Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Gospel is Going to the Dogs

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Matthew 15:21-28, the Revised Common Lectionary reading for the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost.

The challenge of reading this story is that it presents Jesus in a non-flattering light and good boys and girls throughout Christendom have been taught never to consider Jesus in a non-flattering light. Some of those good boys and girls have grown up into biblical commentators and still will not accept the starkness of this story, insisting that Jesus is merely testing this desperate woman’s faith. I would argue that – as Jesus is made known to us on the whole – he would gladly test the faith of a pompous, self-righteous, person of power and entitlement, but it seems strange that Jesus would do so to a desperate mother whose child is tormented. The words “irony” or “test” or “feigning” etc. are not in the text unless we add them. The plain reading is that Jesus acts according to a limited view of his mission and the mother responds according to a desperate need outside of that limited view. And Jesus calls it faith.

21 Καὶ ἐξελθὼν ἐκεῖθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς τὰ μέρη Τύρου καὶ Σιδῶνος.
And having left there Jesus withdrew into the region of Tyre and Sidon.
ἐξελθὼν: AAPart nsm, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of
ἀνεχώρησεν: AAI 3s, ἀναχωρέω, 1) to go back, return, spoken of those who flee. In NT simply to retire, withdraw.
1. This geographical marker may carry significance since this region is where the town of Zarephath is. There, Elijah boarded with a widow, whose vessels of meal and oil did not empty and whose son Elijah brought back to life. The food and healing of the Elijah story seem to be at play in this story.
2. Jesus had previously compared Tyre and Sidon positively to Chorazin and Bethsaida in 11:21-22.
3. The verb ἀναχωρέω can signal a retreat from battle. Maybe Jesus was compelled to go away after his pointed encounter with scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem in vv.1-20.

22 καὶ ἰδοὺ γυνὴ Χαναναία ἀπὸ τῶν ὁρίων ἐκείνων ἐξελθοῦσα ἔκραζεν λέγουσα, Ἐλέησόν με, κύριε, υἱὸς Δαυίδ: ἡ θυγάτηρ μου κακῶς δαιμονίζεται.
And behold a Canaanite woman from those regions having come screamed/squawked saying, “Show me mercy, Lord, son of David; my daughter is badly demonized.”
ἰδοὺ: AMImpv εἶδον, see! behold! calling attention to something.
ἐξελθοῦσα: AAPart nsf, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of
ἔκραζεν: IAI 3s, κράζω, 1) to croak  1a) of the cry of a raven
λέγουσα: PAPart nsf, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ἐλέησόν: AAImpv 2s ἐλεέω, to show mercy (more than have compassion), to have the desire of relieving the miserable, to show kindness by beneficence
δαιμονίζεται: PMI 3s, δαιμονίζομαι, 1) to be under the power of a demon
1. Mark (7:26) identifies this woman as “a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth.” According to biblearcheology.org, “Phoenicia” – rooted in the word for ‘purple’ – was the name given to the region by the Greeks because of the purple dye that was produced there.
2. The verb κράζω is onomatopoeia for a raven’s cry. I think ‘to squawk’ is a close English equivalent, but it is intended to be more desperate than comical. I hope my use of “squawk” does not deter from the desperation, because Matthew uses this term for blind men, demons, disciples in a boat during a storm, Peter sinking in the sea, more blind men, crowds saying “Hosanna,” children repeating that in the temple, crowds calling for Jesus’ death, and Jesus in his last breath. See 8:29, 9;27, 14:26, 14:30, here and the next verse, 20:30 and 31, 21:9, 21:15, 27:23, and 27:50.
3. See my comment in v.26, n.3 on why I have added “scream” to “squawk.”

