Jesus asks his disciples this question in today’s Gospel from Matthew 16:13-20. The author and academic C S Lewis once contended that the answer most people gives falls into three categories: Lord, lunatic or liar. Peter said Jesus was “… the Christ (Messiah, anointed one), the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Peter clearly put Jesusin the Lord category! Jesus commended Peter highly for this. Not because Peter had passed a test, but because it showed faith given to him by God at work in his life. It’s the same faith upon which Christ has built his church of which we are a part. He continues to have his church do his work of loosing people from sin and its eternal separation from him. It’s still urgent work as it’s unlikely that more people have never known who Jesus really is…
It seems there was quite a scene that day when Jesus withdrew out of Galilee into the northern non-Jewish (gentile) realm of Tyre and Sidon. Confronted by a desperate mum seeking her child’s deliverance from a demon there is plenty of awkward to and fro. Pretty much everyone these days rightly feels uncomfortable about the apparent harshness of Jesus (notwithstanding that comes from what I suspect is a cursory rather than a close reading of the text). All of us feel for the Canaanite woman begging on her knees. May the Spirit keep growing faith in us as she had, and may we be encouraged by our assured place at God’s table. May we also be led by the Spirit to confidently ask and serve out of that faith.
The earlier troubles of Tyre… As part of preparing the sermon this week I got distracted (nothing unusual there!) by the history of Tyre. What a story! It was a key centre in the pagan worship of the Baals which meant it was always problematic for Israel and Judah as they oscillated in their faithfulness to the one true God. But beyond Tyre’s southern neighbours, well before the time of Christ, the presence of a key temple on island of Tyre indirectly started the conflict with Alexander ‘the Great’. This conflict led to Alexander’s impressive engineering to build a causeway out to the fortified island, and his subsequent total conquest. It’s in the region of the flattened remains of this area that today’s account of Jesus and the Canaanite woman took place. If you are inclined, I found this to be a well paced and entertaining read of Tyre’s history: https://biblereadingarcheology.com/2017/09/13/what-happened-to-tyre/
I’m hoping that today’s sermon on Matthew 14:22-33 is one that encourages you in faith. That Jesus walks on water and what he says as he does so shows in several ways that he is God, given the way it connects to key parts of the Old Testament. That Peter both believes and is moved to action yet doubts and sinks certainly feels realistic and adds to its authenticity. Has this ever happened to you… quite possibly in the past week now you think about it? The general environment of the choppy seas and the winds that threaten is another realistic aspect. When is life ever really all that calm? Yet when we do as our Lord commands and ‘Come’, that is, act in faith at his command, we know also that he stands ready to immediately reach out his hand and catch us (verse 31). There is a strong realism about both God and us in this amazing account of Jesus walking on water. In that way it encourages me for its honesty and insight. Yet most encouraging is the saving grace it shows for all who act in faith. May it encourage you!
We continue following the Gospel of Matthew consistent with the international lectionary of the worldwide Christian church. Today we are on the shores of the lake with a very large crowd – at least 10,000 it would seem as the writer only notes ‘five thousand men, besides women and children’ (Matthew 14:21). There is much we can take from this account. A few things include: Jesus fulfilling the desert feedings in the wilderness of the children of Israel (e.g. Exodus 16) and Elisha’s feeding in 2 Kings 4:42-44; the way that Jesus breaks the bread foreshadowing the Lord’s Supper and it’s never ending provision for our journey to eternity; the significance of this miracle as demonstrating another aspect of God’s kingdom whereby the hungry don’t stay unsatisfied; and related to that, the associated importance to Jesus of ensuring the hungry in today’s world are fed. However, today I’m going to focus mainly on what it says about our willingness to do as the Lord asks us even when it looks like there won’t be enough to go around. These are important issues in life and church. Indeed, in all the places he has put us. I hear many people wondering how they’ll cope. Or how they’ll continue. Saying they are empty. Telling me there is not enough. I also hear lots of great ideas, but even more reasons why those ideas would not be viable. It seems that all too often we cut Jesus vision off ‘at the knees’. He clearly thinks we are capable of much more than we do – witness him telling the disciples to give the crowd something to eat and their protest “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish” (Matthew 14:15-17). We forget he is the extra ingredient, or piece, that makes it possible… in family, work, church and society. Therefore, factor Jesus in as the extra ingredient in all he asks us to do!