LEXEGETE | August, 2008
TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
August 3, 2008 (Lectionary 18)
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 (16)
Psalm 17:1-7, 15 (15)
1. CONTEXT: Matthew 14:13-21
I confess to always having had trouble with this story, even though its
distinction as the only miracle to appear in all four gospels might seem to
add to its authenticity. A.W. Argyle, for example, sees no need to "cast
doubt on the historicity of a miracle so well attested" (Gospel According
to St. Matthew, p. 113).
But 5,000 men, plus women and children, adds up to quite a crowd!
Feeding them would have been a logistical feat even for MacDonald's.
Teaching them, as Mark reports Jesus did in pity, would have required a
P.A. system of considerable wattage simply to be heard.
Morever, J. Newton Davies notes, "It is astonishing to find in the
Synoptic record no reference to the impression the incident made on the
people; and very soon afterward, when short of bread, the disciples act as
though in complete ignorance of what has happened (16:5-12; "Matthew," in
the Interpreter's One Volume Commentary on the Bible, p. 979). It is, you
see, not the miracle, per se, that strains belief.
Such "non-therapeutic" miracles, as some have termed them, also seem
to offend the doctrine of the Incarnation. The Word become flesh was
therefore subject to hunger, exhaustion, and all the limitations of time
and space. If we cannot walk on water, He could not, and still be as human
as the creeds declare. Or pull off the feeding of the five thousand.
But this may all be beside the point, in any case. Gospels did not get
written by retired apostles, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR notwithstanding.
It is in understanding how and why it was written, and for whom, that we
move beyond Theodore H. Robinson's explanation that "the ancient world
looked for a miracle, and where their faith was won in other ways, they
tended always to attribute miraculous powers to its objects" (THE GOSPEL
OF MATTHEW, p. 129).
Krister Stendahl makes a case for Matthew's Gospel being used as a
manual for teaching and administration within the early church, probably
for second or third generation Jewish Christians in his book, The School
of St. Matthew.
The inclusion of a story such as this not only continued what clearly was
a bit of the Jesus legend within the Christian community, but also
portrayed Jesus "as bringing to bear upon the ills of people and the
disturbances in nature the gracious, saving power of God's eschatological
rule" (Jack Dean Kingsbury, MATTHEW, p. 48). Kingsbury goes on to say
that, "For Matthew's church, Jesus is the exalted Son of God and no longer
the earthly Son of God. With divine authority, the earthly Son of God
performed mighty 'acts of power' (dynameis; cf. 11:20, 21,23; 13:54,58;
14:2). Similarly the exalted Son of God, who resides in the midst of his
church and to whom God has given all authority in heaven and on earth...can
perform mighty 'acts of power'" (ibid., p. 48).
This story, then, is about power, and about the empowering of the
church. "YOU feed the people," Jesus tells his disciples. They have an
authority which they are reluctant to use. The miracle accomplished they
then act as if they are deacons with the sacrament, reminding readers that
the church is to be the vehicle for God's continuing deliverance of his
Matthew 14:13 - The news about John, of course, is of his violent death,
and signals a gathering storm of opposition that will soon break around
Jesus as well. Distressed, Jesus goes in to a wilderness (eis eremon topon
kat' idian) , as at the start of his ministry, as with the Baptist and as with
the Hebrew people fleeing Egypt.
14:14 - As Matthew describes the crowds who come to see Jesus, they are
enthusiastic, but lacking in faith. Jesus pities them (esplagchnisthe) ,
which Matthew declares produced healings. Matthew has Jesus teaching
his disciples, but showing his powre to the outside world.
14:15-17 - As with the incident on the sea when their boat was threatened
by the waves, Jesus tells the disciples that they already have the power to
deal with the situation, and their answer indicates their lack of
confidence and the limits they have set upon their service.
14:18-21 - The breaking of bread was an ingredient of table worship.
Numerologists might attach rich significance to the five loaves(pente
artous) , two fish (duo ichthuas) , and twelve (dodeka) baskets of
leftovers, but it is more appropriate to note that they began with very
little and ended with very much.
Lutherans hear a passage from Isaiah 55 (1-5) as the first lesson this
Sunday, readers of the New Common Lectionary one from Exodus 12
(1-14) and Episcopalians one from Nehemiah 9 (16:-20). The first invites
all who hunger and thirst to a magnificent free banquet; the second
retells the institution of the Passover meal ; and the last reminds the
Hebrew people of the God who did not abandon them in the wilderness.
Nothing, Paul declares to the Romans, can separate us from the love of
Christ. The first two lessons of the day, in all three lectionaries, form
obvious preludes to this Gospel.
As when Jesus lived, we are a people in the wilderness, far from home
and without provisions. If only we found ourselves in our difficult straits
because of our desire to see Jesus! More likely we do it to ourselves
seeking pleasure or success or power.
How are we then fed, by God's grace? Look for answers that correspond
to human experience. People reach out and share, and there is enough for
all. People hold themselves or their substance back, and the wilderness
closes in on them.
Matthew meant this miracle story for the church's edification. Jesus
empowered his disciples; he empowers his church. Sunday by Sunday, or
better, day by day, the church goes about its diakonia, its work of serving.
It goes to the lonely places with warmth and love. Say how it happens
were your people. There are no limits to God's love; there are no limits to
Treat the story as story. The sermon is not the place for a defense of or
an attack upon its authenticity. Matthew told the story, decades removed
from whatever might have been the original event, as a celebration of
God's power alive and active within the church, even as year by year the
Hebrew people recalled the marvels of the Passover and the Exodus.
Some possible themes:
a - "More than enough" - We really have been empowered by God to do his
will, and we have more than enough of whatever might be needed. Lift up
the various vocations of the people, as well as their sensitivity, empathy
b -"Pity, for Christ's sake" - When Jesus saw the crowd racing out to the
wilderness in adulation of him but still faithless, he pitied them, and
taught them (Mark) and healed their sick (Matthew). The faceless crowd
still looks for heroes. What did Jesus know about their deeper needs?
What should we know?
c - "Let Jesus Do it" - Still the storm, feed the 5000, count on good ol'
Jesus. But Jesus has different expectations of his disciples. All of us are
called to minister.