23 ὁ δὲ οὐκ ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῇ λόγον. καὶ προσελθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἠρώτουν αὐτὸν λέγοντες, Ἀπόλυσον αὐτήν, ὅτι κράζει ὄπισθεν ἡμῶν.
But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples having come were begging him saying, “Send her away, because she screams/squawks behind us.”
ἀπεκρίθη: API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
προσελθόντες: AAPart npm, προσέρχομαι, 1) to come to, approach
ἠρώτουν: IAI 3p, ἐρωτάω, 1) to question  2) to ask  2a) to request, entreat, beg, beseech
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ἀπόλυσον: AAImpv 2s, ἀπολύω, 1) to set free  2) to let go, dismiss, (to detain no longer) … 2b) to bid depart, send away
κράζει: PAI 3s, κράζω, 1) to croak  1a) of the cry of a raven
1. Sometimes with Matthew’s stories, I find it best to translate the conjunction δὲ simply as “then,” because it moves from one word/action to another. Here, however, I see some contrariness between one word/action and the next and will use “but.”
2. It would be tempting to translate Ἀπόλυσον αὐτή as “set her free” (“heal her already!”) and take the demonized daughter as the antecedent for the feminine pronoun, except that the second part of the sentence shows the reference to be the mother. ἀπολύω has many related meanings.
3. The disciples' demand, "Send her away," echoes what they said about the 5,000+ that were gathered in the wilderness with Jesus as it was getting late. I think that is a very common way that we respond to those in need when we feel our resources or patience is lacking. Jesus - later in this chapter - will look at the 4,000+ gathered in the wilderness and say, "I do not wish to send them away hungry."
4. There seems to be a fair amount of chaos going on here, with the woman squawking out desperately and the disciples begging Jesus to get rid of her.

24 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Οὐκ ἀπεστάλην εἰ μὴ εἰς τὰ πρόβατα τὰ ἀπολωλότα οἴκου Ἰσραήλ.
But having answered he said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of house Israel.”
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἀπεστάλην: API 1s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed 
1. This verse alone would imply one thing, but pairing this verse with the preceding verse sets up an interesting dynamic. Jesus did not “send her away,” much to the disciples’ chagrin. But, neither did he seem compelled to answer her because he perceives his mission as to the house of Israel, not a Canaanite woman. The implication – with Jesus’ answer following the disciples entreaty and not the woman’s – is that he is answering them and not her.
2. The relationship between Jesus’ mission and those outside of Israel is complex. - In c.2, the chief priests and scribes with whom Herod consulted quoted the prophet saying, “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” But, of course, this quote is embedded in a story about Magi from the east coming to adore the newborn ruler.
- In c.8, Jesus was impressed with a Centurion, whose faith Jesus says is unlike any that he has seen in Israel. Then, Jesus makes the generous statement, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
- In c.10, Jesus sent the 12 on a journey saying, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vv.5-6).
3. When Matthew uses the phrase “house of Israel” (v.24) here and “God of Israel” later (v.31), “Israel” is not preceded by a possessive genitive article, as it is, for example, in Mt. 10:23 or 19:28. It could strictly be translated “Israel house” and “Israel God.”  

25 ἡ δὲ ἐλθοῦσα προσεκύνει αὐτῷ λέγουσα, Κύριε, βοήθει μοι.
But having come she was bowing to him saying, “Lord, help me.”
ἐλθοῦσα: AAPart nsf, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
προσεκύνει: IAI 3s, προσκυνέω, 1) to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence  2… to fall upon the knees and  touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence
λέγουσα: PAPart nsf, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
βοήθει: PAImpv 2s, βοηθέω, 1) to help, succour, bring aid 
1. One portion of Bullinger’s lexicon for προσεκύνει reads “to crouch, crawl, or fawn, as a dog at a master’s feet.” It would add to indignity of squawking, or crying out in desperation. 
2. The use of the imperfect “was bowing” implies an ongoing action that is not captured in many translations’ “knelt,” but is consistent with the way this story has been told so far. The indignity of bowing is multiplied if someone is not answering and on has to bow repeatedly. That kind of humiliating persistence seems to me to be what Matthew is describing.

26 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Οὐκ ἔστιν καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ βαλεῖν τοῖς κυναρίοις.
But having answered he said, “It is not good to take the bread of the children and to throw it to the mutts/puppies.”
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἔστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
λαβεῖν: AAInf, λαμβάνω, 1) to take
βαλεῖν: AAInf, βάλλω, 1) to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls
1. This time Jesus seems to be answering the woman’s words directly.
2. The humiliation continues to pile up for this desperate woman. Since κυναρίοις is the diminutive form of dog, I take it as a reference to the daughter but do not assume that it intends to imply cuteness. In many countries, dogs are not pets as much as tolerated scavengers that lurk around the edges. Unlike many other hungry species, they are often comfortable around humans and therefore are more likely to come near a table when people are eating.
3. I’m facing a bit of a dilemma here. I’m wanting “squawk” to imply desperation, not comedy; and I want “puppy” to imply an insult not a cute pet. But, I’m worried that the customary meaning of those terms makes the desperate woman look like a lunatic and makes Jesus sound playful. So, I’m backing up and offering the alternative words “scream” and “mutt.” I don’t know if that helps, but I don’t want my own love for Jesus or traditional ways of dismissing women’s voices to shape this text.

