Readings for 19th Sunday in ordinary time: I KINGS 19: 9A, 11-13A; PSALMS 85: 9-14; ROMANS 9: 1-5; MATTHEW 14: 22-23
In today’s Gospel, we hear Matthew’s iconic account of Yeshua walking on water – and of his invitation to Peter to follow the Master’s example.
The story is relevant to our times filled as they are with turbulence, polarization, and uncertainty. Those were the disturbing characteristics of Yeshua’s time as well – and of Matthew’s early church. In both contexts, there was turbulence everywhere. But despite it all, the early followers of Yeshua were asked to do the impossible – to walk on water themselves.
Before I get to what that might mean, here’s a reminder of how our own tempestuous times mirror those of Yeshua and Matthew.
My Own Confusion
If the truth be told, I must admit that I hardly know what to think anymore. The polarizing spirit of the day has me pretty upset. I can barely listen to the news each day. And the mere images of the politicians I have come to despise cause my stomach to churn. I can’t stand to hear their voices – or those of their ever-harsher critics. And besides that, I see no alternatives. (How much better is Joe Biden than Donald Trump?)
However, the immediate cause of my upset and confusion is the video I posted here last week – an interview by Jason Dean of Sacha Stone, the founder of the International Tribunal for Natural Justice. It generated a lot of controversy when it appeared on OpEdNews on Thursday.
Subsequently, a whole ZOOM meeting of the site’s editors, contributors, and readers had everyone arguing about the interview’s truth claims. Is the coronavirus a pandemic or a “plandemic?” Does wearing a facemask make sense? There was wide disagreement during the call.
Those questions and emotions generated by the video were rooted in the polarizing figure of Sacha Stone himself. He’s charismatic, articulate, extremely outspoken, and given, I fear, to hyperbole. On the one hand, he is deeply spiritual and reflective of the best of the mystical traditions shared by all the world’s great faiths. His passionate concern about and energetic action against the trafficking of children for pedophilic purposes is unmistakable and genuine.
On the other hand, he somewhat off-puttingly fills his discourse with references to evil, Satanic cults, the deep state, and to ruling class rituals devoted to drinking the blood of fear-adrenalized two and three-year-olds.
Obviously, then Stone himself is controversial. He illustrated, I said, the difficulty of classifying people today on the basis of the traditional categories of “left” and “right,” liberal and conservative.
For instance, he is a supporter of President Trump. But he has long despised, he says, all politicians as liars and sell-outs to the rich 1% that govern our nation through the lawmakers they have long since bought and sold. Nonetheless, Stone sees Trump as one of the two modern-era U.S. presidents of true human worth. The other one? John F. Kennedy.
In all of this, Stone finds prominent support in a former CIA operative, Robert David Steele. Steele was described by one OEN ZOOM call participant who knows Steele well, has corresponded with him, and has interviewed him formally as “a brilliant guy.” In fact, as an elite insider, Steele not only backs Stone’s claims about cults and blood, he serves as Commissioner and Chief Counsel on Stone’s International Tribunal for Natural Justice. Steele says 22,000 children are disappeared each day for purposes of pedophilia and employment in those blood rituals.
Is all of that disturbing and confusing enough for you? It’s almost more than I can bear. It has my head spinning with questions I thought resolved long ago about Trump, his portrayal in the media, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Even more seriously, it makes me wonder if our world is indeed controlled by sexual perverts who seem (in Stone’s words) “soulless” and as if they were aliens from another planet.
My only hope is that despite Steele’s endorsement, Stone’s claims about trafficked children are false or exaggerated. Failing that, my hope is that the truth of Stone’s accusations will all unmistakably come to light in the context of the explosive tip-of-the-iceberg saga of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. Such revelation has world revolutionary potential.
Yeshua’s & Matthew’s Confusion
In the context of this Sunday homily, my thoughts about national and personal upset and about revolutionary solutions return me to the social and political circumstances of Yeshua’s own day and of the Gospel writer, Matthew some fifty years later. Both contexts were no less turbulent than our own. As a matter of fact, they were even more so.
Yeshua, of course, lived under Roman occupation. As a good Jew, he surely hated that. The four Gospels are filled with indications of his antipathy towards Rome. However, as a reformer of Judaism, the Master was even more upset about the collaboration between Rome and the Temple Establishment’s scribes and priests. In his estimation, they were even worse sell-outs than our own presidents, congresspeople, judges, media, police, and military.
I’m sure that Yeshua along with his inner circle and his poor and oppressed audiences hardly knew what to think.
