Thursday, August 11, 2011

Location, location, location...

As we are still scooting along a week behind the Lectionary Calendar,our texts for this week are Genesis 37:2-28 (you'll notice I expanded this from what is in the lectionary--what's the point about talking about Joseph the dreamer if we never mention his dreams?), Romans 10:9-15, and Matthew 14:22-33, available to read here.

Sometimes, when I talk about how we can approach our texts for the week, I feel kind of redundant in the things I encourage you to do. This isn't for lack of originality, I promise; it is more of the fact that there are perspectives it would behoove us to bring to scripture that we have often been trained to neglect. Our worship practices, ironically, are what often keep us from hearing the scripture as we need to. What I mean is this: the lectionary does have us reading scripture *somewhat* in order. Thanks to the fact that we've spent the last few weeks with Jacob, this story of his family is not totally out of the blue; and we have been traveling the road of Matthew's gospel, with just a few detours into John, since December. we read the stories of scripture each week in relative isolation from one another as individual events rather than as part of a bigger story (which, due to our inability to read an entire book of the Bible in worship every week, is--I suppose--a necessary shortcoming), we often miss so much of the richer meaning that can be found from putting stories in context. This is why it is so crucial that we constantly ask ourselves when reading scripture, "What is the bigger context here? What has taken place before this? What is going to take place next? How does this connect to where we've been and where we're going?"

I think Matthew 14 has a particularly significant context, the more I think about it. We spent a lot of time in July with the parables of Matthew 13, covering that chapter almost in its entirety; last week we read the story that immediately precedes this one, Matthew 14:13-21, the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people. But what we skipped is the critical tale that occupies the first 12 verses of Matthew 14, and I cannot get away from the possibility that that gory account of the beheading of Jesus' cousin, forerunner, baptizer, and friend John the Baptist is the story that is the undercurrent of this whole chapter. The one preparing the way for Jesus has just been killed in a horrifying manner; and throughout the rest of the chapter, one can almost see Jesus reeling from this news, trying to figure out his next move, trying to process his grief. He begins by withdrawing to an isolated place, perhaps to hide out from Herod for a bit since it seems inevitable that he will be next, perhaps simply to pray and lay out his sorrow and--dare I say it--fear before God. But the crowds follow him there, finding him even in this remote place, and Jesus is filled with compassion to put his own grief aside long enough to teach, to heal, to feed.

In this week's story, however, Jesus gets a chance to get the quiet he needs again--he makes the disciples get in a boat and leave him so he can sit and pray. Maybe he is sending the disciples away from him so they won't be caught up in the fate he is now realizing will likely be his--maybe he pushes them out to sea on a raft for their own safety, who knows? But soon the sea is not safe, and again Jesus abandons his solitude to come to them where they are, to meet their needs. It is as he does this that, for the first time, Jesus is identified as the Son of God--one not just human but divine, with power to save. And it won't be long after this before Jesus begins telling the disciples of his now inevitable fate: that John the Baptist is not going to be the only one to lose his life in this divine mission.

I just wonder how we read these miraculous acts of Jesus--feeding the masses, going to the disciples--differently in their critical location amidst Jesus' grief and Jesus' apparent recognition of how this mission is likely going to end. How can we see Jesus' compassion and presence and provision and salvation more fully as we locate it within the turmoil within him, turmoil he seemed to find strength to repeatedly put aside for the sake of caring for those around him--an act miraculous enough to leave his friends in worship, recognizing for the first time that this one among them was more than they'd ever dreamed? Location, location, location...what difference does it make?

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