Some useful Quotations:
"Let God have your life. He can do more it with than you can." - Dwight L.
"A man there was and they called him mad: the more he gave the more he
had." - John Bunyan
"If you wish to be miserable, think about yourself, about what you want,
what you like, what respect people ought to pay to you. In this way you
can spoil everything, make misery out of everything, and be as wretched as
you choose." - Charles Kingsley
"I read in a book that man called CHRIST went about doing good. It is very
disconcerting to me that I am so easily satisfied with just going about."
- Toyohiko Kagawa
"I have never owned a home, because a home would stand between me and
all the homeless of the world. I have never eaten a luxurious meal, if I
could help it, because that meal would stand between me and the hungry of
the world." - Fritz Kreisler
Argyle, A.W. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW. Cambridge: University
Davies, J.Newton. "Matthew" in INTERPRETER'S ONE VOLUME COMMENTARY
ON THE BIBLE. C. Laymon, ed. New York: Abingdon Press, 1971.
Kingsbury, Jack Dean. MATTHEW. Phila.: Fortress Press, 1977.
________________. MATTHEW AS STORY. Phila.: Fortress Press, 1986.
Major, H.D.A., Manson,T.W. and C.J. Wright. THE MISSION AND MESSAGE OF
JESUS. New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., Inc., 1946.
Robinson, Theodore H. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW. Garden City, NY:
Stendahl, Krister. THE SCHOOL OF ST. MATTHEW AND ITS USE OF THE OLD
TESTAMENT. Philad.: Fortress Press, 1968.
5. WORSHIP SUGGESTIONS
The prayer of the church for this day could include petitions offered by
representatives of various helping professions, lifting up their special
ministries. THROUGH THE NIGHT OF DOUBT AND SORROW (LBW 355)
recreates the wilderness mood of God's people awaiting help, and I LOVE
TO TELL THE STORY (LBW 390) suggests our hunger and thirst for God's
Word. The sacramental implications of the story could find emphasis with
a communion hymn such as O LIVING BREAD FROM HEAVEN (LBW 197).
Exegete: Carl T. Uehling (ELCA, retired)
THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
August 10, 2008 (Lectionary 19)
1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13 (8)
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b (1, 45)
1. CONTEXT - Matthew 14:22-33
"All four of our Gospels are records of discipleship. Bue it is the
Gospel according to St. Matthew which spells out most incisively the
meaning of discipleship and gives the clearest and completest record of
the impact which the divine revelation given in Jesus made on [those] who
were the first recipients and became the vehicles of that revelation."
(Franzmann, v.) Our pericope appears in a section of Matthew in which
Jesus deepens, strengthens, sustains, and purifies the faith of the first
Matthew reworks the Marcan story of Jesus walking on the water
(MK 6:45-52) to fit his purpose. The story carries the features of a
Resurrection appearance (Schniewind): the disciples do not recognize
Jesus; they mistake him for a ghost [phantasm, in Greek]; he seems to
about pass them by; they recognize him by his word; the scene takes place
at the sea. Matthew's version is characterized by two special features.
The first is a confession of faith in Jesus as the Son of God that the
incident evokes from the awe-struck disciples (v. 33). The second is the
story of Peter's sinking beneath the waves (vv. 28-32) upon essaying to
come to Jesus from the boat.
"Whereas Mk uses the appearance of Jesus on the stormy waters to
heighten their lack of understanding..., Mt employs it as a confession of the
Lord who has marvelously appeared to them (v. 33). It is, in other words,
construed as an illustration of faith in the latter case and lack of faith in
the former." (Sloyan)
The rescue ofPeter is unique in the narratives of so-called nature
miracles. In none of the others is a single disciple afforded such
According to Schniewind, the text of the Greek original indicates an
early origin for the narrative. The openness with which the narrative
portrays the shortcomings of the disciples and their leader Peter stands in
marked contrast to the kind of hagiography characteristic of later times.
2. GREEK ANALYSIS
Matthew 14:23 - kat' idian proseuxasthai -- to pray alone. A
characteristic feature of Jesus' life and ministry. Even this spectacular
miracle is done by him only as one in communion and petition with his
14:24 - stadious pollous apo tees gees -- many stadia from land. One
stadion is 200 meters. The disciples were, accordingly, very far from
land, a narrative touch that heightens the disciples' peril.
14:25 - tetartee de phulake tees nuktos -- in the fourth watch of the night.
Between three and six in the morning, before dawn. The contest in which
the disciples engaged with the contrary wind and turbulent sea had gone on
many hours. Their strength could well have been giving out.
14:25 - epi teen thalassan -- upon the sea. Later (v. 29) Matthew uses the
Greek word udoor, water, for the environment in which the scene is set.
An indication most likely of the process of redaction.
14:27 - Tharseite, egoo eimi, mee phobeisthe -- Take courage, it is I, fear
not. A unique heaping up of powerful imperatives of comfort.
14:28 - Kurie -- Lord. A favorite designation of Matthew for Jesus.
14:29 - ta udata -- the water. See above, v. 25.
14:30 - sooson me -- save me! Peter addresses Jesus as the one who
saves from certain death.
14:31 - oligopiste -- of little faith. Only in the synoptics, only in
addressing the disciples (Arndt-Gingrich).
14:31 - edistasas -- doubt. A word that occurs at key points in the
Gospels and the later NT, e.g., Mt 28:17. Jesus' question is the
counterpoint to his great words of encouragement. Faith and doubt are the
theme of the pericope.
14:33 - theoou uios --son of God. It appears as if the confessin is evoked
from the disciples purely by the performance of the supernatural act.
Jesus has come to the disciples, however, intending to help, a feature
which differentiates the story from other contemporary accounts of
supernatural deeds performed by some wonder worker.