27 ἡ δὲ εἶπεν, Ναί, κύριε, καὶ γὰρ τὰ κυνάρια ἐσθίει ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν.
But she said, “Yes, Lord, for even the mutts/puppies eat from the falling crumbs from table of their lords.”
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐσθίει: PAI 3s, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat  2) to eat (consume) a thing
1. The ESV interprets the words Ναί … γὰρ as “Yes … yet.” However, γὰρ is usually translated “for,” not “yet/but/still/etc.” I think the “Yes” is a rebuttal to Jesus’ phrase “It is not good…” resulting in something like, “Oh yes it is good, for the puppies get the crumbs …”
2. There is a contrast of dueling habits: Jesus appeals to the habit of distinguishing between the needs of one’s children and the needs of a dog’s puppies. The woman appeals to the habit of allowing the puppies to feast on the leftovers from what one feeds one’s children.  
3. The woman is appealing to leftovers. While it would be out of character for her to appeal directly to the feeding of the 5,000+ story - which precedes this story, but in which the woman did not participate - the narrator may certainly be expecting the readers to remember it. There were 12 baskets full leftover. Is that a symbol of fullness for Israel, or for the world? Abundance always seems to mean leftovers, sharing, an opportunity for generosity and not parsimony. She is making a case against Jesus' words based on the very activity of Jesus.

28 τότε ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῇ, ω γύναι, μεγάλη σου ἡ πίστις: γενηθήτω σοι ὡς θέλεις. καὶ ἰάθη ἡ θυγάτηρ αὐτῆς ἀπὸ τῆς ὥρας ἐκείνης.
Then having answered Jesus said to her, “Oh woman, great your faith; let it become to you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed from that hour.
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
γενηθήτω: APImpv 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
θέλεις: PAI 2s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend 
ἰάθη: API 3s, ἰάομαι, 1) to cure, heal  2) to make whole 
1. The phrase “great your faith” does not have a verb. Perhaps, “Your great faith!”

In the end, Jesus gets the last word and it is a gracious word. In the beginning and the middle, however, it was not so gracious. This is, and always has been, a very hard story to read because Jesus seems rather hard-hearted to this woman, not treating her with compassion because her daughter is suffering, but ignoring her and refusing her because of her heritage. It raises difficult questions:
- Was Jesus sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel? Imagine what it would be like to suffix to all of the grand statements that we make about Jesus, “… for Israel only.”
- One could argue – and I think this is one of the ongoing arguments at play throughout the Hebrew Bible – that for Jesus to be sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel is ultimately good for the whole world, including Canaanites,  Syrophoenicians, and Gentiles. So the exclusiveness of that calling would be provisional, in order to be more inclusive. That argument, of course, easily slides into outright exclusion for the moment.
- Does the kind of power that delivers a child from being demonized have a limited quantity, like bread on the table? Would it be the case that, for Jesus to administer deliverance for this girl, it would mean there would be less deliverance for the next Israelite who was demonized? The analogy seems stretched, to me.
- Is Jesus simply espousing a cultural prejudice that limited God’s salvation to Israel first/only? If so, does the woman’s desperate faith convert Jesus from one way of embracing the gospel to another? Did I just use the phrase, “convert Jesus”?

