GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW.
Commentary by Philip G. Roets STL, SSL
GOOD NEWS: YOU CAN BE PART OF THE KINGDOM. DAVID IS HERE!
Who was Matthew?
As Jesus was walking along the shore of the Lake of Galilee, he called a tax collector named Levi. Levi was at his work in the customs house. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Levi got up, left everything and followed Jesus. (Mark 2:13-14) The man called Levi is the same as Matthew. It was quite common for men in public life to have both a Jewish and a Greek name. This was especially true of men who worked for the Gentiles, such as a tax collector.
Levi becomes a very dedicated follower. He uses his education to put the gospel in writing in later years. In fact, the Aramaic original of Matthew’s gospel is the first written account of Jesus’ life that is extant. The present Greek version is a more developed form of the original. Matthew’s account is written in much the same style as he would have kept books. There is little emotion as the facts are presented. Then a passage is drawn from the Old Testament to show that this is what was to be expected.
The gospel stories about Jesus were not written, collected and presented as the evening news. Every story is slanted to make a point. The point deals with the way in which convinced people are supposed to imitate the example of Jesus, the Christ, in their daily lives.
The Gospel according to Matthew opens with a “monotonous” genealogy list contrived in segments of “14.” The last sentence is “All the generations therefore from Abraham to David are FOURTEEN; from David to the Babylonian deportation are FOURTEEN; from the Babylonian deportation to the Christ are FOURTEEN.”
This Gospel story was put together first for Christians who had come from Judaism. Their mentality was Jewish and so they understood all the implications of this passage. We are 20 centuries removed from that writing and have a western mentality. We have to dig back in history and learn the background to understand why this genealogy was written and placed here as the introduction to this “Good News” about the Messiah.
The two great heroes of 1st century Jews were Abraham and David. Abraham laid the foundations for a CHOSEN PEOPLE and gave them a unity, a direction, a purpose and a start toward their goal. Abraham was given the name, “FATHER OF ALL NATIONS.” He is seen not only as the starting point of the people of God but of a whole new mankind.
David had taken the loose political unity of tribes and turned them into a nation and a KINGDOM with clout. He was called “David” which means “beloved.” In Hebrew, each consonant has a numerical value. The consonants in David’s name, “D-V-D,” add up to 4+6+4=14. So the composer of this genealogy pointed out that Jesus was the NEW or REAL DAVID, the “BELOVED” of Yahweh, as would be said explicitly later on. (Matt. 3:17)
Of all the names from the lineage of the Old Testament, the writer picked only three groups of 14. Then, to make sure that we do not miss the point, he stated it as a conclusion: From David to the end of the Davidic Kingdom is 14. From the end of the Davidic Kingdom to the Anointed (The Christ who is Jesus) is 14. In place of that “14” each time, put the name David, and you see immediately how the writer was making his point. He was about to tell the story of the New or Real David who was Jesus, the Christ.
“IMMANUEL” CAN YOU SEE GOD TODAY? Matthew 1: 18-25.
The next story tells us another aspect of the personality of Jesus. Over the centuries, theologians and teachers have lost sight of the great truth of this section. They have fought and argued about a point that was never stated in the story.
The writer knew that the people who were first reading this story were familiar with all the stories of the Old Testament. Therefore he quoted the main point of a story and presupposed they knew the entire text or story.
The writer also assured the people that Jesus was the person they had been looking for. They should listen to his teachings and live according to them. His teachings should live in the Chosen People of the Old Law and in the lives of the followers of Christ in the New Law.
This quality was summed up in three Hebrew words that form one word in English. That word is “Immanu-El.” “Im” means “with,” “nu” means “us,” “El” means “God.” The connective syllable “ma” makes the words easier to say. In English we say “God-With-Us.”
Jesus lived to show people who and what God is. He was the evidence of the presence of God in the world. In fact, Jesus was the fulfillment of many such phenomena pointed out in the Old Testament.
“THE SURROUNDING PRESENCE” - ROMANS SAW THE PRESENCE.
Time and again, the teachers of the Old Law would try to lead the Chosen People away from the allurement of pagan idolatry and toward Yahweh, the true God. They would point to manifestations of his loving presence. Now Jesus was presented in this way because of the way he lived, what he taught, and what he asked his followers to do. Jesus was the visible manifestation of the presence of God in the world. By their convictions and the lives they lead, Christians are supposed to be the same.
