|Dore, "Jesus Walking on Water"|
The three stories can be seen in different ways, and they can be read separately to communicate several different meanings. Taken together, however, they contrast the way in which empires and rulers exercise power with Jesus' use of power. The first story portrays Herod as lustful, vindictive, power-hungry, capricious, unjust, and violent. He took John's head on a whim. By way of contrast, Jesus fed 5000 hungry people, and "everybody ate and was satisfied" (Wright, The Kingdom New Testament, 29). Then, Jesus walked across a stormy sea, symbolic of chaos, invited Peter to overcome the chaos as well, and saved him when he failed. In the process, he told the people in the boat to not be afraid. They worshipped him as they would God.
Herod was the agent of chaos. Jesus was the master of that same chaos. Herod behaved unjustly while Jesus showed compassion. Each exercised power, but they did so to different ends. The contrast between the power of empire and of God is stark, and early Christians listening to readings of Matthew's gospel surely heard a contrast between the power of Rome and that of Jesus looming in the shadows of these stories. God, they heard, was greater than Rome. Jesus used power to different ends than Rome. Amen.