In the verses that follow, Jesus leaves the region of Tyre and Sidon, returns to the sea of Galilee, many people come to him, bringing people who need healing, and … “they glorified the God of Israel.” (v.31) That is a curious way of putting it. One would think that if Jesus were in the region of the sea of Galilee, then it would be taken for granted that “they glorified God” would mean “they glorified the God of Israel.” But Matthew makes the point that it is the God of Israel whom they glorified. I wonder if that means that the crowd that met Jesus in the wilderness, bringing their sick and lame, and ultimately being fed (again) with loaves and fish, is not a crowd from the “house of Israel.” If they are from outside of the house of Israel, then this encounter with the Canaanite woman radically changes the scope of Jesus’ ministry. The gospel is going to the dogs! The dogs are being fed straight from the table. 4,000 dogs are going to be fed in 15:32-39, just like 5,000 children were fed in 14:15-21 and these dogs become part of the people of Israel whom God fed in the wilderness during their Exodus from Egypt. IF this reference to “the God of Israel” – as opposed to simply “God” – has significance, I argue that the Canaanite woman has won Jesus over with her argument and has broadened his perspective of his mission from God.




Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Superfluous Miracle?

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Matthew 14:22-33, the well known story of Jesus “walking on water.” To be honest, I have often thought that this was the most useless “miracle” in all of the gospels. With no obvious upside – like a healing or exorcism or feeding the masses – the miracle here simply seems to be a demonstration that Jesus is “the son of God” and has the ability to do things that others have too much doubt to do. I struggle with that perception because it would seem to be pretty clear by now that Jesus is unlike everyone else. More troubling to me is the idea that Jesus just did some great performance in order to prove to people that he was capable of miracles. That seems to be an unworthy raison d'être for miracles, to me. I am not saying that every miracle needs to serve a utilitarian purpose that is evident to me in order for me to find meaning in it. But, I do not sense – from the general direction of the gospel – that miracles are meant to be simple demonstrative proof of Jesus’ sonship of God. 

After looking at this text verse-by-verse, I will re-visit this question that I have regarding the meaning and purpose of this particular miracle.

22 Καὶ εὐθέως ἠνάγκασεν τοὺς μαθητὰς ἐμβῆναι εἰς τὸ πλοῖον καὶ προάγειν 
αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ πέραν, ἕως οὗ ἀπολύσῃ τοὺς ὄχλους. 
And immediately he forced the disciples to jump into the boat and to go before him to the other side, until he might dismiss the crowd.
ἠνάγκασεν: AAI 3s, ἀναγκάζω, 1) to necessitate, compel, drive to, constrain 
ἐμβῆναι: AAInf, ἐμβάλλω, 1) to throw in, cast into 
προάγειν: PAInf, προάγω, 1) to lead forward, lead forth  
ἀπολύσῃ: AASubj 3s, ἀπολύω, 1) to set free  2) to let go, dismiss, (to detain no longer)
1. The language in this verse is curious and forceful.
a. Jesus “forced” (ἠνάγκασεν, see definition) the disciples.
b. He forced them to “jump in” the boat (ἐμβῆναι means “to throw in”, but since this is active and does not have an object, I am using “to jump in”).
c. One expects a ἵνα, “in order that he might dismiss the crowd,” but instead there is an ἕως, “until he might dismiss the crowd.”  I wonder if this is a longer and more difficult process than meets the eye. It is my contention (see last week’s post) that the crowd may well have gathered with violent intentions, following the senseless execution of John the Baptizer.
2. What might be the point here? If the crowd had intentions of responding to Herod’s act of killing John with violence, maybe Jesus needs to separate the disciples – especially that hotheaded Simon Peter and those “Sons of Thunder” James and John – in order to disperse the crowd. Or, maybe someone just has to get the departure going.
3. An interpretive question: Does the disciples’ quick and forced departure mark the end of the previous story? Does it simply set up the following story? Does it bridge the stories of the feeding of the 5,000+ and the walk on water during a storm?

23 καὶ ἀπολύσας τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος κατ' ἰδίαν προσεύξασθαι. 
ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης μόνος ἦν ἐκεῖ. 
And having dismissed the crowd, he went up into the mountain by himself to pray. Yet having become evening he was alone there.
ἀπολύσας: AAPart nsm, ἀπολύω, 1) to set free  2) to let go, dismiss
ἀνέβη: AAI 3s, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend  1a) to go up  
προσεύξασθαι: AMInf, προσεύχομαι, 1) to offer prayers, to pray 
γενομένης: AMPart gsf, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being 
1. The phrase “by himself” (κατ' ἰδίαν) is repeated from v.13 when Jesus “withdrew by boat by himself to a solitary place.” 
2. The phrase “having become evening” (ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης) is also repeated from v.15 of the previous story.
3. I wonder what the significance of Jesus’ solitude is to this story. His first solitude was interrupted by the crowd. This one seems to end when it ends. Jesus’ first withdrawal into solitude was prompted by the news of John the Baptizer’s death. Is that still the motive?

