Tuesday, August 8, 2017

PENTECOST X 2017 (Proper 14)

The Disciples See Jesus -- H O Tanner
To the modern mind, powerfully influenced by the success of natural science, the miracles recorded in the Bible present difficulties that previous eras simply did not experience. They easily accepted, it seems, the regular occurrence of unnatural events. Our mentality has changed and left us asking:  Can we honestly believe that such supernatural events really happened? The question is especially acute when the events involve Jesus, because the Gospel writers clearly think that his miraculous powers were strong evidence of his divinity. The Gospel passage for this Sunday contains just such an incident, and it is a very puzzling one. The disciples encounter Jesus at dawn walking towards them across the surface of a stormy sea. Peter tries to do likewise but unsurprisingly sinks into the water -- until Jesus reaches out, and saves him. At that point, wonderfully, the fierce wind dies down. Awestruck, the disciples hail Jesus as truly divine.

Could this be the record of something that actually happened? From one perspective, the simple answer is 'Yes'. The Church teaches that Jesus wasthe true incarnation of the Creator of the cosmos. If so,  even the most amazing  miracle must lie within his power.  At the same time, the Gospels regularly warn against thinking of Jesus as an impressive miracle worker. His miracles, however impressive, are not any sort of conjuring trick. The difference lies in their meaning. 

Jesus Walks on the Water _ Ivan Alvazovsky
It is a commonplace that sometimes actions speak louder than words. Miracles are not just amazing actions that we are expected to marvel at; they are also signs from which there is something important to be learnt. To grasp the meaning of Jesus’ miracles it is essential to see in them what devout and faithful Jews witnessing them would have seen –  the connection they forge between Christ's mission and the one true God revealed in the Old Testament. This is the God who ‘trampled the waves of the sea’ (Job 9:80), and whose 'path was through great waters, though his footsteps were unseen’ (Ps 7:19), so it is hardly surprising that Christ's action causes the disciples to declare ‘Truly you are the son of God’. The connection is unmistakeable.

In the light of this truth, the episode with Peter incorporated within this Gospel passage is especially instructive. Peter believes that his deep devotion to Jesus will carry him across the water. The fact that he starts to sink shows how mistaken it is to make the strength of our own belief the ultimate test of our faith.  Our will for good, and for God, may be both resolute and powerful. Yet the deep and uncomfortable truth is that however sincere and committed, we cannot make ourselves the means of our own salvation. Relying on our personal resources, we are likely, when things turn out badly, to sink beneath life’s waves. It is only the presence of Christ within our lives that can save us.

No comments:

Post a Comment