Matthew's redaction has made an indelible impression on the
Christian mind. Few stories in the Bible convey so vividly what the early
Christian community understood by faith and how faith comes to be. Don't
fix what isn't broken. The needs the story ministers to are present as
much today as they were in the days when the church was young. The
preacher who would fail to utilize the opportunity the text presents for
addressing the fundamental dynamics of faith and doubt would have to
have some weighty reasons. The image of the sinking Peter portrays what
every Christian knows, that is, that to walk by faith means to walk on
water. Far from being simply an early example of legend building, the
story is astonishing for its critical exposure of Peter's failure, and how
impossible faith is for the disciple on his own. Implicit in the Gospel
narrative is a concept of faith that stands in direct contrast to notions of
faith as the necessary confidence human beings should have in themselves
and the future in order to realize their "impossible dreams."
Christian faith is faith in God and God's power to help in time of
need. Faith counts on love to show itself stronger than sin and evil and
life stronger than death. There is no "elegant proof" (Auden, FOR THE TIME
BEING) for this daring stance that gives life its power on the basis of a
conviction that God is just--or that he is at all.
Consider this quote from Charles Baudelaire: "For ME to kill
myself would be absurd, would it? 'So you're going to leave your old
mother utterly alone?' you'll say. Indeed yes! If I don't exactly have the
right to do so, I believe that the amount of suffering I've undergone for
nearly 30 years would excuse me. 'And God?' you'll say. With all my heart
(how sincerely no one but I can know!) I long to believe that an external,
invisible being takes an interest in my destiny. But what must one do to
(Baudelaire to Caroline Aupick [6 May 1861] from NY TIMES, March 16,
1986, from "Selected Letters of Charles Baudelaire," translated, edited
and with an introduction by Rosemary Lloyd, (c) 1986 by the University of
An atheist, someone observed, is a person who lives with no
invisible means of support. Christians live precisely from the fact that
they have invisible support.
As the movie makers know, almost everybody finds stories of danger
and disaster well nigh irresistible. Almost everyone secretly wonders
about her or his limits. The preacher fingering this text is handling one of
the richest pieces of story telling in the Bible, a story in which everyone
will be in the boat with the disciples in the storm, and everyone will hold
his or her breath as Peter gets out and puts his foot down on the sea. Even
the most elementary acquaintance with the power of the sea would be
sufficient for folks to identify with the fear of the disciples and the
daring of Peter. The text helps us to talk about the situations in life
where we have felt in over our heads not knowing what to do next except
to say, "Lord, save me!"
Our situation whether one of immediate peril from evil, sin, or
death or something less dramatic leaves us exposed and vulnerable. What
must one do to believe that we are not finally to go down under the blows
of our life experiences but that God has his eye upon us, that we are not
playthings of a malevolent deity like Thomas Hardy's Tess of the
D'urbervilles, but children of a Heavenly Father who loves us with the love
of a mother's tender care? There are a myriad reasons to doubt but only
one to believe--Jesus Christ.
"Take courage, it is I, be not afraid." With Luther we must put our
eyes in our ears and grasp these words in which the love of God works its
work in us to evoke from us the faith that we could not "by our own reason
or strength" produce in ourselves. In the crucified and risen Christ the
power of God's life and love asserted itself and triumphed. Its triumph
continues in the fearful and despondent. Love's power takes the measure
of tragedy both within and without us and enables us to walk paths we
never dreamed. "Take courage, it is I, be not afraid."
Bornkamm, Guenther, JESUS VON NAZARETH. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer
Franzmann, Martin H. FOLLOW ME: DISCIPLESHIP ACCORDING TO SAINT
MATTHEW. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1961.
Kingsbury, Jack Dean. MATTHEW in PROCLAMATION COMMENTARIES.
Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.
Schniewind, Julius. DAS EVANGELIUM MARKUS in DAS NEUE TESTAMENT
DEUTSCH. l (5th edition, 1949).
_______________. DAS EVANGELIUM MATTHAUS in DAS NEUE TESTAMENT
DEUTSCH (5th edition, 1950).
Sloyan, Gerard. A COMMENTARY ON THE NEW LECTIONARY. New York:
Paulist Press, 1975.
5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS
Dare I suggest ETERNAL FATHER, STRONG TO SAVE? (LBW 467) If the
congregation is able to sing the hymn as a metaphor instead or in addition
to its cast as a prayer for travelers, it might reinforce the sermon in a
HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION (LBW 507) expresses the sturdy resolve of faith
in the face of trials and sounds the "Fear not" of the text. Though thought
of as a children's hymn sometimes, CHILDREN OF THE HEAVENLY FATHER
(LBW 474) from the Swedish is a simple, tender hymn that sings of strong
Exegete: Richard E. Koenig is a retired ELCA pastor and author of numerous articles and occasional writings on Luther and Lutheranism in the Christian Century and Lutheran Partners, for which he was the first editor-in-chief.
MARY, MOTHER OF OUR LORD
August 15, 2008
Psalm 34:1-9 (3)
1. CONTEXT - Luke 1:46-55
The Magnificat is probably one of the best known passages of
scripture--so familiar, in fact, that preaching on this text poses the
consummate challenge to the pastor who would take scripture seriously,
on its own terms. It is more than a canticle of praise; it is a text which
has posed a consummate dilemma for centuries of faithful women - and if
we are to be faithful to our task, we need to find fresh ways of looking at
what this text has to say. While building on the Song of Hannah (1 Sam.
2:28-32) in both form and content, this text has been identified with other
canticles which Luke has probably taken over from an earlier tradition, the
Benedictus (1:67-79), and the Nunc Dimitis (2:28-32).
It resembles as well, a number of hymns from the Psalms, especially
33, 47, 48, 113, 117, 135, and 136. Fitzmeyer (ANCHOR BIBLE
COMMENTARY, p. 359) argues that the hymn is probably non-Lucan --
especially since it fits so loosely into the context of Luke 1-2. Yet the
text as it stands points to important new dimensions in Luke's theology.
Heralding the reversal of the present order --salvation will come to the
most despised, most oppressed, most disenfranchised; in sum--the most
LOWLY--as represented by Mary herself. Reuther (SEXISM AND GOD-TALK p.
152ff.), in fact, sees the Magnificat as the "key text for the Lucan
identification of Mary with the Church, the New Israel."