24  τὸ δὲ πλοῖον ἤδη σταδίους πολλοὺς ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ἀπεῖχεν, βασανιζόμενον 
ὑπὸ τῶν κυμάτων, ἦν γὰρ ἐναντίος ὁ ἄνεμος. 
Yet the boat now was holding back many stadia from the land, being battered by the waves, for the wind was contrary.
ἀπεῖχεν: IAI 3s, ἀπέχω, 1) have  1a) to hold back, keep off, prevent
βασανιζόμενον: PPPart nsn, βασανίζω, 1) to test (metals) by the touchstone…5) to be harassed, 5a) of those who at sea are struggling with a head wind 
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. The most foolish thing to do in a storm at sea, of course, it to try to land the boat and risk being battered by the rocks on the shore rather than the waves.

25 τετάρτῃ δὲ φυλακῇ τῆς νυκτὸς ἦλθεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς περιπατῶν ἐπὶ τὴν 
θάλασσαν. 
Yet in the fourth watch of the night he came to them walking on the sea.
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
περιπατῶν: PAPart nsm, περιπατέω, 1) to walk 
1. A “behold” or “Shazam!” or something like would be nice here to signify that people (even Jesus) don’t come walking across water every day.
2. A storm at sea is one of the most compelling symbols of chaos for sea-faring folk. It is THE dreaded possibility, where nothing is stable and everything is in flux. Something that might be stable – a rock, etc. – would actually be a threat in a storm because the storm takes away the ability to navigate toward stability. I wonder if the storm here is a symbol for the chaotic moment for the disciples following John’s senseless execution.

26οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης περιπατοῦντα 
ἐταράχθησαν λέγοντες ὅτι Φάντασμά ἐστιν, καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ φόβου ἔκραξαν. 
Then the disciples seeing him on the sea walking were troubled saying, “It is a phantasm,” and they squawked out from the fear.
ἰδόντες: AAPart npm, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes 
περιπατοῦντα: PAPart asm, περιπατέω, 1) to walk
ἐταράχθησαν: API 3p, ταράσσω, 1) to agitate, trouble (a thing, by the movement of its parts to and fro)  1a) to cause one inward commotion,
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἔκραξαν: AAI 3p, κράζω, 1) to croak  1a) of the cry of a raven  1b) hence, to cry out, cry aloud, vociferate
1. I’m using “phantasm” because it is a transliteration of Φάντασμά.
2. A further definition of κράζω implies that it might have started out as onomatopoeia, to mimic the croak of a raven. I think “squawk” is a close English equivalent, implying panic that loses all dignity.

27εὐθὺς δὲ ἐλάλησεν [ὁ Ἰησοῦς] αὐτοῖς λέγων, Θαρσεῖτε, ἐγώ εἰμι: μὴ 
φοβεῖσθε.
Then immediately [Jesus] spoke to them saying, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afeared.”
ἐλάλησεν: AAI 3s, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound 
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Θαρσεῖτε: PAImpv 2p, θαρσέω,  (in NT only in imperative) be of good courage! take courage! cheer up! take heart! feel confidence!
εἰμι: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
φοβεῖσθε: PMImpv 2p, φοβέωto terrify, frighten
1. ἐγώ εἰμι often appears in the “I am” sayings, but ἐγώ can also be the nominative predicate of the verb εἰμι; hence “It is I.” 

28 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ αὐτῷ  Πέτρος εἶπεν, Κύριε, εἰ σὺ εἶ, κέλευσόν με ἐλθεῖν 
πρὸς σὲ ἐπὶ τὰ ὕδατα: 
Then having answered to him, Peter said, “Lord, since it is you, order me to come to you into the water.”
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἶ: PAI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
κέλευσόν: AAImpv 2p, κελεύω, 1) to command, to order
ἐλθεῖν: AAInf, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
1. I had originally noted here that Peter makes Jesus indicative “It is I” conditional with “If it is you.” Now I remember how Paul Achtemeier has said that the ‘εἰ’ followed by an indicative verb (as here, with εἰμί) should be “since,” not “if.” (It occurs to me that if we translate it “since” instead of “if,” then we have just ruined many a good sermon on where Peter went wrong in this story. Sorry.)
2. The verb “to order” (κελεύω) is repeated from v.19 in the previous story, when Jesus ordered the crowd to sit before the feeding of the 5,000+.
3. There is a bit of irony that Peter uses an imperative verb to command Jesus to command him.
4. What in THE world would compel someone in a boat in a storm in the sea to say to Jesus at this point, “Command me to come to you”? 

