The relationship between the two readings for today may not be immediately apparent. The language of Jeremiah is dense, inviting a careful read. In stark contrast, we have one of the most famous gospels written, so common that we might gloss over its finer points. At their core, both of these passages pose similar questions about how, in a complicated, stormy world filled with uncertainty, even war, will we know where to place our trust. Perhaps there is not a more relevant message for us in our times today.
I fear that we sometimes see passages like this one from Jeremiah, and that we are put off by references to figures such as Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar and Hananiah. But if you look past the strange names, you’ll find a simple message; beware of false prophets. Hananiah is a self-proclaimed prophet who is weary of Jeremiah’s message of judgment, war and suffering. In the course of a few short lines, Hananiah attempts to dismiss Jeremiah with a much more cheerful prediction, "[the Lord] will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’" In response, Jeremiah writes, "Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies."
Now, there is much historical and theological background to this excerpt. Earlier in the Book of Jeremiah, we learn that he has professed generations of bondage to the King of Babylon. Jeremiah even wore a wooden yoke around his neck as symbol of this bondage. Hananiah not only tells the people that the oppression of Nebuchadnezzar will last for just two years, but he goes so far as to smash Jeremiah’s symbolic yoke. In case you need a bit more proof that this "prophet" does not speak with authority from God, note that Hananiah is dead by the end of the passage!
Yet we know from the reading that the people did in fact put their trust in Hananiah and his message of peace and prosperity. Who wouldn’t want to believe this? It isn’t always easy to see the false prophets in our own lives. But Hananiah seems to promise abundance and a return to better days without any need for effort or repentance. As much as this might be attractive, we have to know that it is not God’s will. Our Lord is waiting for us (even for generations if need be) to return to him. It may not be an easy road, but the reward is no less than eternal peace and happiness.
The question of true faith is next addressed most eloquently in Matthew’s gospel. First, we should note that this passage follows immediately after Jesus has fed a crowd of thousands with just a few loaves and fishes. And yet, the miracle that gets all the attention comes right after when Jesus goes to join the disciples on a boat. It doesn’t seem very extraordinary until you find out he takes a short cut and simply walks across the sea to join the others.
When Peter sees this, he calls to Jesus, "Lord, if it’s you . . . tell me to come to you on the water." And for a few steps, Peter too walks on the water. But in a matter of moments, as the winds increase, fear and doubt creep in and Peter is literally sinking. Of course, Jesus saves Peter and they both return safely to the boat. The disciples seem truly astonished at this and immediately proclaim, "Truly you are the Son of God."
Why are the disciples so amazed at this feat when Christ has just created a meal for thousands out of enough to feed only a few? Perhaps it is because Christ is expected to nourish us. Or maybe what is most impressive is not that Jesus walked on the water, but that he was able to somehow share this power with Peter. Ah! But, "you are little faith!" Hasn’t this always been Christ’s message?
With Christ, anything is possible. When Peter falters, it is because he lets himself take notice of the wind instead of staying focused on Christ. So, not only can Christ perform miracles in our lives (the loaves), he can help us to achieve miraculous accomplishments (Peter walks on water), but we must take an active role by believing whole-heartedly (Peter sinks when he doubts). I will leave you with one last thought. Maybe the bigger question here is; why did Peter even need to test Jesus in this way, "if it’s you . . . tell me to come to you." Doesn’t this imply that Peter does not believe Christ can possibly be walking on water? And if we approach Christ in this way, is it any wonder that we sink at the first sign of trouble . . .