4th Sunday of Epiphany – Readings – Matthew 8:23-34; Romans 13:1-7
For those with faith, no explanation is necessary. For those without, no explanation is possible. –Thomas Aquinas
In our Gospel reading today, a passage many of us will know thoroughly, the men we know that had great faith, Jesus’ own disciples came upon a time of doubt and a time when their faith was lacking.
They came to a place where Jesus’ own response was to question their lack of faith.
A place where they themselves were questioning who this Christ man was. These were people that spent a great amount of time travelling with and following Jesus. These were his disciples, the ones that would be pulled aside out of the crowd and given the expounded teaching which Jesus would not reveal to the wider crowd.
Yet, they doubted. They had a lapse in faith. This scenario demonstrates what Thomas Aquinas meant. While they were full of faith, they weren’t questioning who Jesus was because their faith made it so that no explanation was necessary. Their questioning arose when their faith was lacking, when they were doubting. When you are in a place of doubting and struggling with faith it becomes much harder to receive an explanation. In situations like that you cannot explain faith, faith in its very nature is one based upon not knowing all the answers.
Doubting is human. Faith is not a certainty. If it was, it would be proof not faith that God exists. Dostoyevski said ‘It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt’. His praise was formed out of the doubt that he had. Not out of the assurance and certainty in his own faith, but a faith formed and influenced by the times of doubt that he came across.
The doubt and question arose over who Christ was, who Christ is.
It arose during a time of marvelling at the actions of Jesus. The actions that calmed and stilled the very nature and creation that was threatening their lives.
Questions such as this should not be avoided. There is a place for the questioning of who Jesus is. It is in the questions that we can grow to know the God we worship more. It’s in the questions that God can reveal himself to us as we seek to understand better who he is.
But the issue comes from the attitude, incentive and starting place of the questions that are being asked. It is very different questioning who Jesus is out of a place of fear and doubt compared to asking the questions of who he is from a place of faith and obedience to him. It is the fear and lack of faith that Jesus questions in the disciples here, not their questioning of who he is.
Matthew is seemingly quick to move on from the question that the disciples ask about who Jesus is. Consider this: Is Matthew moving on to avoid answering this question or is Matthew’s account of the Gadarene Demoniacs a way of practically demonstrating this answer?
The Gadarene Demoniacs appears to be a way of demonstrating the answer to the question while continuing the story since Matthew suggests that this takes place once Jesus and the disciples got to the other side of the river.
It shows who Jesus is, it answers the disciples question. The demon possessed man/men depending on which gospel you read calls Jesus out – Jesus is called Son of God (or Son of the Most High in Mark). The demons that were possessing those in this story understood and recognised who Jesus is. They understood, recognised and experienced the authority that Jesus had/has/continues to have. They appealed to Jesus that he cast them into the swine rather than torment them. They know that Jesus could command the authority of the demons, not the demons over Jesus.
Only he who believes is obedient. Only he who is obedient, believes. –Deitrich Bonhoeffer
This quote from Bonhoeffer poses an interesting thought for Christians.
Elsewhere in Scripture, the book of James tell us ‘You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.’ (James 2:19)
If the demons believed, recognised and knew who Christ was and were obedient in going in to the herd of swine as Matthew tells us. How and why do Christians then have such struggles when it comes to obedience to Jesus. Is it a faith issue or is it an obedience issue?
To doubt is to be human. To disobey is to be human. Both of these are intrinsically human. They aren’t something to be ashamed of, they are something to seek God and pursue growth in these areas.
This passage shows us that the demons appeared to have a greater understanding of who Jesus is and level of obedience to Jesus than his disciples had. The obedience and belief arose out of a recognition of who Jesus is.
This is where we need to spent time and focus as Christians. Making sure that we know who God is for us. What scripture reveals for us about who God is. When we truly recognise and have faith in God, obedience to God and his desires for us should grow just as Bonhoeffer suggests.
Communion is the very act that should remind us of why we should not be doubting. A place where we should be approaching the communion meal with humble adoration in remembrance of the sacrifice that Christ made. A remembrance of the action that made salvation possible. An action without which true obedience to God would not be entirely possible.
It brings us to a place where we should be considering who Jesus is for us, according to both our own personal experiences but also according to what Scripture tells us of the Christ-man, Jesus.
Is your Jesus the same one that scripture talks about? Is your Jesus the same one that nature and demons are obedient to? The same Jesus that demons recognise, believe and submit to?
Why are you taking communion today? Are you taking it out of obligation? Out of routine?
Or are you taking it out of submission to Christ and faithful obedience to who he is, what he has done?
We have seen more of the journey than the disciples would have know by this point of their venturing with Christ. They would have unanswered questions about Christ’s end goal. The cross would not have been known by this point.
We know Christ was born to go to the Cross. We know Christ died for us. Yet we struggle to have faith and obedience because we have not physically seen Christ do these things – something that was not even enough for the disciples. We know something more of who Christ is having seen that he was born, lived, died and rose again for the sins of the world. We need to be faithful to this revelation of Christ, obedient to his will knowing that he is real. Knowing he is there for us. Knowing that our faith is what he longs for us to have.
I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.–H.G. Wells
This is such an important thing to remember as we come to communion. The important of Christ, the importance of the Cross. Let us remember Christ together now.