29  δὲ εἶπεν, Ἐλθέ. καὶ καταβὰς ἀπὸ τοῦ πλοίου [ὁ] Πέτρος περιεπάτησεν 
ἐπὶ τὰ ὕδατα καὶ ἦλθεν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν. 
Then he said, “Come.” And having climbed from the boat Peter walked on the water and came to Jesus.”
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ἐλθέ: AAImpv 2s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
καταβὰς: AAPart nsm, καταβαίνω, 1) to go down, come down, descend  1a) the place from which one has come down from 
περιεπάτησεν: AAI 3s, περιπατέω, 1) to walk 
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
1. I think in the description of this story we ought not to have Peter sinking too quickly in the water. He did what Jesus commanded him and walked to Jesus. On water. Not many of us who would criticize Peter have even gotten that far.

30 βλέπων δὲ τὸν ἄνεμον [ἰσχυρὸν] ἐφοβήθη, καὶ ἀρξάμενος 
καταποντίζεσθαι ἔκραξεν λέγων, Κύριε, σῶσόν με. 
Yet seeing the [forceful] wind he was afeared, and having begun to sink he squawked saying, “Lord, save me.”
βλέπων: PAPart nsm, βλέπω, 1) to see, discern, of the bodily eye
ἐφοβήθη: API 3s, φοβέωto terrify, frighten
ἀρξάμενος: AMPart nsm, ἄρχω, 1) to be chief, to lead, to rule
καταποντίζεσθαι: PPInf, καταποντίζω 1. to throw into the sea, passive to be plunged or drowned therein. 2. to sink down in the sea.
ἔκραξεν: AAI 3s, κράζω, 1) to croak  1a) of the cry of a raven  1b) hence, to cry out, cry aloud, vociferate
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
σῶσόν: AAImpv 2s, σῴζω, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction

31 εὐθέως δὲ  Ἰησοῦς ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα ἐπελάβετο αὐτοῦ καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, 
Ὀλιγόπιστε, εἰς τί ἐδίστασας; 
Yet immediately Jesus having stretched out his hand grabbed and says to him, “You of little faith, why did you waver?”
ἐκτείνας: AAPart nsm, ἐκτείνω, 1) to stretch out, stretch forth, 1a) over, towards, against one
ἐπελάβετο: AMI 3s, ἐπιλαμβάνομαι, 1) to take in addition, to lay hold of, take possession of, overtake, attain, attain to; in NT only in middle to hold one's self on by, lay hold of, with or without violence.
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐδίστασας: AAI 2s, διστάζω, 1) to doubt, waiver 
1. The phrase, “having stretched out the hand laid hold of him” is awkward. One decision a translator needs to make is what to do with the αὐτοῦ.
a. Is it possessive and does it refer to Jesus’ hand? If so, it could read “Having stretched out his [Jesus’] hand grabbed and says to him …”  
b. Or, does it refer to Peter as the object of the preposition “ἐπελάβετο”? (There are other occasions when ἐπελάβετο takes the genitive as its object.) In that case, it could read, “having stretched forth the hand, laid hold of him and says to him,” as Young’s Literal Translation does.
2. The verb “waver” (δι-στάζω) literally means ‘to stand in two ways.’ I love the parallel between this question and a question posed by Elijah in I Kings 18:21 Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”

32 καὶ ἀναβάντων αὐτῶν εἰς τὸ πλοῖον ἐκόπασεν  ἄνεμος. 
And they having climbed up into the boat, the wind ceased.
ἀναβάντων: AAPart gpm, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend  1a) to go up 
ἐκόπασεν: AAI 3s, κοπάζω, 1) to grow weary or tired 2) to cease from violence, cease raging
1. The entry of Jesus and Peter into the boat and the cessation of the wind are presented in this verse as two sequential events. What does not happen is Jesus turning to the wind and saying, “Peace, be still!” or anything additionally demonstrative or verbal beyond his already having walked on the water. Yet, the sequence of the two events might be what causes the disciples’ reaction in the next verse, or else they are reacting to Jesus having walked to them on the water, which at first they had interpreted as a scary phantasm.

