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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Details, Details

Pr 14, Yr. A
Matthew 14:22-33, Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

When I was a 6th grader, my oldest sister—then in 12th grade—took a Bible as Literature course. Her cool and clever teacher used, as part of the curriculum, the recently released "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." Judy got a copy of the record for home, and if she liked it, I loved it. Within weeks, I pretty well memorized the entire score. So, on the day when my prim and proper Sunday school teacher asked if anyone was familiar with the story, I was thrilled, and my hand shot up. I proceeded to recount all I knew. She patiently waited while I listed the names of all the brothers and the presumed multitude of colors in his coat, and she managed to contain herself while I offered a gory version of Joseph's brothers attacking him and selling him to the Ishmaelites, headed for slavery in Egypt. But when I got to a blow by blow description of the attempts by his master's wife to seduce him, she could no longer restrain herself. Just when I was at what I considered one of the most fascinating parts of the saga, she shut me down with an abrupt, "Thank you, Betsy; that will be enough."

I think I remember this minor incident so well because it was my first exposure to biblical interpretation…in this case, that the juicy messiness of scripture needs cleaning up. From my 11 year old perspective, the thrill was in the details, especially gory and/or salacious ones; from hers, a sanitized, watered-down, G-rated version was preferable. I'll admit that now, as an adult and parent, I have some sympathy for her dilemma in how to handle a storyteller who pushed the boundaries of 6th grade appropriateness; nonetheless, at the time I came away with a different message.

Most of us are probably inclined to do that same sort of focused clean up without even realizing it. We pick out the highlights and, unless we're very intentional, barely hear the details that make for greater complexity. Think about the gospel passage from Matthew that I just read. You probably remember that the disciples were in a boat, there was a storm, Jesus came walking to them across the sea, Peter called out and Jesus told Peter to come to him, and as soon as Peter started to get scared and sink, Jesus rescued him, chiding Peter's lack of faith. Truth be told, that's a good story in and of itself, with plenty of richness and depth to engage us; if that's all there was, it would still be one of the more memorable bible passages.

But it's more fun, and more interesting, and more dynamic if we notice some of the odd details. For example, Jesus made the disciples get in a boat so that he could go off by himself. It's like sending the kids to bed early, not because they're tired but because you as a parent need a break. A story that ends up with Jesus as sort of a superhero begins with a very human aspect.
And did you notice that Peter dares the approaching figure to command him to walk on water? Really? Doesn't this strike you as more than a little weird? "Hi out there! You kinda look like a ghost, pretty creepy actually, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that maybe you might just possibly be Jesus, and just to be sure I'm gonna order you to give me a command to do something that I know is absolutely impossible, except that it looks like you're doing it and I want to be like you, if you are in fact Jesus." Peter has his fair share of odd conversations with Jesus, and this has to be near the top of the list!

Then there's this bit about Peter suddenly realizing that, gee, it's really windy out here, which is the point at which he becomes frightened enough to sink. Keep in mind that he's been in the boat with his friends for quite a while, tossed around by the turbulent seas; my annual trips to Catalina on boats far more substantial make it hard for me to conceive of paying attention to anything but the choppy water. Imagine how absolutely mesmerizing, sort of a time out of time, the appearance of Jesus must've been for him to completely forget that it's really, really windy. At the same time, I have to wonder about it being the wind that freaks him out, and not the fact that he is walking on water!!

I've heard this gospel so often over the years, and even the first couple of times through earlier this week, I didn't notice these twists, these peculiar little details that, for me, make engaging the story a much fuller and richer experience. They draw me in, and at the same time as I question what's going on in the story, I'm encouraged me to invite the story to question me:
• How do, or can, I kindly tell those around me that I need them to go off on a 3 hour cruise for a while so I can collect myself? If Jesus needed to do it, then I certainly do too. Hammock time without guilt!
• Am I willing to demand of God exactly what I think I need, or to challenge God? No guarantees about the response, but apparently God isn't put off when we lay our desires out there in even a very assertive way. Pray boldly!
• When do I find myself so transfixed by God working in and around me that I can allow myself to be part of a miracle? And could this happen more, or for longer, if I didn't sink myself by becoming too self-conscious?
…and so on!

Maybe we're too timid when it comes to scripture, and as a result, too timid when it comes to faith. What if we, like Peter, were bold enough to risk jumping into the sea without a second thought, knowing the likelihood was that we'd start to sink but wanting that moment of being embraced in God's miracle, a moment made a lifetime by the grasp of Jesus's saving hand? Jesus, the Word, comes to us in the Bible, the Word of God; with your heart, soul, mind, and imagination, leap out of the boat to meet him.

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