What sort of man is this? – Br. Lucas Hall

Br. Lucas Hall

Matthew 8:23-27
Amos 3:1-8, 4:11-12

“What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” That question, I believe, strikes at the heart of Matthew’s gospel. Matthew’s intent in all his gospel is to focus on Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophets. He deliberately emphasizes the ways Jesus inverts expectations of the looked-for messianic figure, and seems to quite delight in tying these inversions together. When we compare this with our first reading from the prophet Amos, we see the lines of comparison Matthew draws; he does not view Jesus as simply another prophet. In Amos, God acts, and speaks, and the prophets listen, and prophesy to these acts. Here, Matthew depicts Jesus as the one who speaks and acts. And this message, this action, this intent is not simply to Israel, nor is it simply to humanity; the winds and sea obey, or more literally from the Greek, they hearken, they listen and follow.

It should be no surprise that Matthew views Jesus in this way; the idea that he has command over all Creation puts us in the mind of even the Genesis creation stories, where all is brought into being by the proclamation of God. It should be noted that these creation stories have a highly theological purpose; they closely line up with other similar stories among various contemporary religions, but they affirm the creation comes from a singular God. The various aspects of creation are not treated as individual beings to pay homage to, but equally created, and so equally under the sway, of the one God. And so Matthew depicts Christ in this way.

“What sort of man is this?” I don’t often like to get too in the weeds of the Greek or Hebrew translations of Scripture, but this matters here. The Greek word used is most literally translated as a question about where this man is from. From where, from what country or region or place, is this person, exactly, that he’s able to do something so bizarre? I am put in mind of John’s Gospel narrative, of Jesus before Pilate; when the crowd tells him Jesus claims to be the son of God, the pagan polytheist Pilate is quite willing to accept this possibility. And he, “ more afraid than ever…again…asked Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer.” There is an awe-filled otherworldliness to Jesus in these moments, something tangibly real and tangibly other, not just an ordinary person, indeed, not just an extraordinary person. There’s something deeper, beating at the heart of this man.

I want to point out that these encounters are not comfortable or joyous; they are fearful. We can imagine these people around Jesus with goosebumps up and down their arms, with hair standing on end, with heart hammering in their chest. I worry we, in a wealthy, educated, powerful culture and society, are more liable to forget that aspect of God than most. An encounter with God should push us, at least a little bit. It should surprise us, at least a little bit. It should bewilder us, at least a little bit. An encounter with God is an encounter with power not our own, beyond our own, something that should cause us to stop and pay attention, to be broken open, to kneel. This experience, even if frightening and uncomfortable, should assure us that this God is no mere idol of our own comfortable desires, no mere tool we’ve mastered, but living and active, with evermore to show us, teach us, and welcome us into, even if our steps forward are trembling ones. “Prepare to meet your God!” Amos admonishes. So we do, whenever we take that trembling step.Po

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