If you go back to the first days of the Christian life in the Roman Empire, this was carried out. The Romans, for all their coarseness and inhuman practices, looked at Christians as they went about their daily lives. Their commentary was so short, “See how these Christians love one another!”
SLAVES CONVERT CONSTANTINE.
Who were these Christians who made such an impact on the pagan world about them? They were the slaves, the poor, and in most instances, uneducated people. They were considered the “nobodies” of the Roman world. From the early 60’s to 313 A.D. they were pursued and put to death because of their beliefs. Yet by their lives, they succeeded in converting the Roman Emperor, himself, and he stopped the persecution in 313 by the Edict of Milan.
These Christians were truly the manifestation of the presence of God in the world about them. They were truly “Immanuel” - God with us. The Gospel story was truly “Good News” for all the people.
WISE MEN GO SEEKING. Matthew 2: 1-12.
MOUNT YOUR CAMELS! FIND THAT KING!
STAR OF THE EAST AS GUIDE, SEARCH ENDS IN SMALL TOWN.
The next story has been dramatized for years. Everyone seems to know the story but what does the writer want to tell us by this story? Again, he left nothing to guesswork. He told us. He saw this story as the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy in Micah 5:1.The Old Testament story took place when the Davidic Kingdom of the Old Law was ready to fall. The Davidic Kingdom was supposed to be a special kingdom. David and his successors were not supposed to have been tyrannical despots. They were not to lord it over their people or use their people for their own selfish gains - as was the practice in the world about them at the time. The Davidic kingdom was to be ruled by people who were “shepherds of their people.”
Shepherds of the Middle East lead their sheep. They go in front of them and call the sheep by name. They protect the sheep against all their enemies. They lead the sheep to green pasture, to fresh water, and comfortable places to rest. They lead them safely back to the fold at night. The Davidic kings failed to live up to their calling and the Kingdom of David was destroyed.
Now Jesus was born. Immediately the writer pointed out that he was to be a “SHEPHERD-KING.”
“MAGI” - WISE MEN. THE SUN - “RISING STAR”
To develop this story in full detail, the writer brought in several points of interest. First, there were the “Magi” from the east. A “Magos” was a wise man or a person versed in astrology among the Persians. They came to Jerusalem, which is the royal city of David made famous by Solomon because of the Temple. Herod was the king but he was a cruel tyrant and a figurehead of Rome, although he hated the Romans because they made him feel insignificant.
“The Rising Star” that the Magi saw was not be a special star but the sun itself. It rises in the east and continues its journey to the west. (At least that is how it appears to the naked eye.) What the Magi really said was that from their study of astronomy and astrology, they had come to look for a special king in this area. The Jews were definitely talking about the Messiah, the Anointed, the King. He was due to arrive soon. So the Magi went to what they considered the best source of such news, King Herod.
From Herod’s presence they went to Bethlehem and found Jesus. How long this took no one knows. The fact is that these people saw Jesus as a great king even though they did not belong to the Jewish nation. They offered Jesus gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. These represented the wealth and perfume of the east. The gifts were presented to Jesus - the universal king.
You will also note that in the Matthew story, Jesus was living with his parents in a house when this visit took place. In fact, none of the details about the cave and the birth are mentioned here. They are found only in Luke. From Matthew’s account of the birth and the visit of the Magi, we would suppose that the family lived in Bethlehem.
The last sentence of the incident told us how Matthew wanted us to interpret the whole story. The Magi were “warned in a dream” not to go back to Herod but to go back to their country by a different route. Read 1 Kings 13:1-34 to find the exact quote in vv. 9-10. The time was about 929 B.C. Solomon had just died and immediately the fighting broke out between the 10 tribes of the North and the 2 tribes of the South. Separate kingdoms were set up and Jeroboam was the successor of Solomon. He turned at once to idolatry. Through this historical reference, Matthew pointed out the type of person Herod was as the successor of Jeroboam I. At the same time, he pointed out the basic opposition between Jesus, the King and his Kingship and that of the physical descendants of David.
