Reflection by The Reverend Ted Witham
The disciples were in the ship, and the ship was being ‘tormented’ (14:24) by the contrary winds. What was the storm the disciples were facing? The story is told in symbolic language. The stormy winds were not just a literal storm on Lake Galilee, rather, Matthew is referring to the stormy passage through which the disciples were travelling.
Herod had just beheaded John the Baptiser. Because the Jesus movement was close to John, the disciples had every reason to fear the enmity of the King. Herod’s violence was making them uncomfortable. Herod represented the Jewish political class, and, as a puppet king of Rome, also represented the power of the Roman Empire.
John, we remember, had denounced Herod for marrying his sister-in-law Herodias. Herod was sensitive to the criticism and first arrested John, then murdered him. This mutual ‘discomfiting’ of church and the powers that be was to become a pattern.
When Matthew then tells this story for his mainly Jewish Christians community, conflict with the synagogue was increasing, and the Romans were harassing the emerging Christian Church. Just by being true to themselves, Christians apparently ‘discomfited’ the authorities, and they in turn ‘discomfited’ the Church.
This is a pattern that should always be part of the Christian Church’s experience. It becomes a litmus test: if the Church is too cosy with the worldly powers, if there is no mutual ‘discomfiting’, then we are not being true to ourselves.
It takes courage to speak truth to power, especially corrupt power. In 1993 and again last year during the ‘sports rorts’ affairs when political pork-barrelling by Labor and Liberal Ministers overcame good governance, few Christians condemned this immoral behaviour, perhaps too quietly to ‘discomfit’ the Government. The louder voices raised in protest are likely to be punished in some way for their dissent.
At other times, the ‘Love Makes a Way’ movement sitting in politician’s offices, has set off anger and vindictive behaviour against Christians, including police strip-searching peaceful protesters. Insisting that love is the way is being true to the Church’s calling, so the mutual discomfiting is not surprising.
It seems we cannot avoid this clash with politics. Our efforts, even as we remain true to our calling, will always be messy. In this chaos, this uncertainty, Jesus insists, ‘Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid!’ (14:27). The promise is that Jesus will grasp us, as he did Peter, and hold us safe in the storm.
We can say with the Psalmist:
'God reached down from on high and took me; he drew me out of mighty waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me;
for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity; but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.'
Image: Giotto di Bondone 1266-1337