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Scripture In Depth
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Year A
August 9, 2020
Reginald H. Fuller


Reading I: 1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a

This passage has obviously been chosen to match the gospel story of the appearance of Jesus to his disciples on the lake. In each story an encounter with God/Christ takes place after the stilling of a storm.

Elijah has slain the prophets of Baal, and Jezebel has threatened his life in revenge. He retreats to Mount Horeb to commune with God, as Moses had done before him (there are distinct parallels in the narrative—the forty days and the lodging in the cave).

Yhwh is not in the storm, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the gentle breeze after the storm. The place of encounter with God is not in the awesome events of nature but in the word of revelation.

At the same time, however, after the encounter of revelation has occurred, the storm, earthquake, and fire can be seen as the harbingers of God’s revelation

Responsorial Psalm: 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14

The use of this psalm as a response to the passage about Elijah is evidently suggested by the first two lines of the first stanza: “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people.”

The origin of this psalm is in dispute, and its original reference is uncertain. Its affinities (see its soteriological vocabulary) seem to be with Second Isaiah, and a reasonable assumption would be that it refers to the impending return from exile. In the Christian liturgy it is used most frequently in Advent and at Christmas.

Reading II: Romans 9:1-5

In our readings in course from Romans, we now reach the section in which Paul wrestles with the problem of the place of Israel in salvation history (Rom 9:9-11). Israel’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah has been a great shock to Paul, and he uses very strong language in praying for their salvation (Rom 9:3).

From Rom 9:4 on, Paul lists the great prerogatives of Israel in salvation history—eight of them, culminating in the Messiah himself and ending in a doxology. The reading of the NRSV margin is followed here.

The RSV text inserts a period after “Christ” and relegates the doxology to a separate sentence, thus: “God who is over all be blessed for ever.” Both renderings are possible renderings of the Greek, but it is unlikely that Paul would have called Christ “God” without qualifications, as in the NRSV reading.

The whole subject has been well discussed by Bultmann in his essay “The Confession of the World Council of Churches.”

In his attitude toward his fellow Jews, Paul strikes a mean between two diametrically opposite attitudes that have characterized Christian thought at different periods—anti-Semitism and a complete “ecumenical” acceptance of Judaism as a valid religion and an abandonment of any hope for their conversion to faith in Jesus Christ.

Both attitudes are seemingly a betrayal of the gospel as Paul understands it. His attitude is in continuity with both Moses (Exodus 32:32) and Elijah (see the sequel to the first reading in 1 Kings 19:14-18).

Gospel: Matthew 14:22-23

Since Matthew has taken over the walking on the water from Mark, we must pay special attention to Matthew’s alterations. Two major changes may be noted: (1) the addition of the dialogue between Peter and Jesus, and the walking of Peter on the water; (2) instead of ending with the disciples’ misunderstanding of Jesus, the story now ends in a confession of faith: “Truly you are the Son of God.” 

It is reasonable to suppose, with GD Kilpatrick, that Matthew is drawing upon a special Petrine tradition, akin to the material he has added in Mt 16:17-19. In that case, the Peter episode may be another part of a story of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to Peter.

The effect of these changes is to alter completely the thrust of the pericope. In Mark it was an element in the evangelist’s theme of the disciples’ misunderstanding, designed to play down the interpretation of Jesus’ miracles as epiphanies in opposition to a “divine man” christology.

This is no longer an acute problem for Matthew, so he has altered the interpretation of the scene.

It becomes a paradigm of discipleship. The boat represents the Church; the storm, the persecution through which Matthew’s community is passing. Jesus appears and challenges Peter, the disciple par excellence, to trust him. Peter is afraid and cries out, “Lord, save me.”

Jesus, half rebuking, half encouraging him, says: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” The Lord brings Peter to safety, and all the disciples make the adoring confession “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Reginald H. Fuller
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Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today

Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Liturgical Press. 1984. (Revised Edition).

Preaching the Lectionary

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