The heart of the story prepares us for the Shepherd who would be the King of the Kingdom of God according to the plan and will of Yahweh.
PARENTS SAVE BABY'S LIFE. KING OUT TO KILL THE “INTERLOPER.”
COUPLE FROM NAZARETH SEEK SAFETY IN EGYPT. Matthew 2:13-18.
This story in Matthew is often called the Flight into Egypt. This is not really a good indication of what the writer wanted to stress about the personality of Jesus.
Herod was furious when he heard that the Magi had deceived him and escaped. He followed the example of Jeroboam in 929 B.C. He learned that the child they had found was a boy recently born. So Herod commanded all Jewish baby boys under the age of two were to be slaughtered. In this way he would offset any person rising to claim his throne.
Old Testament References.
Matthew's interpretation of this story takes us back to JEREMIAH. He was the royal prophet and great man of God at the time of the final destruction of the Kingdom of Judah in 586 B.C. Jeremiah had the formidable and terrifying task of telling the king what would happen to him and his whole court. Jeremiah knew he would be considered a preacher of doom and destruction when he told the King and his court what was going to happen. It did not take a lot of savvy to see the fate in store for them. Jeremiah said he tried to keep quiet but the urgency of the message of Yahweh burned him up on the inside so that he thought he would burst. Then Jeremiah proclaimed his message of doom and destruction. He was imprisoned and tortured because he did not give the king a pleasant message.
The passage that Matthew recalled is Jeremiah 31:15. Rachel was mentioned as the mother because she was the favorite wife of Jacob and, as such, was looked upon as the Mother of Israel. She was weeping for her children because they no longer existed. The kingdom had been destroyed. However, Jeremiah went on to speak of the future. The tragedy would not end in destruction.
NEW COVENANT. WRITTEN IN THE HEART.
A redress would take place (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The Old Covenant, which had been written on tablets of stone, was brought to the people by Moses. The people had failed miserably to live up to this covenant and Yahweh had to punish them. However, Yahweh said that he was faithful to himself. He would write a New Covenant. This Covenant would be written not on stone tablets but in the heart of each person. This Covenant would be based, not just on a chosen people, but on the personal responsibility of each person.
TO EGYPT AGAIN. CALLED FROM EGYPT AGAIN.
Because of Herod’s edict, Joseph took Mary and Jesus and went to the safety of Egypt. Matthew says how he understood this incident: He recalled two passages in the Old Testament. The first is Numbers 23:22 where Yahweh called Israel from the slavery of Egypt. The second reference is more important, Hosea 11:1-6. Hosea was a prophet in the 8th century B.C. and a contemporary of Amos and Isaiah I. Hosea preached in the Northern Kingdom and tried to get them to turn away from idolatry before they were overrun by pagans and taken into captivity. They paid no attention. In 722 B.C., the ten northern tribes were taken away to Assyria. Hosea preceded this catastrophe. He tried to win the people back to Yahweh by recalling the fatherly tenderness and concern of Yahweh for Israel. Yahweh gave his guidance and teaching through the prophets.
Now, when the time was right, Yahweh would call Jesus through his parents, and they would come out of Egypt - as of yore - to come back to the Promised Land and establish the Kingdom of God.
MESSENGER OF THE LORD.
FAMILY RETURNS TO QUIET LIFE. EVIL KING DIES.
EXILED COUPLE RETURN HOME WITH CHILD. Matthew 2:19-23.
We come to the concluding incident of Matthew’s introduction to the Good News about Jesus. We have the “angel of the Lord” again. It was the fourth time this phrase had been used in this introduction. It was the standard Hebrew phrase “Malachi Yahweh” translated into Greek as “Aggelos Kuriou.” It means “messenger of the Lord.” It was used in the Old Testament of the weather, a storm, a prophet, a war. This phrase can refer to any person, place, thing, or event that helps us figure out what to do, how to interpret an event or get a solution to a problem. The person, place, thing, or event then becomes the messenger of Yahweh or the messenger of the Lord.
Joseph got word that Herod and his cohorts were dead. He took his family and started back to his home country. However, he heard that Archelaus, son of Herod, was on the throne in Jerusalem and he was supposed to be worse than his father. So Joseph passed Jerusalem and settled in Nazareth in the northern part of Palestine.
