginóskó) him.  In Matthew’s Gospel, recognition of Jesus happens because of divine revelation—Jesus has already affirmed that “[a]ll things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one recognises (epiginōskei) the Son except the Father, and no one recognises the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Mt 11:27). Here, immediately after Jesus has strikingly revealed himself to his disciples on the sea, the people of Gennesaret also recognise him.

The result is that those who are sick, suffering from the effects of exploitation and impoverishment, are brought to Jesus. Like the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years (Mt 9:21), they touch “the fringe of his cloak” and are healed.

Reflect:

  • In what ways have you had experiences of recognising Jesus?
  • What have been the outcomes of this recognition?

Pray for one another, that we might recognise Jesus in our lives and neighbourhoods this week.

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

Devotion 3

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of repentance together, aware of our inadequacy and God’s grace.

Read: Matthew 15:1-20

The Pharisees’ position in Matthew’s narrative as those who are concerned more about purity and group boundaries than mercy and inclusion is further solidified in this encounter. Here, the Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem, he centre of power and economic resources in Palestine come to Jesus to “check him out.” Their concern for hand-washing is almost laughable as they walk into this scene, where Jesus is healing “all who were sick” at Gennesaret (14:34-36). Jesus’ concern and that of the Pharisees’ are poles apart.

Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees sets the scene for teaching the crowd. Perhaps we can hear echoes here of the conflicts in the Jesus communities of the late first century. Should followers of Jesus observe Jewish food laws concerning purity and table fellowship? Matthew’s Jesus doesn’t say. Instead, he invites his hearers to look inside: Real impurity has not to do with food, but with the heart. Tragically, in their concern for purity, the Pharisees of Matthew’s Gospel have failed to recognise God, unlike the people of Gennesaret, who recognised Jesus and found healing. Instead, the Pharisees will be exposed just as the weeds growing alongside the wheat (Mt 13:36-43).

For the people of Matthew’s community, Jesus’ teaching here is an invitation to let go of anxieties around outward acts of purity in order to discern who is “in” and who is “out”, and to live more deeply in the ways of God’s mercy which extends to all people. And they are an affirmation in the face of those voices seeking to de-legitimate them as they sought to be discipleship communities of radical, boundary-crossing love.

Reflect:

  • Reflect on the beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Mt 5:8). How do you hear it in light of this reading?
  • In what ways have you experienced concern for purity or group boundaries inhibit recognising God?
  • What challenges or encouragements is God’s Spirit speaking to you in this story?

Pray

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

Devotion 4

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of gratitude together, giving thanks for the ways you’ve experienced God’s loving kindness.

This week’s Common Value: Redistribution

Read: Acts 4:32-37

Ask: How might we help foster just economic and political relations in our neighbourhood and world this week?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer