Sunday, August 07, 2005
Jesus Walks On Water: Matthew's Version
Matthew 14:22-33 is a rewriting of Mark 6:45-52, a narrative that closely follows the feeding of the five thousand (6:34-44) and is connected to it (see Mk. 6:52). But while in Mark the disciples were not able to understand the connection between the multiplication of the loaves and Jesus on the waters, and therefore the significance itself of this latter, in Matthew, the disciples end up worshipping Jesus as the "Son of God" that is, as God* (Mark 14:33). This conclusion actually highlights the Marcan "insinuations" of Jesus' Divinity implied in Jesus' walking on the waters, the self-presentation "Take courage, I AM", and the intention to pass them by.
Passages from Ps. 77, 20 and Job 9,8 point to God walking on the Sea. Ps. 77,20 even mentions the unseen footprints of the Lord on the mighty waters
Your way was on the sea (byam drkyka)
your path on the mighty waters
though no one sees your footprints.
Job 9,8 echoes the mythical language of a hymn about the victory of God over His enemy Yammu: "He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the mighty crests of the Sea." With these two passages at the background of the Marcan phrase "he came toward them walking on the sea" (6:48), the following "and he meant to pass them by" should echo passages from the Exodus about the glorious passing of Yahweh. God passing by is God doing something for his people. And when therefore Jesus says to his frightened disciples: "Take courage, I AM", it is as if he is bringing them the consolation that only God can give (cf. Isaiah 41:10.13;43:1.3.5).
"I AM" is the name Yahweh gives Moses in Exodus 3:14. When Moses asked Him the name by which He would be known by His people, He said: ehyeh asher ehyeh which most translations would render as "I Am Who Am". We know now, however, that the Hebrew asher is not always a relative pronoun ("who" in this instance); it can also be the equivalent of a colon or a quotation mark. Thus the proper rendering would be "I am 'I AM'". Hence, the following statement becomes easily understandable: "This is what you shall say to the Israelites: I AM has sent you."
In Matthew's version, the reference to Jesus' intention of passing by was suppressed and instead, a concrete saving act is supplied. In the figure of Peter, the disciples express themselves in a dialogue with the God who saves:
And Peter said to him:
"Lord, if is truly you, command me to come to you on the water."
And he said:
Peter got out of the boat,
and began to walk on the water
But when he saw how strong the wind was,
he became frightened
and he, beginning to sink, cried out: "Lord, save me!"
stretched out his hand
and caught him
and said to him: "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?"
"Lord, save me!" The Lord does not abandon those in Peter's bark to the waves of history that toss it about. He is there as the Lord of history with his hands stretched out to the men of little faith who may think that, in a moment of weakness, that the waves are bigger and the winds stronger than the Lord.
"O man of little faith, why did you doubt?" is a rebuke. Coming from one who has shown the majesty of His divinity, it should also be taken as a reminder that when the Lord is near, there can be no room for fear, only faith.
*The title "Son of God" is not semitic in origin; it is Roman, and became more and more a title of the Emperor of Rome after Caesar Augustus. "Divi Filius" is therefore linked to the imperial religion to which the gospels set themselves up against. In fact, the claim that Jesus was "Son of God" is a claim that undermines Roman rule, as does the more Jewish title "Messiah" (XristoV, Christ)