Again, Matthew told you what he saw in this fact by quoting from the Old Testament. He referred back to Judges 13:1-7. It was the story of the conception and birth of Samson. His mother was to observe the vows of the Nazirite in order to conceive. Samson was to live the life of a Nazirite in order to carry out his work to save the people of God.
Again we have a special story about the conception and birth of the child and its relationship to his life’s work as a special man of God.
That ends Matthew’s introductory remarks about the life of Jesus. He has given us several points about the personality of Jesus and the way in which these qualities touch the lives of his followers. Jesus was the:
NEW DAVID: the true Davidic King; clear evidence of the Presence of Yahweh.
SHEPHERD-KING: He knew his followers and lead them expertly.
SON OF YAHWEH: replaced the former People of Yahweh and established the New and Individual Covenant of Personal Responsibility with his followers.
NEW SAMSON: would do wonders in his life and in the lives of his followers to establish the real Kingdom of Heaven.
TELL ME ABOUT THIS KINGDOM. Matthew chapters 3-25.
This section of the Gospel story is often referred to as the “body” of the teaching. The present division of the Gospel would be as follows:
cc. 3-7: PROCLAMATION: HAPPINESS IS POSSIBLE.
cc. 8-10: REACTION: KINGDOM WILL BE RESISTED BECAUSE OF ITS DEMANDS.
cc. 11-13: THIS KINGDOM TAKES A LOT OF STUDY TO UNDERSTAND.
cc. 14-18: MEMBERS OF THIS KINGDOM WILL BE RECOGNIZED AS A GROUP.
cc. 19-25: KINGDOM IS TO BE ESTABLISHED IN STAGES.
The reader has to remember that there was no division by chapters and verses in its original form. These were put in centuries later -primarily as a convenient way of referring to a particular passage. Sometimes these divisions may not seem logical to the reader. Then it is up to the reader to make the division he/she sees as better.
The reader will note that each section is divided into a narrative section and a doctrinal section. The narrative section tends to tell stories about the life of Jesus. The doctrinal section concentrates more on his teaching. The two sections are closely related and this is not an ironclad distinction. All facts in the narrative section are developed to teach a particular point. There is no such thing as a “merely factual account” in the Semitic historical genre.
GOD’S WORD IS GOOD. Matthew Chapters 5 - 7.
We often hear these words of praise about a person. “He/She is a person of his/her word.” These are words of highest praise because they tell us a person can be trusted to do exactly what is promised.
Matthew was interested in showing us that the Good News (gospel) about Jesus was that he could be trusted to live by the Word of God. Jesus showed, by his life and teaching, that what God had said through his teachers and seers of the past, was true and would be carried out in detail. Matthew picked out key ideas and developed them. Here is a list of what he thought was important.
1. REAL DAVID. Jesus was the new and real David. This means Jesus was the “beloved of Yahweh.” Matt. 1:17.
2. IMMANUEL. Jesus was “Immanuel,“ the evidence of the surrounding and permeating presence of Yahweh in the world. Matt. 1:23; Isaiah 7:14.
3. SHEPHERD KING. Jesus manifested the “wise leadership” of Yahweh for the whole world. Jesus was a “shepherd.” Matt. 2:6; Micah 5: 1.
4. FATHERHOOD OF YAHWEH. Jesus was the full manifestation of the Fatherhood of Yahweh by being the “son called from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. Matt. 2:15; Numbers 23:22; Hosea 11:1.
5. NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT. Jesus was the founder of the “New and Eternal Covenant” to replace the Old Covenant that the Chosen People had failed to keep. Matt. 2:18; Jeremiah 31:15-34.
6. THE NAZARENE. Jesus was the “Nazarene,” the “New and Creative Samson.” This was to recall the whole story of Samson and his great strength that was finally self-destructive. Matt. 2:23; Judges 13:5,7.