Viewed in the context of the infancy narratives ofLuke 1-2, Mary's
song is set in striking contrast to both Hannah's song, on which it depends,
and Elizabeth's comments, which it follows. There are marked
similarities in Hannah's and Elizabeth's plight: both are old, both are
barren, both are dependent on well-churched men.
Elizabeth is even descended from the Aaronic priesthood! Yet as
Hannah's son Samuel annoints the Mighty One's choice of Jesse's smallest
son, David, as king (cf 1 Sam. 16:6-13), so Elizabeth's son John wil
announce the Holy One's choice of the lowly unwed Mary's son Jesus--as
Messiah. Something very new has clearly happened in Israel!
Luke 1:46 - my soul magnifies the lord and my spirit rejoices in God my
Savior--It may be desirable to translate "megalynei" as magnify for
familiarity's sake, although JB and Fitzmeyer in the ANCHOR BIBLE use
"declares/proclaims the greatness of...," especially in response to
Elizabeth's previous blessing of Mary (1:42, 45). The emphasis here is
more properly placed on Mary's expression of faith in God, correcting
Elizabeth's focus of blessing on Mary. Hence "my soul magnifies...my spirit
1:48 - tapeinosis--can be translated "humiliation, low estate (KJV, RSV),
or lowliness. It is the same word used by Hannah in 1 Sam. 1:1, usually
translated "affliction." Here it is set in ironic contrast to Hannah's
affliction; Mary's humiliation, her low estate results from being unwed
and pregnant, not married and barren. That set of circumstances renders
their singing the same song all the more powerful.
apo tou nyn - from now on - used often in Luke to denote the new age
of salvation - signals the important changes which are about to take
place- as does the use of "all generations" - shifting the emphasis found in
this phrase in Gen 30:13 spoken by Leah re: her pregnancy "all women will
count me blessed." Luke calls our attention to the inclusivity of the new
age - and hints at larger issues than pregnancy.
1:52b - "he has exalted the lowly" - since tapeinous is used here as in v.
48, it would be best to be consistent in translation whichever form is
used; humiliation, lowly, low estate, etc.
The challenge here is to preach the fullness of the message, and not
diminish that message by magnifying the pregnancy. Mary's faith in God's
plan for her stands over against both Hannah's and Elizabeth's focus on
their own well-being. To focus on the pregnancy is to miss a point worth
considerable rejoicing. God's transforming power in our lives transcends
our experience of either blessing or curse - both of which can be attendant
to child-bearing. This text calls for what Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza
has named a pastoral-theological paradigm of biblical interpretaion.
(BREAD NOT STONE, p. 32ff).
In a time when most women are searching for a Word that regards
their personhood as well as their motherhood, Mary's rejoicing in God's
regard for her and her faith is indeed Bread for the journey. It helps all of
us who would be true to the new Israel do something new with a passage
usually taken for granted, literally or otherwise.
Other suggestions...Psalm 8 has an interesting ring if one
substitutes "what is woman that thou art mindful of her" in v.4. Or begin
the Lucan passage at v. 39, rather than v. 44 to tie in the contrast to
Elizabeth - and quote Wordsworth on leaping as rejoicing: "my heart leaps
up when I behold / a rainbow in the sky / so was it when my life began / so
is it now I am a man / so be it when i shall grow old / or let me die.
Craddock, F., Hayes, J., Holladay, C., Tucker, G. PREACHING THE NEW
COMMON LECTIONARY, YEAR C ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, EPIPHANY. Nashville:
Abingdon Press, 1985.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE I-IX, the ANCHOR
BIBLE. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981.
Reuther, Rosemary Radford. SEXISM AND GOD TALK: TOWARD A FEMINIST
THEOLOGY. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1983.
Schussler-Fiorenza, Elizabeth. BREAD NOT STONE: THE CHALLENGE OF
FEMINIST BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1984.
5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS
Most important for this day of worship are hymns and selections of
praise and joy. Since the date is the middle of summer, it might be
refreshing to use music more often identified with Advent, and would
offset the change in emphasis in the text for the day.
If the soloist isn't vacationing , REJOICE GREATLY from Handel's MESSIAH
would fit beautifully, as would Bach's JESU, JOY OF MAN'S REJOICING(cf.
LBW 219 and HB 336) , using OUR for MAN'S, to catch the congregation's
THE GOD OF ABRAHAM PRAISE (LBW 544, HB 401) ties in nicely with the
reference to the Old Testament stories, while bringing to our attention the
central theme of praise.
Exegete: Emily Chandler, R.N., D.Min.
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
August 17, 2008 (Lectionary 20)
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8Psalm 67 (3)
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28
Psalm 133 (1)
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28
1. CONTEXT: Matthew 15:21-28
Whether this pericope is taken from an earlier text (cf. R. Bultmann,
Synoptic Tradition, p. 38) or is an adaptation of the Marcan account
(7:24-30) is not known. What is evident is that through a process of
deletion and interpolation, the Marcan miracle story becomes in Matthew
a theological statement about the nature of the church and its mission.
The text immediately follows a discourse Jesus had with the Jewish
leaders on ritual rules in which he redefines what is clean and unclean
(15:10-20). Now his own words are tested by an "unclean" Canaanite
woman who asks that her demon-possessed daughter be healed.
