Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

20080804_104226_version_2 This week, we’re returning from a weekend celebrating milestones with extended family. It was a weekend to celebrate weddings and birthdays and retirement - and the love of family across good times and bad times. Along the way, we listened as family members told stories of days gone by and interpreted the events of the past through the filter of the present and their personal understanding and belief of how God works in the world.

A lot can be interpreted about the past through the lenses of today. It seems to be helpful to take time and examine how we’ve grown, how others in our story have grown, and how we were all able to survive/excel/navigate when various life events happen. Looking back at our lives we can all see how things fit together to make us who we are today. When we make the effort, we can weave the stories of our lives together to help us make sense of who we are today and to help us (to a certain extent) make sense of who we were in the past.

It seems like lately the word that keeps coming back up is Perspective.

Our scriptures for this week have some characters who might have been scratching their heads as life unfolded before them. But as written, the events of these lives are put in perspective for us. Our job – and in fact our responsibility – seems to be to consider the events, ask questions from different perspectives and find ways that these teachings might touch our own lives.

We continue in the Hebrew scriptures to learn about the patriarchs – the families that gave rise to the nation of Israel. The story this week is a familiar one about Joseph and his brothers. Joseph, Israel’s favorite son (a fact of which Joseph’s brothers were well aware), gets sent out by Israel to check on this pack of older brothers where they have pastured the family herds. Now let’s think about this in today’s terms. Dad sends his favorite son to check on his older brothers – make sure they are behaving. As Joseph approaches, his brothers see him coming and are revolted. They take all of their anger and anxiety and resentment and hatch a plan – a plan to kill Joseph. But one brother intercedes. He doesn’t want to see Joseph killed, and we’re told by our narrator that his intention is to actually return to save Joseph later. He convinces the brothers that it would be better to capture Joseph and throw him in a pit. Once they do this, a band of Ishmaelites (decendents of Ishmael, Abraham’s other son) pass through, and the brothers sell Joseph into slavery. This story (in it’s own context) is fairly brutal, and as the years rolled by it has become a story that exemplifies how “God uses all things for good” or simply how things “work out” for those who follow God. And this is likely true, but it does not change the fear that young Joseph felt laying in a wet and muddy hole trying to figure out why his brothers don’t love him.

The Psalm is one of praise, essentially celebrating the events surrounding the lives of the patriarchs (and this week, specifically Joseph). Like family pondering the events of the past, the psalmist writes about the Lord’s actions to free Joseph and raise him to power. These are “wonderful works,” seen as miracles that shaped the rise of Israel. Isn’t it interesting how already by the time of King David Israel already has this Perspective on itself?

It seems that maybe Paul is wrestling with Perspective himself in this passage to the church in Rome. This letter was written to a community that Paul neither visited nor founded; it was possibly a community of Jews that converted to Christianity at Pentecost. It was still a big deal for him to be open and welcoming to Gentiles. He had spent most of his life drawing lines between Jews and everyone else. And now here he is preaching a message that is open to everyone that “believes in Him.” It had to be at least a little confusing for Paul. It had to throw his Context-O-Meter for at least a bit of a spin. We often want to take this as an exciting moment that brings everyone in to the Family of God, but what must it have been like for Paul to be drawing his circle so big now?

The gospel text from Matthew is another familiar story. Jesus has left his boat, and gone up on the mountain to pray. In this time, a storm has blown up, and the boat in which the disciples waited has drifted out on to the rough water. To the amazement of the disciples, Jesus walks out to them On Top Of The Water. Actually, they weren’t amazed – they were terrified. Jesus called out to them, and encouraged them not to be afraid. Peter, always asking questions and frequently in doubt, issues a bit of a challenge. Lord, if it is you, command me to step out on the water with you. And Jesus does. At first, Peter seems amazingly able to stay atop the water. But then, he falters and down he goes. Jesus reaches down and draws him out of the water… “you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Of course, it was Peter’s doubt that caused him to sink…his own rational thinking got in the way and drug him under the water. At least it would seem that way in retrospect.

Again, think of the Perspectives of the people in that story and how those moments out on the stormy sea changed their lives. Think of the Perspective we have today and how we use that story to tell our own stories.

+Is it fair / appropriate for us to use stories from the biblical narrative to define our own faith journeys?
+In your own prayer life, how do you relate to / use the stories of biblical characters?
+Do our stories have value in the faith journeys of others? What are ways for us to share these stories?

If we think only of ourselves, we may act for our own benefit and bother only with our own affairs, our hope, our own deliverance. But this is not enough. We are truly acting for ourselves if we also have a concern for others and strive to be of benefit to them. For since we are all one body, we look out for ourselves when we look out for others.

Marius Victorinus

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