Why you don’t understand Jesus’ Sea-walking is because you are reading Mediterranean Gospels strained through inappropriate cultural scenarios.
This Sunday’s Gospel is the Matthean version of a tradition where Jesus’ followers experience a vision of him walking on the Sea. The Gospels give three renderings of this tradition—Mark 6;45-52; Matthew 14:22-33 (Sunday’s Gospel); and John 6:16-21. We explored each of these in an earlier blogpost here.
For a quick breakdown, watch the video here—
Sunday’s Gospel: Jesus Walking on the Sea
Here is the Gospel reading for today. It’s good to read it over, carefully.
NABRE Matthew 14:22-33
Then [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
Why you don’t understand Jesus’ Sea-walking: Different Cultures
Culture affects how people perceive, think about, and communicate reality. Different cultures therefore understand the Sea differently. Earlier this year, we explored what “Sea” meant to New Testament people. Biblically speaking, “Sea” was seen as a who, rather than a what. Exploring this goes a long way to explain why you don’t understand Jesus’ Sea-walking.
As we discussed in the earlier blog-post, the word who refers to persons, whereas what refers to things. American Christians read about Jesus walking on the Sea (Mark 6;45-52; Matthew 14:22-33; John 6:16-21), but we perceive, think about, and communicate the sea to be a what. In contrast, for ancient people hearing this story, it was quite different. When Jesus walked on the Sea, our ancient ancestors in the faith would understand that he strode over a who rather than a what! In other words, they personified the Sea.
Therefore in today’s Gospel Jesus is walking on a Sea Demon, because to walk on the Sea is, according to biblical peoples, to stride over a demon (i.e., an other-than-human person). What does that do to how you read the story? What is really being said here? Is Jesus walking on H20 (scientific) or a spirit? What does that do to our understanding this Gospel story and what God was revealing to the disciples in their vision?
Consider these questions in light of the video here—
Why you don’t understand Jesus’ Sea-walking: Miracles
Are you a believer in miracles? Would you consider Jesus walking on the Sea a miracle?
Earlier this year, we explored the idea of miracle, meaning an act that overrides physical laws governing the universe. Therefore “miracle” is a nice post-Enlightenment word. In fact, it’s entirely alien to our Scriptures.
Why that is should be no mystery—the holy writings of Israel were written centuries before the Enlightenment. It wasn’t until the time that people began thinking that a set of impersonal physical laws governed the universe. Since Biblical people could not imagine such physical laws governing the universe, they were likewise incapable of imagining violations of such. That’s why there can’t be any miracles in the Bible. Beware anachronism in Bible reading.
While the Gospels do speak of Jesus’ mighty deeds, signs, and works, they mention no miracles whatsoever. What does this do to your understanding of this Sunday’s Gospel story? How are we to understand by Jesus’ walking on the Sea? If it wasn’t miraculous, what was it then? Could it be something wondrous that does not violate “laws of nature” but fits very well into a panhuman experience?
Why you don’t understand Jesus’ Sea-walking is because you are reading the story in ethnocentric anachronism. You are placing foreign concepts into the story, thereby distorting it. You are probably not even aware of this.
Consider all this in light of the video here—
Why you don’t understand Jesus’ Sea-walking: ASC Experiences
In an earlier post, we explored the insights of Dr. John Pilch, Context Group biblical scholar, regarding the story of Jesus walking on the Sea. He explained the disciples’ vision of it as an altered state of consciousness experience. Pilch exhorted Christians and all Gospel readers to respect the fact that Jesus and his followers are MENA (Middle Eastern North African) personalities. Pilch says that even among today’s theologians and biblical scholars that, other than lip service, few recognize that the incarnation happened in the ancient Mediterranean and what that means.
Anthropologists specializing in the Mediterranean cultural region have established that approximately 80 percent of circum-Mediterranean cultures readily experience altered states of consciousness. Pilch explains that ancient biblical people like Jesus and his followers were included in that 80 percent.
Pilch also explains that Jesus and his followers experienced alternate reality often. Culturally speaking, they were open to experiencing altered states of consciousness. Indeed, not only were they familiar with getting into alternate reality, they were adept for it.
This changes how we read Gospel reports of Jesus’ miraculous walking on the Sea, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it also change how we understand other Gospel stories about the miraculous at Jesus’ baptism, or his transfiguration, or resurrection appearances? Pilch says all of these miraculous wonders handsomely correspond into “the common, Mediterranean cultural experiences of altered states of consciousness.” Part of why you don’t understand Jesus’ Sea-walking is because you come from a society that represses these panhuman experiences.
The following video explains more—
What “Son of God” Meant
In this story, the disciples proclaim Jesus to be “son of God.” Over time, as the Church unpacked the Mystery of Jesus, people came to understand Jesus as “God the Son”—the Second Person of the Trinity. But that understanding came way after “Matthew” was composed. Since language only means where and when you use it, what did “son of God” mean to the Matthean Jesus group writing this Gospel?
Watch the video here to find out—
Why you don’t understand Jesus’ Sea-walking: Middle Class?
Finally, do you imagine that Jesus, Peter and Andrew, James and John, were middle class people? If so, don’t. That socio-economic designation doesn’t apply to these dirt-poor Galileans. Nothing like “middle class” existed in Herodian Palestine.
Like Galilean peasant artisans (such as Jesus), first-century Mediterranean fishermen were devastatingly poor. Toll collectors kept them in debt and dominated their work. The capital for fishing syndicates came from those toll collectors.
As did permission to fish the Galilee—government regulated those permissions. Government sold rights to toll collectors, who, in turn, brokered them out to fellow countrymen, for a price. The result was fishermen were in bone-crushing debt and the toll collectors owned them.
These poor Israelite fishermen basically controlled nothing. They had no control over the Wind and the Sea and the Storm, realities they interpreted to be malicious other-than-human persons. They had no control over their Government or the Toll Collectors who financed their ability to work. What would the peasant Jesus walking over the Sea Demon communicate to them? How would that be Good News?
Why you don’t understand Jesus’ Sea-walking: You are Western
Now imagine a 21st century American Christian. On her phone is the weather and stock reports, day planner, banking info, and a host of over controls. Science and technology assist her, pamper her, as she moves throughout her day. Yet she still prays and even reads this Gospel from “Matthew” online, by way of it. What is she to take from this story? Hopefully now you see why you don’t understand Jesus’ Sea-walking.
Later we will explore the first and second readings for this Sunday.