Matthew 15:21 - eis ta merei turou kai Sidonos - Jesus withdraws form
Gennasaret (14:34) to Tyre and Sidon, a pagan territory to the north of
Palestine on the Mediterranean coast, now Lebanon. Since it is the woman
who exelthousa, "came out of," we can conclude that Jesus did not cross
the border, nor enter a house as in Mark 7:24. Earlier, Jesus had ordered
his disciples to "go nowhere among the Gentiles." (l0:5)
15:22 - Chananaia - Matthew uses the older term "Canaanite" rather
than Mark's (7:26) Syro-Phoenician. This is the only place in the New
Testament where this gentile name, synonomous with "sin" in the O.T., is
used. Eleisonme, kyrie - This familiar petition, "Have mercy on me, O
Lord," is here coupled with another title, huios David, "Son of David." Used
frequently in Matthew as a Christological phrase, it goes back to the
passages in the O.T. where God promises a son to David (II Sam. 7:17), and
is consistent with Matthew's genealogy in 1:17. Jesus' power to heal the
demon-possessed is already established in Matthew, and the Canaanite
woman seems well-rehearsed in her address of Jesus. It is to be noted
that the title "Son of David" is used almost exclusively in reference to
Jesus' earthly ministry, especially his healing ministry. This strengthens
the Matthean position that Jesus is the promised Messiah from the line of
15:23 - ho de ouk apekrithe autei logon - How to interpret this verse? It
seems cruel and out of character for Jesus. Is his silence an outright
contradiction of his earlier teaching in 15:20b? Does God put people to
such a harsh test in their "most desperate hours?" (Mark C. Thompson,
"Matthew 15:21-28," INTERPRETATION, July, 1981, p. 280.) Is Jesus testing
the disciples? The answer is not certain, but it appears that this
interpolation has been added to the miracle story to reinforce the theme
that the mission of Jesus was first to Israel--the "harassed and helpless,"
who are "like sheep without a shepherd" (9:36). This is supported by verse
In the Marcan account, it is the woman who "begs" Jesus for healing for her
daughter, while in Matthew, the disciples eiroton (begged) Jesus to get rid
of the woman. No questions are asked about whether a "healing" should or
should not take place. The disciples just want to be relieved of her
presence and urge Jesus to do whatever is necessary to accomplish that.
15:24 - The silence is broken with the answer, "I was sent only to the lost
sheep of the house of Israel." As Martin Luther explained in Table Talk
(Luther's Works, vol. 54, p. 45l): "Christ was therefore sent to the Jews in
person because they had the promise of his person. The Gentiles didn't
have the promise by they had mercy [Romans 15:9]."
15:25 - he de elthousa prosekunei auto legousa - The mother's spontaneous
worship of the Lord, and her persistent petitioning, kyrie, boethei moi.,
(amazing behavior for a Gentile woman) are the springboard for a
delightful repartee between Jesus and the Canaanite. He begins by
addressing his disciples (15:26). ouk estin kalon (Some western
witnesses use exestin instead of estin kalon, heightening Jesus' reply
form what is appropriate or fitting to what is lawful or permitted; cf.
Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p.
labein ton arton to teknon kai balein tois kunariois - Although the words
have a ring of finality, the woman will not be turned away. Her bold, quick
answer, beginning with words of agreement, nai, kyrie (vs. 27) and
continuing, "Yet even the kunaria eat the crumbs that fall from their
master's table," is remarkable. The Jews frequently used the term "kuon"
to refer to both dogs and gentiles, since both were considered uncleanll.
Here the epithet is found in the dimunitive form, making it a reference to a
15:28 - Now arrives the "kairos" of the passage. In the context of the
woman's great pistis, "faith," the request for healing is granted. Her faith
is in contrast to the apistia of the hometown folk who rejected Jesus
because of their "unbelief," (13:58) and the oligoistos of Peter, the man of
"little faith." (John P. Meier, The Vision of Matthew, p. 99.) It is the
stranger, the outcast, the sinner, who receives mercy! With the
pronouncement that the daughter, kai iathe he thugater, was healed
instantly, the wall between the Jew and the Gentile began to crumble. In
this verse is the preview of the great commission to the disciples to "Go
therefore and make disciples of all nations....." (28:19).
This passage reminds us of St. Paul's conflict with Peter in Galatians (cf.
chapter 2ff. ). From the beginning, the early church struggled with
universalism. Was salvation based upon faith in Jesus Christ or an
"accident" of birth? Today, as the New Israel, we still stand in judgment
as to how we treat the "no-good" stranger, the foreigner...the sinner? Is
our response one of openness, forgiveness and merciful love toward all
who are "different," or do we, as did the disciples, BEG for deliverance
from such "nuisances"?
The Canaanite woman is significant for us as individuals and as the
church. She is no only a Gentile coming into the midst of Jews, but also a
"woman" who violated Jewish order by coming into the presence of males.
Even more she was the mother of a daughter who was ill with
demon-possession--a sure indication to others of the presence of sin. As
an outcast she embodies each of us in our isolation, alienation and
ungodliness. In her boldness, she challenges us to risk "speaking out" and
"acting" as advocates for all those who are victims of prejudice and
injustice. All this, that we might hear, individually and corporately, the
words of renewal, "Oh, woman / man / child, how great is your faith."
(Thompson, op.cit., p. 282.)
We also identify with her every Sunday as we sing the Kyrie Eleison.
Oh, that we might be as importunate as she, and that this oft-repeated
petition in our liturgies would be both an Affirmation of Faith as well as a
liturgical intercession for ourselves and others.
This text, as do others during the Pentecost season, invites us to
examine our worship practices. Are they perfunctory? Enthusiastic?
Creative? Does what we do in the sanctuary of the church affect our lives
in the "sanctuary" of the world?
Is the "call to worship" also a call to feed the poor, protect the
disenfranchised, heal the sick, work for justice and equality, and witness
to the "universal" words of St. Paul that "There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you
are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28)? When we gather to worship, do we
reaffirm God's basic promise to be personally present with us in Word and
Sacrament? It is no accident that this passage is immediately followed
by the "Feeding of the Four Thousand" (15:32ff.).
The gentile woman seemed to understand far better than we do at times,
that the central focus of our lives and worship is to be on Christ himself
who is the basic sacrament. And that his way is always the "way of the
Cross." We must not yield to the temptation to do as the disciples did for
the sake of expediency, make Jesus into nothing more than "the
coal-carrier" who unloads his sack of fuel at our back door. (Ernst
Kaesemann, Jesus Means Freedom, p. 65). Our Gospel text calls us, and all
others who would hear, to come and kneel before Jesus Christ, crying,
"Lord, help us," knowing full well that the good news of the Promise is
that He will!
Bultmann, Rudolf. HISTORY OF THE SYNOPTIC TRADITION. New York: Harper
and Row, 1963.
Kaesemann, Ernst. JESUS MEANS FREEDOM. Phila. : Fortress Press, 1972.
Luther, Martin. LUTHER'S WORKS, American Edition. Phila.: Fortress Press,
Meier, John P. THE VISION OF MATTHEW: CHRIST, CHURCH AND MORALITY IN
THE FIRST GOSPEL. New York: Paulist Press, 1979.
