9th Sunday after Trinity

by
03 August 2017

1 Kings 19.9-18; Psalm 85.8-13; Romans 10.5-15; Matthew 14.22-23

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Almighty God, who sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your Church: open our hearts to the riches of your grace, that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love and joy and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

VERTIGO sufferers manage to cope with heights by not looking down. A momentary reminder that it is a long way to the ground can demolish any confidence gained in the brave act of climbing up. For Peter, it is not the sudden sight of water rather than land under his feet, but the distraction of a high wind, upsetting his balance, that takes his eyes off the face of Jesus and concentrates all his attention on the terrifying and illogical situation in which he finds himself (Matthew 14.30).

The Gospel portraits of Peter agree on his impulsiveness. He is the first to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah in reply to the question “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16.13-18, Mark 8.27-30, Luke 9.18-20). He is the one who offers to build three shelters on the mountain of the transfiguration (Matthew 17.4, Mark 9.5, Luke 9.33). And it is Peter who jumps into the sea to wade towards the risen Jesus on the shore, leaving his companions to bring in the boat (John 21.1-8). Did he step out on to the water in this earlier episode because he failed to think about the consequences?

While, in one sense, that may have been true, it does little justice to the quality of Peter’s faith and trust in Jesus. He is sincerely prepared to take great risks to be near the Lord he has committed himself to following. If there is a deficiency of faith, it is in his own capacity to complete what he has undertaken.

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That is what Jesus recognises in a reply that sounds pompous and disappointed in the English “you of little faith”. The economical Greek oligopiste (smallfaith) can be imagined in a voice of teasing affection underpinned by encouragement (Matthew 14.31). Jesus had used the same word for the disciples during an earlier storm on the lake (Matthew 8.26).

What does not waver is Peter’s certainty that Jesus can save him from sinking, but it will take more time, and the devastating recognition of himself as a betrayer (Matthew 26.31-35, 69-75), to teach him how to be an apostle to others.

Elijah, fleeing from Ahab and Jezebel, must learn to hear and obey the voice of God, even when preoccupied by the picture of a nation that has turned to idolatry despite his prophetic endeavours.

He seems himself at the centre of this drama, and his reflection on what has happened is neatly caricatured by the writer of 1 Kings in the repeated question and answer that frame the story of the “still small voice”. The Lord who asks Elijah what he is doing on Horeb (1 Kings 19.9-10) chooses not to add to the words already filling the prophet’s mind, but becomes present instead as “a sound of sheer silence” (NRSV). It is impossible to take shelter from something that is neither fire nor earthquake. Elijah must stand in this silence until the question is repeated (1 Kings 19.13-14).

He is as resolutely self-involved the second time as he was the first. The Lord is not concerned, however, that he is the last prophet left in a landscape of Baal-worshippers, and, in any case, this picture is not quite accurate. There are still seven thousand who have not “bowed to Baal”, and there is an ongoing mission for kings and prophets to accomplish (1 Kings 19.15-18). Elijah must return to work.

Paul strives to bridge the gap between the historically faithful nation and a world in which salvation is offered to all who call on the name of the Lord (Romans 10.13). Just as all, both Jews and Gentiles, have sinned (Romans 3.22-23), Leander Keck says, so there is no distinction when it comes to the generosity of God, who reaches out to all (“Romans”, in The Harper Collins Study Bible, second edition, HarperCollins, 2006).

Israel has followed its own law in a mistaken way, believing that its primary demand is for works (Romans 10.32-33), but that is not a reason for Gentiles to be smug. Paul prays that all will be saved as they learn that any claim to righteousness will be established in God, not in self (Romans 10.1-3). Then the close presence of the God who becomes near by being confessed and believed in will become a reality (Romans 10.8-13).

Paul’s prayer goes beyond those who have already responded to the call of faith: it reaches out to those who have not yet heard the gospel. The responsibility placed on the readers of this letter is clear: just as they have had the good news brought to them, and found themselves included in the covenant (Romans 4.13-25), so they are to become agents in a wider mission (Romans 10.14-15).

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