7. SERVANT OF YAHWEH. Jesus was the “Servant of Yahweh.” John the Baptist was presented as the fulfillment and the last of the prophetic teachers of the Old Covenant. His was the honor and the task of introducing Jesus to the remnant of the Chosen People and to the world. He made this introduction with the opening lines of Second Isaiah. (Isaiah chapters 40-55). This section takes time to see all its beauty and truth. The songs about the Servant are interlaced four times into this passage. (Matt. 3:3; Is. 40:3; cf. John 1:23). Jesus, the Servant, was presented as endowing his followers with the “Creative Breath of Holiness and the Fire of Cleansing.” He would be carrying his winnowing fan and his coming would be the harvest. He would separate the straw from the grain. The straw would be carried off the threshing floor to be destroyed but the grain would be gathered into his presence. See: Isaiah 1:25; Zechariah 13:9; Micah 3:2-3; Sirach 2:5.
8. SON OF YAHWEH. Jesus was the “Son of Yahweh.” Jesus was the fulfillment of what the People of the Old Covenant were called to be. This title “Son of Yahweh” points out that Jesus was the “People of the New Covenant” (Exodus 4:22-23; Hosea 11:1-11; Wisdom 18:13). It points out that he was the king foreshadowed by David and his successors but who were finally wiped out because of their infidelity. Now Jesus was presented as fulfilling the promises made to David at the beginning of his reign. (2 Sam. 7:1-16) Finally, this title points out that Jesus was the “Just Man,” a person who embodied all the justice and holiness of the Old Covenant. (Wisdom 2:13,13,16; 5:5; Sirach 4:11)
9. TRIUMPHANT! Jesus, as “Son of Yahweh,” must be tested as were the leaders and the people of the Old Covenant. They failed. Jesus must come off triumphant in three basic ways.
9.1. LIVED BY THE WORD. Jesus lived by the “Word of Yahweh.” Jesus lived in the midst of the world and was a man of his times. He worked for a living in his father’s trade. At the same time, the plan of his life was in harmony with the plan of Yahweh - not in keeping with the pagan world around him. He recognized his personal responsibility and did not sit back and expect others to do for him. Mt. 4:4; Dt. 8:3; Is. 6:4-8; Jer. 1:9-10; Ez. 2:8-3:3.
9.2. DID NOT TEST YAHWEH! Jesus did not presume to expect special favors to rescue him from foolish mistakes. He was certain that he could count on the help and guidance of Yahweh at all times - if he cooperated. But he did not throw himself into danger and then expect some special help to set him free. Matt. 4:6-7; Psalms 91:11-12.
9.3. WAS OBEDIENT TO THE PLAN OF YAHWEH - THE FOUNDATION! Jesus knew the true meaning of the “Kingship of Yahweh.” He knew there was no shortcut to establish this Kingship. He could not be lured by false promises, cheap glitter, or foolish threats. He knew that there was only one way to be the “Son of Yahweh” and that was through the understanding of and obedience to the plan of Yahweh. Matt. 4:8-11; Deuteronomy 6:16.
10. GALILEAN. Jesus came from Galilee - an area that was despised by the leaders in Jerusalem. Jesus was not only acceptable to Yahweh but he came “as the rising sun” - ready to illumine all who would look. His message demanded a “metanoia,” or “complete change of outlook” so that all who listen would be able to see, recognize and enter the Kingship of Yahweh. Matt. 4:15-16; Is. 8:23-9:1; John. 8:12.
11. SPECIAL DISCIPLES. Jesus called his disciples from the ordinary people. He used their natural and acquired talents to further his work.
Additional Information: Age of these disciples.
Through the centuries we have seen them depicted in art and sculpture as old men. We know for certain that Paul was age 24 at the time of his conversion - a young, energetic, fiery-tempered, apodictic type of person. He often spoke first and then realized what he was thinking. John was in his early teens when he was called. The other apostles were in their early or middle twenties. Peter is the only one we are sure was married because we are told about his mother-in-law.
12. NEW MOSES. Jesus was the New Moses. Moses of the Old Law spoke amid thunder and lightning from the top of Mt. Sinai. Jesus of the New Law sat down on a hill near Capernaum and spoke gently but persuasively to all that would listen. Matt. cc. 5-7 is often called the “Sermon on the Mount.” We know from the other Gospels that this was not one continuous talk. It took place on many occasions but the early Christians gathered together the various thoughts to give a summary of the Good News.