33 οἱ δὲ ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ λέγοντες, Ἀληθῶς θεοῦ υἱὸς εἶ. 
Then the ones in the boat bowed to him saying, “Truly you are a son of God.”
προσεκύνησαν: AAI 3p, προσκυνέω, 1) to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence  … 3) in the NT by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἶ: PAI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. For comparison’s sake, the Centurion at the cross says, Ἀληθῶς θεοῦ υἱὸς ἦν οὗτος, “truly this one was a son of God,” a very similar expression to what the disciples say, but in the past tense (27:54) and using the third person.
2. In neither expression is the definite article “the son of God” used. It is indefinite, “a son of God” or one could simply make it “God’s son.”  

The story ends with those in the boat claiming that Jesus is truly a son of God, reinforcing the notion that the purpose of this miracle (if indeed a miracle needs to show a purpose to the likes of me) is to demonstrate Jesus’ sonship of God.

I wonder if something else is afoot. Maybe this story is about the disciples. Certainly that is the case for Mark’s version (c.6), where the story shows the disciples failure (once again). For Mark, Peter does not assert himself, but all of them are frightened by Jesus and they do not conclude with claiming Jesus as a son of God. Rather, the narrator concludes, “And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

Since Matthew receives this story from Mark, but lacks Mark’s ongoing harsh criticism of the disciples’ utter failures, perhaps Matthew is refocusing this story as part of the aftermath of John’s execution. While Mark and Matthew follow the same pattern – John’s execution; the feeding of the 5,000+; Jesus walking on the water – Mark interrupts that pattern by bracketing John’s execution with the disciples’ missionary journey. After hearing about John’s death, the disciples report about their journey, then Jesus invites them to go to the deserted place. For Mark, the immediate context of the feeding story, then, is not John’s death, but the disciples’ journey.

Matthew changes this context. It seems to me that the whole of c.14 is played out in the shadow of John’s death. John’s death is why Jesus goes to the deserted place; John’s death is why the crowd goes also; John’s death is why Jesus is gut-wrenched that they are like sheep without a shepherd; John’s death is why Jesus forcefully makes the disciples leave until he can disperse the crowd.

I want to offer my interpretation of Matthew’s way of telling the story – which is plenty speculative, but tries to account for Matthew’s sequence of events as well as the curious comment that Jesus forces his disciples to get into the boat. From v.22 above, the definitions for ἀναγκάζω, can be “to necessitate, compel, drive to, constrain.” The KJV and YLT go with “constrained,” while the ESV, NIV and NRSV seem to soften the verb with “made.” As I suggest briefly in my comment on v.22, I wonder if the disciples might be the most ardent of Jesus’ followers. They are not simply showing up when Jesus feeds, heals, etc. like the crowds. Rather, they have left their livelihood behind to follow him. John’s death – a meaningless, purposeless, maddeningly egregious execution by Herod – is one of those events that could trigger the suppressed anger of a crowd and cause an eruption. Could Jesus’ decision to withdraw to a lonely place (v.13 and again in v.23) have been times for him to consider the implications of John’s death on his own actions? (Remember, we are still not yet at the place in the story where Jesus discloses his impending death to the disciples – an announcement to which Simon Peter reacts strongly).

In response to John’s death, Jesus does not rally the crowd, does not entice them to gather the pitchforks and torches, does not publicly denounce Herod, or any of the above. He invites the disciples to participate in feeding a dispirited and hungry crowd. When they are all fed and satisfied, Jesus forces the disciples to go away. Now, he comes to them in a very unusual manner, which has the effect of demonstrating the disciples’ fear and Peter’s lack of faith.

I wonder if the storm and their inability to land the ship is a metaphor for the disciples’ inability to navigate the waters of the Roman Empire. Jesus is not deterred by the winds and is able to navigate the waters unusually well. He even responds to Peter’s command by commanding Peter to join him, but Peter ultimately is unable to do so. His bravado was initially great, but his faith is ultimately too small. Hmm…


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