Metzger, Bruce M. A TEXTUAL COMMENTARY ON THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT.
United Bible Societies, 1971.
Thompson, Mark C. "Matthew 15:21-28," INTERPRETATION 3, July, 1981.
Richmond, VA: Union Theological Seminary.
5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS
A MULTITUDE COMES FROM EAST AND WEST (LBW 313)
THERE'S A WIDENESS IN GOD'S MERCY (LBW 290; HB 469,470)
FATHER ETERNAL, RULER OF CREATION (LBW 413, HB 573)
IN CHRIST THERE IS NO EAST OR WEST (LBW 359, HB 529)
WHEN IN THE HOUR OF DEEPEST NEED (LBW 303)
Exegete: Suzanne Perez †
FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
August 24, 2008 (Lectionary 21)
Psalm 138 (8)
Psalm 124 (7)
l. CONTEXT: Matthew 16:13-20
While this report of Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi and the
response of Jesus to it shares much with the parallel accounts in Mark and
Luke, the three verses (17-19) which are unique to the Matthew pericope
have occasioned considerable discussion and controversy. The essential
outline of the event is not a subject of dispute. Jesus sought a verdict
from his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" They answer: some say
John the Baptist, other Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets--each one
of the answers fitting into the expectations of the Jewish people. But
Jesus wants to know whether his immediate followers have even an idea
of who he is or what he must do. Peter answers that he is the Messiah,
the son of the Living God. Jesus responds that Peter did not reason this
out for himself, but this knowledge is itself a gift from God. Then in
Matthew's rendition are added the words "You are Peter and upon this rock
I will build my Church." Here the interpretive battle begins. What is the
place and role of Peter in the New Testament and what are the
implications of the words of Jesus for the government of the Church
through the ages.
The Roman Catholic assertion is that Jesus built the Church upon the
primacy of Peter and it was the undisputable intention of the Lord that
Peter would hand on this letter of appointment to his successors.
Protestant object to this Roman Catholic position, saying that it does not
fit in with the total New Testament understanding of the nature and
government of the Church. Protestants and Roman Catholics alike, far too
frequently have been guided in their exegesis by the determination not to
yield anything to the other side.
Apart from the problem they have created in the relations between
Protestant and Catholic, the Matthean insertion also elicits at least one
other question. The use of the term "church," the exressions "flesh and
blood" and "the Son of the Living God," suggest that the incident actually
came later in the history of Jesus' relationship to his disciplesl. Oscar
Cullman sees the words of Jesus fitting naturally into the passion story.
Few have bought into this thesis. The scholars who produced the
interconfessional study PETER IN THE NEW TESTAMENT join others in
suggesting that the words actually blets into a post-resurrection context.
Matthew 16:13 - eis ta merei Kaisareias tes philippou - Mark and Matthew
agree that this pivotal encounter in the ministry and mission of Jesus took
place in the district of Caesarea Philippi about twenty miles north of the
Sea of Galilee. The population here was mainly non-Jewish and the area
was crowded with altars, set up for other Gods. The location offers a
strange setting for this sort of exchange between Jesus and his disciples.
Perhaps it can be said that coming in such a place the confession of Peter
is global in consequence.
16:16 - Su ei ho Christos ho huios tou theou tou zontos - The identification
of Jesus as the man or the man-who-is-to-some is made complete. The
authors of the Anchor Bible commentary are absolutely correct when they
write, "In its original context the question posed by Jesus and answered by
Peter as spokesman demands commitment to Jesus as Messiahl." Peter's
declaration is a way of acknowledging that human categories, even the
most sublime and lofty, can neither obtain nor adequately describe Jesus;l.
Matthew's rendition of this confession adds the expression, "the son of the
Living God." Most obviously this addition assigns to the concept of a
Messiah, a dynamic far greater that what the Jews had intended when they
began to speak of Messiah.
16:17 - Makarios ei, Simon Barjona, hoti sarx kai aima ouk apechalupsen
soi all' ho pater mou ho en tois ouranois. kago de soi lego hoti su ei
Petros, kai epi tautei tei petra oikodomeso mou ten ekklesian - This is the
declaration upon which Roman Catholics and Protestants have traditionally
parted company. Roman Catholics have contended that the intent is clear
and Jesus fully desired to build his Church in hierarchical fashion with
primacy being placed upon Peter. Protestants have sometimes sought to
respond that the only rock upon which the Church could be built is upon
Christ himself (1 Cor. 3:11), and Jesus' intention was to build the Church
upon the kind of faith that Peter demonstrated. This assertion is
counterproductive. The early Church, which received the Gospel according
to Matthew, apparently saw Jesus assigning a key position to Peter.
Intriguing is the contention of William Barclay that Peter is the rock, but
in a special sense. The rock is actually God but Peter is the first person to
make the leap of faith and hence to become the foundation stone u;pon
which the church, made up of many other stones, is built.
hoti su ei Petros, kai epi tautei ei petra oikodomeso mou ten ekklesian - In
the Aramaic original the sentence runs "you are kepha and upon this kepha"
I will build my Church. The fact that rock and Peter are identical in
Aramaic makes Jesus' statement into a delightful play on words.
While there is no doubt that Jesus gave this name to Peter, there is some
disagreement as to whether the name was given at Caesarea Philippi or on
some early occasion as the Gospel of John implies (John 1:42). The
designation rock would not have sounded strange to Jewish ears. The
rabbis had referred to Abraham as a rock.
ekklesian - Ekklesia means assembly and is rendered in English as
Churchll. In the four gospels it is used only here and in Matthew 18:17.
Some have questioned whether those who heard Jesus at this point in his
mission would have understood what he meant. Others have argued that to
his contemporaries a rabbi, or, for that matter, a Messiah without an
assembly of followers, would be unthinkable. The use of the word may
argue for post-resurrection context for these three verses.
16:18 - pulai hadou ou katischusousin auteis - The power of death is more
a correct translation of the Greek than "the gates of hell" used in the KJV.
The word is not "gehenna" but hades, which is a Greek word somewhat
equivalent to the Hebrew SHEOL.
