In this Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time we read of Jesus, and St. Peter, walking on the water. In the process we learn a lesson about leadership. Many scholars debate whether St. Matthew had a copy of Torah in Hebrew or Greek. Some passages St. Matthew writes only work in Hebrew, or more precisely, Aramaic. One example comes from the Sermon on the Mount, in chapter 7:
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.
This can also translate from the Aramaic as, “Do not give your Torah/Word of God to dogs.”
This can also be translated from the Aramaic as, “Do not throw/or teach your Torah to the face of swine.” This argues very strongly that St. Matthew uses an Aramaic translation of Torah when he writes this. On the other hand, is our reading for the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. In this reading, St. Matthew had in mind a translation which only works in the Greek translation of Exodus 7: 14-15:
The NAME told Moses: Pharaoh is obstinate, refusing to send the people out. In the morning, (The fourth watch) when he walks on the water, go to Pharaoh and present yourself by the bank of the Nile, holding in your hand the staff turned into a snake.
Our reading includes, “During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.” Pharaoh has a hard heart. St. Peter is terrified of Jesus. Jesus has a soft heart and with it, like Pharaoh, he walks on the water. This only works in the Septuagint Greek. Jesus is being compared with Pharaoh and with St. Peter. He teaches us leadership.
Pharaoh and Pharisee look for signs and wonders. We receive those signs and wonders. They are the Ten Plagues of Egypt, and the sacking or Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. They are Jesus death and resurrection. We need to get away from signs and wonders, and learn to see the signs an wonders of our world. Then we can walk upon the waters that prevail against us. Then the tides will subside and we will be able to live in peace.
St. Matthew addresses this to Jesus' leaders. When the leaders do not trust God, their hearts harden from fear, and they cease to be good leaders. In fear, they turn on their charges and start abusing them. They sink, as does St. Peter, into the sea. Both leader and led suffer.
Jesus sets the example. He comes walking on the water, but no as Pharaoh did. Pharaoh lords it over his charges. As St. Peter falters, Jesus works to empower St. Peter, offering him his arm, and helping him back into the boat. Jesus knows St. Peter's failings and accepts him as his lead apostle anyway. As an old Navy sailor of almost a half century ago put it, "Welcome to the Human Race." Have faith in God and let us get this world to be the God wants it. Are we up to the job?
How do we get this faith? The answer is prayer. When we do this, we will have faith, and with faith we will become kind, and able to walk through the turbulent waters, bringing faith to others.
When Jesus entered the house, his disciples asked him in private, Jesus told them, “This kind can only come out through prayer.” Mark 9:27-8. There is only one prayer in the passage. Jesus replied, “If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” The boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
“If you can…” The father heals the child. “If you can." With prayer, we can. Then comes the only prayer in the passage, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” In this passage, the father points to leadership; leaders care about their charges. They trust their charges in spite of their limitations. Can we do this? If we can, we too can walk on water.