Sunday 13 August
Year A: 10th Sunday after Trinity (Proper 14)
Liturgical colour: Green
- Genesis 31:1-4, 12-28
- Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22
- Romans 10:5-15
- Matthew 14:22-33
In this week’s gospel reading (Matt 14:22-33) we are reminded of the feeding of the five thousand. Then we hear the story of Jesus walking across the water to get to the disciples who have been stranded in their boat by bad weather. Both events are referred to as miracles. Jesus performed at least three sorts of miracles; exorcisms, cures and natural wonders, and these two are examples of the latter. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are full of miracles, whereas John’s gospel records only seven, including the two we hear about today. In John’s gospel they are called ‘signs’ i.e. demonstrations of Jesus’ divinity.
Before the Enlightenment miracles were thought to be proof of the existence of God, because they were seen as divine intervention in the world. However, the shift of emphasis to rationalism and scientific enquiry from the 17th Century onwards turned that thinking on its head. It was claimed that if something did not conform to the rigid mechanisms thought to regulate and rule the earth, then it could not have happened.
This led to theologians trying to explain the miracles in the bible in different ways. For example, saying that the feeding of the five thousand happened because as Jesus gave thanks and broke the bread, others were moved to share the food they had hidden for themselves. Or that Jesus was walking not on water, but on ice caused by a rare weather condition. We can’t know, of course, but it seems that these particular miracles of Jesus involved some sort of charge or change in the natural order of things.
As soon as I decided to focus on miracles this week the song ‘I believe in miracles’ started running through my mind. It hasn’t stopped yet! And if you are curious enough to look up the lyrics you will see that it is not entirely appropriate for a priestly blog. Yet there it is. The song ties the idea of miracles to our basic human need for love. One of the lines is ‘Yesterday, I was one of those lonely people’. The next line might perhaps (metaphorically!) be read as God drawing close to the person concerned as the ultimate source of love. I may be stretching that too far…
The point is that the way things are, isn’t necessarily fixed. Things can change and sometimes that feels miraculous.
In a way, God shares the ability to perform miracles with us by giving us free will. We are not necessarily subject to a mechanistic pre-determined way of being. We can reflect on how we live and habitually react to the world and one another. And, after reflecting, we can decide to change ourselves and potentially the world.
Towards the end of the passage we read how Peter calls out to Jesus; ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water’. Peter is sometimes held up as a figure of fun but for all of his failings, he was the one prepared to put his fears behind him and step out in faith.
The word miracle comes from the Latin miraculum, which means wonder. I wonder what might happen next time we decide to get out of the boat?