16:19 - tas kleidas teis basileias ton ouranon - The keys of the kingdom
would be committed to the Chief Steward of the royal household and with
this goes full power. There is some confusion here since in other N.T.
passages the keys are quite clearly in the hands of Jesus (Rev. 1:18, 3:7).
In rabbinic literature to bind to to loose is often to declare certain actions
to be forbidden or permitted. It appears clear that Peter is being given
authority. Post-apostolic Christianity does ascribe to the apostles the
prerogatives of Jesus.
Far too much energy and time has been spent in attempting to prove the
primacy of Peter and successors on the basis of this text, or in the
struggle to discount the claim. Lost in this fruitless activity is the
recognition that Jesus also made a statement that is of even greater
consequence, and that is: "I will build my Church and the powers of death
shall not prevail against it."
The Church is not finally a product of human ingenuity, strength or even
faithfulness to the teaching of Jesus. Jesus is the builder of the Church
and it is his power alone that will prevail against even death. That can
only be because the life of the Church is the life of the one who has
already put death behind him.
It does not, however, follow that the Church shall have an easy time of it,
or that its progress should inevitably be onward and upward.
Denominations and individual congregations are well able to forget who
they are and fail. Individual Christians can grow cold and uncaring. The
Church, however, persists. It has a power that will abide through change
and even momentary defeat. The Church lives eternally because the Lord
who builds the Church and is a presence within it lives forever.
Many years ago the respected conservative preacher Clarence E.
MacCartaney reported that a great London newpaper offered a prize for the
best essay on the subject, "What is wrong with the Church?" The prize
was won by a Welsh minister. And what do you think was his answer?
Was it the lack of doctrine, of which indeed there was a great lack? Was
it the lack of education? Was it the loss of touch with the masses, the
poor, the working people that was doing the Church in? Was it a lack of
friendlinesss and warmth? Was it bad preaching or poor music?
No, it was none of these, contended the Welsh minister. His answer was:
"What is wrong with the Church is our failure to realize and wonder at the
beauty, the mystery, the glory, the greatness of the Church." What is
wrong with the Church is that we get so involved and overextended that we
who are the Church forget that it is the resurrected Lord who will build
In somewhat similar vein, Colin Morris of Great Britain has pointed out
that a prime difference between the Christian community of our day and
the early Church is that the early Church was preoccupied with a different
question than ours. They not ask, "How are we doing?" but "What is He
doing?" "I will build my Church," says the Lord, and the powers of death
shall not prevail against it. What might happen if we all took this promise
with a new seriousness?
Albright,W.F. and C.S. Mann. MATTHEW. The Anchor Bible. Garden City, NY:
Barclay, William. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW. Daily Bible Study Series, vol.
II. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.
Bornkamm, G.; Barth,G.; and H.J. Held. TRADITION AND INTERPRETATION OF
MATTHEW. New Testament Library. Philadelphia: Westminster Press,
Brown, Raymond E., Karl P. Donfried and John Reumann. PETER IN THE NEW
TESTAMENT. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1973.
Cullman, Oscar. PETER: DISCIPLE,APOSTLE, MARTYR: A HISTORICAL AND
THEOLOGICAL ESSAY, 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962.
5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS
THE CHURCH'S ONE FOUNDATION (LBW 369, HB 525) is particularly
appropriate to this day. Give careful attention to stanza 3 in light of the
Also appropriate but not quite as pointed in support of the suggested
strategy is Nicolai F.S. Grundtvig's great hymn BUILT ON A ROCK THE
CHURCH SHALL STAND (LBW 365).
JESUS SHALL REIGN (LBW 530 , HB 544)
BY ALL YOUR SAINTS STILL STRIVING (HB 23l,231; cf. Confession of Peter)
CHRIST IS MADE THE SURE FOUNDATION (LBW 367; HB 518, note descant )
GOD IS WORKING HIS PURPOSE OUT (HB 534)
Exegete: John Stadtlander, Ph.D. †
August 25, 2008 (transferred from August 24)
Exodus 19:1-6 Psalm 12 (6)
1 Corinthians 12:27-31a John 1:43-51
SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
August 31, 2008 (Lectionary 22)
Psalm 26:1-8 (3)
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b (1, 45)
1. CONTEXT: Matthew 16:21-28
A. The Place is important. Jesus goes outside Israel for the first time, to
the region round Caesarea Philippi, 20 mi. N of Lake Galilee in the Tyrian
hills. The city was founded by Philip, brother of Herod Antipas, and is
referred to as "Philippi" to distinguish it from that Caesarea on the
coastline just south of the Syrian border.
The move to a pagan venue is Mark's sign of retreat from public ministry;
and the beginning of Jesus' preparation for passion (cf., e.g., F.W. Beare,
The Earliest Records of Jesus, p. 136; also Julius Schniewind,Das
Evangelium Nach Markus, pp. 114ff.: the early christians knew that from
Caesarea Philippi, the messiah takes the way of the cross and subverts the
Luke omits the place reference; Jesus "was praying alone."
Matthew adds that Jesus must "go to Jerusalem." Thomas Talley, in The
Origins of the Liturgical Yearl, connects the gospels to centers of the
early church; Matthew is connected with Jerusalem from early times. This
connection blossoms in the 4th Century when Cyril historicizes the
liturgical year in his Catechetical Lectures and as recorded in the
Pilgrimage of Egeria, a woman who kept a journal of her experience en
route from her native Gaul to Palestinian churches.
Before Talley, Philip Carrington (The Primitive Christian Calendar) showed
Mark and Matthew as lectionaries in the early church, with the first
prophecy of the passion coming right before midsummer, which explains
the old date of August 6 for the Transfiguration. Our text closely relates
to the old reckoning in Year A, but in Year C the Lucan parallel (9:18-24) is
used as the Gospel for Pentecost 5 and the Marcan parallel (8:27-35) is
appointed for Peter and Paul (June 29).
B. This Gospel lies between two important texts: the Confession of Peter
and the account of the Transfiguration.
