I was recently reading the book, How God Became King, and the author, Tom Wright, talked about the importance of the comma within the Apostles' Creed where it says, '...born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate....' There is a LOT of stuff within that little comma!
I would think that the things that have been recorded in all four gospel accounts would be considered the high points of Jesus' life, not only by the early Christians, but by those Christians of any period in history. At the start of Jesus' ministry is his encounter with John the Baptist. In the middle of his ministry is both the miracle of feeding the 5000 and the confession of Peter (Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30, Luke 9:18-21, John 6:67-71). At the end of his ministry is obviously his suffering and death--and obviously this last one is a critical part of the creed.
That Jesus withdrew (or retreated) after the feeding of the 5000 should be a pretty obvious indicator that he is not interested in a position of power. After Peter's confession, that Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Christ should also be another indicator (Matt 16:20). The title of Christ can carry along with it a position of power. But Jesus wants to go in a different direction; he wants to go in the direction of the cross.
From the standpoint of etymology, to 'confess' means to say the same word. To say the same words, it is important to have the same definitions of words.
Many years ago, when I was looking at the way Martin Luther translated his favorite Psalm, I noticed that he would have some interesting translations that followed the theology he was finding within the Bible after his 'tower experience'. One of the most memorable is his final translation of Psalm 118:1, 'Danket dem Herrn, denn er ist freundlich...' Perhaps you can get that even if you do not know any German. He is saying, somewhat literally, 'Thank the Lord, for he is friendly.'
There is a concrete action here that you do not usually see in the translation, 'Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.' Luther's translation is down-to-earth, much like the life of Jesus was. The Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, comes down to our level to understand our hurts, our emotions, and especially our words. You can see that willingness when Jesus goes down to get baptized with a 'sinners baptism'; you can see that willingness when he goes up to a 'convicted criminals'' cross.
Jesus comes down to our level to anoint us, to pour oil and wine on all the wounds. He comes down to our level to help us hear some words that are much better for us. His words give healing. His words give life.
Although almost an entire chapter separates this Sunday's text (Matthew 15:21-28) from last Sunday's (Matthew 14:22-33), there is an extremely close connection. At the end of the first text, the disciples worship Jesus, since he just calmed the storm. Near the middle of this Sunday's text, there is the very next occurrence of 'Jesus worship'. The Canaanite woman worships him.
It is not an easy thing to spot. Verse 25 of the (ESV) text reads: "But she came and knelt before him saying, 'Lord, help me.'" The phrase 'knelt before' literally is to worship.
Jesus' 'worshipfulness'--if that is a word--was not an easy thing to spot. He did not look like he should be worshiped. This gospel account emphasizes his manliness--now THAT is a word. But I do not think Jesus went around looking like a body builder. The verb 'to worship' literally means 'to kiss toward'. It was frequently used when someone went before a king. One would kiss the hem of his robe, or perhaps the ground (yuk!). But if the man who was the king did not like you, you would be in big trouble!
Compared to the other gospel accounts, there are a LOT of people worshipping Jesus within these chapters. It starts with the magi in chapter 2. That word magi could be translated as 'magician', so those people would not be too highly regarded. The next person to worship Jesus is the leper in chapter 8. People usually stayed away from lepers, but Jesus stretches out his hand and touches him. A ruler comes to Jesus and worships him in chapter 9. Another group of people in high regard (relatively speaking of course!)--Jesus' disciples--worship him in the boat.
After the text for this Sunday, another woman comes and worships him, the mother of the sons of Zebedee (20:20). That time the word is in participle form. That means 'she came, worshipping him'; here the action of worship is secondary. It is interesting that the next occurrence of worship is in the last chapter of Matthew. There the action of the women coming to Jesus is in participle form, and the holding onto his feet and the worship is a normal verb form.
The final occurrence of the word is almost at the end of the account, where the disciples, seeing Jesus, worship him, but the text says that some doubted. The doubting of Peter on the water and the doubting here are the only two times that word appears within the entire New Testament.
Looking over this list, there is a great variety here. Lots of different people are worshipping Jesus. But the most common action of worship is by those people who are not very highly regarded. Or often there is something that indicates another problem at hand.
The use of the word 'worship' indicates that something important is going on. Jesus connects to that word. Jesus should connect to that word--if he is the Son of God! The word was obviously important to the writer as well. He is trying to connect us to Jesus.
Jesus is before us, ready to be worshiped. And we are in good company--with the Canaanites and others. And there are certainly some problems at hand. But, again, we are in good company.
I do not want to sound too difficult, but the text never says that Jesus walked on the water. I owe this observation to a pastor friend of mine, the Rev. Dr. Kevin Golden.
In both accounts, in Matthew 14 and in Mark 6, the text says that Jesus walked on the sea. There is a significant difference.
The sea is something that is often connected to God. The Old Testament text for this Sunday is from the book of Job (38:8), where the Lord asks, 'Who shut in the sea with doors...? Obviously Job did not. We were certainly not there. And Peter was not there either.
In Revelation 21:1 the text says that 'the sea was no more'. Imagine a time of no storms, no troubles. Imagine never feeling like you are drowning with all the things that need to be done. That time is coming.
Peter wanted to come to Jesus on the water, not the sea. Again, there is a significant difference. Again, that is probably why he started to drown.
The Son of God was there when the sea was shut in. He will be there when the sea will be no more. He continues to be in complete control of the situation.
This text is not about Peter. This text is also not about someone walking on the water OR the sea! This text is about Jesus, the one who will save his people from their sins.
It is nice to hear about what Jesus did one day. But it is even nicer to hear about what he did one day for you.
The gospel text continues along in the Gospel according to Matthew, and we are in chapter fourteen for the next two weeks. This week the text is usually called 'The Feeding of the Five Thousand', and the title has a nice ring to it. But there were probably many more there since the five thousand count only includes the men. I sometimes feel like I should apologize for that since some people could easily get the idea that they 'don't count'.
Even more important than studying the culture of that day is the study of the Savior who walked around on earth in those days. And what he did on some of those days is important, mainly because some of those things that he did continue on in another way.
This miracle of feeding the 5000 is so important that it is in all four gospel accounts. That essentially puts it on the level of the crucifixion and resurrection. Both the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Mark all have another similar account, that of the so-called 'Feeding of the Four Thousand'. Again there is this nice ring to it, and, again, only the men are counted, and, once again, there is a connection to what our Savior continues to do.
In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus makes a point that there are twelve baskets of leftover fragments with this first feeding and seven with the second. I hope it does not sound too crazy to say that the first number is more Jewish, while the second is more universal.
Another point that could be made is to see the different contexts of the various accounts as they begin. Jesus, like a man, withdraws, after he hears of the death of John the Baptist (14:13). When the text says Jesus 'withdrew', that was a nice way to say he 'retreated'. That does not sound too 'manly'.
I do not think it is a coincidence that, after Jesus' final withdrawal in 15:21, he comes upon a Canaanite woman, and Jesus ends up saying that she has a great faith.
Sometimes a retreat is a good, military move. Jesus' move to a desolate and non-Jewish place was a great move that mirrored his coming to earth. His was a serious rescue mission. He was to leave no one behind.
Jesus continues his rescue mission by delivering his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 14:20a (ESV): 'And they all ate and were satisfied.'