Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Matthew 13: 1-2 - Beside the Lake

"That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.  Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore."  Matthew 13: 1-2

What a great way to begin a story!  I firmly believe that the Bible contains the perfect word of God and I have come to accept that perfect word can be mangled badly by imperfect people but, anyone who has ever tried to write a couple of sentences that hooks the reader from the first couple of sentences has to marvel at the first two verses of Matthew 13.  

The good Reverend Derek Joyce recently alerted me (and the rest of a packed house at First United Methodist Church Shreveport's Contemporary Service) that cults have been formed from people taking verses of the Bible out of context and while I am wary of this, I think the beauty of these two verses is that they immediately have your mind forming questions.

The first sentence is simple enough:  "That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake."  

"That same day . . . ."
If you had just blindly opened the Bible to Matthew 13 and the first three words that you read were "That same day,"  I think it would be hard not to go back and read Matthew 12 because clearly, something big had happen.  Remembering what Rev. Joyce had warned, I found out what had happened "that same day".  It was the sabbath and the Pharisees were following Jesus around trying to collect evidence of Jesus "breaking the law".  Naturally, Jesus was more than happy to break the laws that the Pharisees followed but clearly to show that there was a much higher law.  The Pharisees were delighted to discover and point out that both Jesus and his disciples were working on the Sabbath.  They were first caught picking grain because they were hungry and then Jesus healed a man with a shriveled hand, healed a bunch of sick people, and finally healed a demon possessed man who was also blind and mute.  The Pharisees responded to the last of these miracles by suggesting that Christ cast out the last demon by the devil. Jesus pointed out the obvious that demons work for the devil and so it makes no sense that he would be a party to casting his own out.  Centuries later Abraham Lincoln would give a speech where he proclaims that "a house divided against itself cannot stand" which is a total rip off of Christ's explanation of why a person would not call on the devil to cast out demons.  Now I am not so sure I like Lincoln's speech quite as much.  But I digress, back to "that same day". Next, on "that same day" some Pharisees and teachers of the law requested that Jesus do a miracle. Following this request, in Matthew 12: 39-45, Jesus pretty clearly told the Pharisees and teachers what he thought of their request.  

I have read Matthew 12: 44-45 a few times and at first I was confused.  These are the verses where Jesus is explaining that once an evil spirit is driven out of a demon possessed person that it wonders around in an arid place, decides to return to the formerly possessed person and seven more evil spirits to occupy the victim.  At first I thought: "why would anyone drive out a demon if it is just going to eventually return with seven other demons?!".  After thinking about this I realized the context. Thank you Reverend Derek Joyce!  Jesus was responding to the Pharisees request to "do a miracle for us to see".  A miracle done in that context would have simply left an empty place in the formerly possessed person.  When a miracle is genuine the Holy Spirit fills the "empty place" and often overflows.  At least that is what I believe.

To finish up what had happened on "that same day", while Jesus was still talking to a crowd seeking healing and witnessing Jesus' so called law breaking, Jesus' mother and brothers sought an audience with Jesus and he had them turned away saying that his true mother and brothers were already with him.  Jesus proclaims that his true family members are those that do the will of his Father in heaven.

Wow, what a day!  
"That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.  Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore." 

Out of the house to sit by the lake
What a wonderful thing to be able to walk out of a house, sit by a lake, reflect on the day, gather your thoughts and seeking the voice/wisdom of God.  When I think of the 2nd verse of Psalms 23, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters", I think of green mowed field next to a smooth-as-glass green lake.  After having read about the kind of day   that Jesus was having, it seemed clear that going and sitting beside a lake would be an excellent idea.  Of course Jesus Christ already had more than enough wisdom, so naturally, what he needed was a crowd to share his thoughts with.

Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.
Jesus had been healing the sick all day which had drawn large crowds.  I can imagine that throngs of people must have been very nearby hoping that Jesus might return to performing miracles after settling from the insults of the Pharisees.  I don't think you will find it written that Christ healed anyone else in that crowd that day but, he told some life changing/life guiding parables.  

I know that we far from perfect people have to be very careful in our studies of the Bible.  We must be careful not to take things out of context or read too much into the Bible. But still, this is the "Word of God" and it is rich in meaning; meaning that must be explored to find any depth of understanding.  I love what I get from the literal word of the Bible but I also love to try and understand the symbolic meaning found in the Bible.  In this verse of Matthew 13 I wonder if Jesus Christ standing in a boat on the water, still water, isn't meaningful.  Imagining all the people standing on the shore while Christ told them simple stories of great wisdom makes a great scene but I think there is even a bit more depth in considering that Christ has left the shore and is floating on "still waters."  In life we are all standing on the shore waiting for God to tell us some stories that will change our lives. 

I was careful to fall just short of saying that Christ performed "no" miracles on "that day".  The parables recounted in Matthew 13 following the first two verses may very well continually provide miracles. 

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