“Word for Today” – Matthew 14 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com
The fame was just too much for her to manage. It’s not really surprising, though. After all, going from an unknown British homemaker to a world wide superstar in the scope of one performance would be an overwhelming roller coaster of success for anyone. And it certainly was for Susan Boyle.
Her opening audition, when Susan sang “I Dreamed A Dream” on Britain’s Got Talent, was quickly uploaded to YouTube where it amassed almost 100 million hits in its first nine days, making her performance the most popular video ever on YouTube. And the question du jour of Britain, and of this country, almost instantaneously became, “Have you heard Susan Boyle sing? She’s incredible!” But then, the bottom dropped out. After losing the competition to the British dance troupe Diversity, Boyle checked herself into a London psychiatric clinic, exhausted and depressed.
Fame has a dangerous way of taking its toll on a person. What many desire becomes what many more cannot handle.
If there ever was a famous person in the first century, it was Jesus of Nazareth. Long before talent shows and YouTube videos, the question afoot in ancient Palestine was, “Have you heard of Jesus? His miracles are incredible!” Indeed, in our reading for today from Matthew 14, we learn that Jesus’ fame spread even to the ruler of all Galilee and Perea, Herod Antipas: “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus” (verse 1). Herod was no enamored by Jesus, in fact, that he could hardly contain his elation when he finally got the chance to meet him, even if it was only right before his death: “When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle” (Luke 23:8). Interestingly, this is not the first time that the family of Herod had heard of Jesus. It was Herod Antipas’ father, Herod the Great, who first heard of Jesus from the Magi: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:1-3). Herod the Great, it seems, was not nearly as impressed by what he heard of Jesus as his son was.
Tragically, for all that Herod Antipas had heard about Jesus, and for all of his curiosity concerning his miracles, he never has what is most important when it comes to Christ: faith. For time and time again, the biblical authors call upon people not only to hear of Jesus, but to believe in him. “Many who heard the message of the gospel believed” (Acts 4:4). “God gives you his Spirit and work miracles among you because…you believe what you heard” (Galatians 3:5). To merely hear about Jesus does a person no good, he must believe what he has heard.
Sadly, many people treat Jesus as they do Susan Boyle. He’s someone they’re heard of. He’s someone they’re curious about. They may even watch a YouTube video about him. But to believe in him as the Son of God? That’s a line many will not cross. Yet, that is the very line that we are invited to cross: to believe in Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of our souls. And by the way, the faith that Jesus invites us to is not meant to be heroic feat, nor is it meant to be an irrational devotion; instead, the faith that Jesus calls us is often a “little faith,” as Jesus says of his disciple Peter’s faith in verse 31 of today’s reading. Yet, it is faith nonetheless. And, as Jesus himself promises, even the littlest faith is a salvific faith: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). So today, take time to listen to Jesus as he speaks through his Word. And as he speaks, don’t just hear his voice, believe it.
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