Preceding our text is the confession of Peter, which Wilhelm Wrede used
as a key text to analyze the strange fact that Jesus calls for a shroud of
secrecy around his messianic ministry. Recently, scholars have been
divided regarding Jesus's self-designation as Messiah. Many see Jesus'
shift from the christos-answer of Peter to "huios tou anthropou" in his
reply as a deflection of the title "christ" and an allusion to his own
eschatogical hopes. The so-called supplement (Matthew 16:17-19) is out
of place and is not considered authentic.
Of the Transfiguration, Karl Barth said that the event coming "six days
after" the confession/prophecy is a "provisional fulfillment of the
promise that some will not taste death before the Kingdom of God comes."
The Transfiguration anticipates Easter in the disciples' lives; this "special
Sabbath" points to eschatological salvation (Preaching through the
Christian Year, pp. 139ff.).
Peter is sharply rebuked in our Gospel lesson, which shows that Jesus
would change the meaning of Messiah, no matter to whom it refers.
"Everything turns, not upon the title, but the content. And the title cannot
be filled with content until a certain history has been accomplished"
(Fuller, Mission and Achievement of Jesus, p. 110). If, as some hold (e.g.,
Beare, op.cit. , p. 137) , "we are inclined ...to look upon the little dialogue
of Mark 8:27-9 as an artificially contrived introduction to the prophecy of
the Passion," then we have to contend with a new interpretation of the
incident in Matthew.
Matthew 16:24 - the cross-saying is in the synoptic parallels but is most
closely paralleled at Luke 14:25-7. This is also in the Gospel of
Thomas,55, where we are called to "take up the cross in my Way."
16:25 - Remember that the Semitic sense of psyche includes life and soul;
hebrew nephesh lies below the text; the nephesh chayah of Genesis 2:7,
"living being" in RSV, means the whole person.
16:28 - This verse is paralleled at Mark 9:1 and at Luke 9:27. Here we have
a study in shifting NT interpretations. Mark speaks of the "kingdom of God
come with power (dynamis)," an eschatological hope of Jesus of Nazareth.
In the Lukan text, this saying is changed to the simple promise that we
will see "the Kingdom of God," probably meaning that we will experience
the era of Pentecost. In Matthew the text, reinterpreted, expresses early
christian hope in the second coming (cf. David Abernathy, Understanding
the Teachings of Jesus, pp. 4f., 148ff.).
Because this text is separated from its precursor we focus on the
prophecy of the passion in our proclamation.
We need assign no supernatural powers to Jesus; his ministry was
controversial enough that he would have been opposed by many and his
death sought by some. The prophecy is not predictive but is Jesus'
observation that forces now begin to gather against his ministry.
The passage offers strong evidence that Jesus believed (with the
Pharisees and against the Sadducees) in resurrection from the dead and
applied that to himself. The phrase "on the third day" is not significant; it
likely refers to a well-known saying at Hosea 6:2.
The sayings about the cost of discipleship in verses 24-8 must not be
spiritualized. Even if this passage is a "catena of sayings," they are
authentic with Jesus. If Mark arranged the order, he made a decision to
connect the disciple's mission to the ministry and death of Jesus. The
good news is that the resurrection is also granted to the disciples.
The conclusion (vss. 27f.) should be retained for preaching even if the
pericope ends at 26, since in these verses we hear that the coming
kingdom is near at hand; this eschatological note empowers our labor now,
this proleptic hope fuels contemporary ministries, even when we cannot
see their worth or tangible results.
James and Margaret Adams say the Pentecost pericopes propound an
alternative consciousness under five heads:
• Awareness of the wholeness of life;
• Appreciation of gifts rather than assignment of roles;
• Hope of transformed social arrangements;
• Focus on the rule of God rather than principalities and powers; and
• Awareness that the Bible is to be read "from beneath" rather than
• "from above"
(cf. the chapter "Pentecost" in D.T.Hessel, Social Themes of the Christian
Year, pp. 243ff.).
Surely this text can be viewed under headings 3 and 4 above with no
trouble, and under 2 with some work. As Neill Q. Hamilton says, "the
primary function of the gospel lessons in the pentecost season should be
to control the subjectivity of persons and congregations who give spiritual
reasons for avoiding responsibility for the whole will of God as displayed
in Jesusl...[which] includes responsibility for social justice" (Ibid., p. 222).
Our preaching focusses on discipleship of the cross which, for Jesus,
meant obedience to the will of God and for us means loyalty to his Word
and to his person into death and resurrection. This loyalty begins with
baptism as sacramentum, the oath of allegiance to Christ.
Abernathy, D. UNDERSTANDING THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS. NY:Seabury,1983.
Barth, Karl. PREACHING THROUGH THE CHRISTIAN YEAR. London: T. &. T.
Beare, F.W. THE EARLIEST RECORDS OF JESUS. NY: Abingdon, 1962.
Carrington, THE PRIMITIVE CHRISTIAN CALENDAR. NY: Oxford, 1952.
Fuller, R. THE MISSION AND ACHIEVEMENT OF JESUS. London: SCM, 1960.
Hessel, SOCIAL THEMES OF THE CHRISTIAN YEAR. Phila.: Geneva, 1983.
Schniewind,J. DAS EVANGELIUM NACH MARKUS. Goettingen: Vandenhoeck
and Rupprecht, 1956.
Talley,T. THE ORIGINS OF THE LITURGICAL YEAR. NY: Pueblo, 1986.
5. WORSHIP SUGGESTIONS
In connection with the proclamation on Pentecost 15, you may want to
use an order such as the "Affirmation of the Vocation of Christians in the
World," from the OCCASIONAL SERVICES (p. 147ff.) which accompany the
LUTHERAN BOOK OF WORSHIP, stressing Christian service as a priesthood
rooted in the covenant of baptism.
Three hymns seem appropriate to accompany the sermon:
TAKE UP YOUR CROSS, THE SAVIOR SAID (LBW 398,HB 675 )
LORD, WHOSE LOVE IN HUMBLE SERVICE (LBW 423.HB 610), and
THE SON OF GOD, OUR CHRIST (LBW 434).
Exegete: Jay C. Rochelle was for many years Dean of the Chapel, Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, and before that a campus pastor at Yale University.