The same was true for Matthew’s audience. More than fifty years after Yeshua’s death, tensions with Rome had exploded just as Yeshua had predicted they would. In the year 70, Rome had finally punished Jerusalem’s Jews for their insubordination. In fact, the genocidal Romans had attacked and brutally destroyed the Holy City of Jerusalem, killed more than a million of its inhabitants (including the entire leadership of the emergent Christian community) and razed its temple to the ground. Fifteen or 20 years later, when Matthew wrote his Gospel, his community was still reeling from that defining act of devastation.
It’s in that context that Matthew spins his iconic story of Yeshua walking on water.
The story goes that following Yeshua’s feeding of the 5000 (last week’s Gospel focus), Yeshua forces the apostles to get into their boat and row to the other side. [The text says, “Yeshua made (emphasis added) the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side.” Perhaps these experienced fishermen (as opposed to the land lubber, Yeshua) saw a storm was coming and were reluctant to set sail despite Yeshua’s urgings.] In any case, a storm does come up and the apostles fear they are all about to drown. You can imagine their cries for help.
Then they see a figure walking on the water in the midst of high threatening waves. At first, they think it’s a ghost. Then they realize that it’s Yeshua. He’s walking on the raging waters.
Peter, ever the impetuous leader of the apostles, doubts what he sees. So, he says “Prove to me that it’s you, Yeshua; let me walk on the waves just as you’re doing.” Yeshua says, “Join me then over here then.” So, Peter gets out of the boat and, like his teacher actually walks on water for a few steps.
Then, despite the evidence, he begins to doubt. And as he does so, he starts sinking below the water line. “Save me, Lord!” he cries out again. Yeshua stretches out his hand and saves Peter. Then he asks, “Where’s your faith? Why is it so weak? Why did you doubt?”
Of course, this whole story (like last week’s “Loaves and Fishes”) is one of the dramatic parables Matthew composed. If we get caught up in wondering whether we’re expected to believe that someone actually walked on water, we’ll miss the point of this powerful tale. It’s about Yeshua’s followers doing the unexpected and irrational in the midst of the seriously threatening crises life forces upon us.
You see, Matthew’s Jewish audience shared the belief du jour that the sea was inhabited by dangerous monsters – Leviathan being the most fearful. And courageously walking on water was a dramatic way of expressing what Matthew’s community believed about Jesus, viz. that he embodied the courage and power to do the completely unexpected in the midst of crisis and subdue the most threatening forces imaginable – even the most lethal they could think of, the Roman Empire.
Yeshua’s invitation to Peter communicates the truth that all of us have the power to confront monsters if we’ll just find the courage to leave safety concerns behind even in the most threatening conditions, to confront life’s monsters, and join Yeshua in the midst of its upheavals.
Problem is: we easily lose faith and courage. As a result, we’re overcome by life’s surging waves and by the monsters we imagine are lurking underneath.
So, what does it mean to confront today’s angry waters and invisible monsters. What are we to believe before those who tell us that everything’s fake, there is no truth, and that the world is run by leviathan beasts hiding below the waves boiling all around us? What are we to think for instance, when the police and military we were taught to trust, betray us utterly? What do we make of the fact that there are no leaders we can follow – when we fear that talking heads, pundits, and even the spiritually astute are only sowing confusion, spin, falsehood and doubt? What’s entailed in stretching out our hand towards our Great Teacher inviting us to walk on water and ignore the threatening confusion and fear engendered by our uncertain times dwarfed by those he himself and his followers endured?
Frankly, I’m not sure. As I said, I remain more confused than ever.
However, I do think that walking on water today means desperately grasping Yeshua’s hand in the sense of getting back to the basics of our Great Master’s message about the Kingdom of God. That’s the anchor for many of us. He told us that despite all appearances to the contrary – despite the engulfing waves:
- We humans are not truly in charge. Life Itself is working things out in an evolutionary pattern that is beyond any of our thought categories (Matthew 6:25).
- A New Era is in the process of birthing – a new heaven and a new earth is about to dawn (Matthew 3:2, 4:17; Mark 1:15).
- In that order, empires of all kinds (including our own) are doomed (See the entire Book of Revelation).
- The new heaven and earth are destined for everyone – not merely for the 1% (Luke 4: 14-22).
- In fact, the present reality will be turned upside down. Those now considered “first” will be last (Matthew 20:16).
- The dawning Kingdom will prioritize the needs of widows, orphans, immigrants, the poor and the oppressed.
- It will be governed by a politics of love (not fear or hate).
- There, the identity of those now despised (the poor, hungry, thirsty, houseless, naked and imprisoned) will be revealed as embodying Yeshua himself (Matthew 25: 40-45).
Embracing those truths promises to save us from being overwhelmed and drowned. No matter what the “informed” or “experts” might say, living by those convictions represents what it means to walk on water in these uncertain times.