The basic promise of Jesus is "HAPPINESS" if the right dispositions are present in the person. The Good News is not a “pie-in-the-sky” promise. The Good News is concerned with the “here-and-now” life of each person. Happiness is promised to each person, on an individual basis, in this life. The right dispositions are: (Matthew 5:3-12)
1. “poor in spirit.” “Spirit” in this phrase is the spirit or “breath” of Genesis, chapter 2. It refers to the creative breath of Yahweh that is the source of life for each person and the evidence that the person is truly alive. Hence this first disposition was concerned with a new creation which was a favorite theme of the early Christians. “Poor” refers to a detached attitude toward material things. In contrast to the world about them, the Christians were to want material things only as they needed them. They were to be willing to share with all that were in need. This attitude would establish the “Kingship of the Heavens” in their lives.
Being “poor in spirit” is the basic disposition demanded of all the followers of Jesus. Then come the seven ways in which this happiness is to be attained in the midst of hardships.
The first beatitude, “the meek” or the “gentle,” stresses that this Kingship or this Happiness is not to be gained by a domineering or warlike attitude. It is the meek or gentle person who will receive the earth as a heritage.
2. “the mourners comforted.” Jesus did not promise some a state of happiness in which there would be no sadness. The hardships, woes, and problems of daily life will face each person. However, they will receive strength from each other to face up to the difficulties and feel strong. There will be a sense of individual responsibility bound together by a mutual respect and love.
3. “hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be filled.” The justice that is talked about in this beatitude is the sum-total of all the good qualities that go to make up integrity, honesty, uprightness, and honor. There is no way we can translate this word, “dikaiosyne” from the Greek into one word in English. No English word will convey it. But note - there has to be an intense desire for this justice. The person must “feel the pangs of hunger and the intensity of thirst.” Then comes the promise: this hunger and thirst will be filled.
4. “mercy begets mercy.” The harshness, brutality, and lack of respect for the rights of others that are prevalent in society can and will be removed if this truly human kindness is shown to everyone.
5. “sincere people shall see God.” The “clean of heart” as given here stresses the sincerity that is necessary in order to be a part of this plan of God as shown in Jesus. No external sham can possibly stand up to the test of true holiness as proclaimed by Jesus.
6. “peacemakers are the Sons of God.” Jesus was not speaking of people who talk about peace or wish there were peace or lament the fighting and bickering that go on. He said it is the job of the true follower to “make peace,” to “establish peace” - no matter how difficult the circumstances.
7. “persecution in the cause of justice...theirs is the Kingship of the Heavens.” This is the final note and the summary of the whole picture. The happiness that is promised here is not going to fall into anyone’s lap. Not only will each person have to work hard to attain the qualities that bring the happiness, but each person will run into opposition and difficulty from within and without in this pursuit.
Conclusion: Verses 11 and 12 give a picture of what Christians can expect from the world about them. The writer referred back to the lives of the prophets and the mistreatment many of them received. If you are not familiar with these men of the past, read their stories. Note how these men looked at the people around them in their daily lives. They saw the terrible way these people bragged about being the Chosen People, then worked to destroy each other, and set a bad example for all the people in the area. The prophets felt they had to do something about it. They taught, exhorted, threatened - over and over again. The result, for the most part, was that they were hated and ridiculed, persecuted and ignored and, at times, put to death. Now, said Jesus, the happiness I am talking about will come to you in this life insofar as you follow the example of the prophets.
This means that Christians are to stand up to the world about them. They are to make a difference by putting forth effort to change the selfishness and destruction that are rampant in a world without principles.
That’s the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. You can see it serves as a general introduction to this section of the teachings of Jesus and gives them a special slant. Because of the parallel drawn with the Moses of the Old Law, this is really a summary of the New and Eternal Covenant that is to fulfill the Old Law in its transitory stage.
The opening lines of this Sermon on the Mount are often called the Eight Beatitudes. Here is a rewording in our modern language - while still keeping the original meaning. These opening lines are a summary of the traits of true leadership demanded of any follower of Christ.
General Statement: If you want to be truly happy, you must set
goals that are beyond mere material success.
1. If you want to be truly happy, you must be a leader
without overpowering and crushing others.
2. If you want to be truly happy, you must have the ability to be
sad and show it, to accept strength and help from others,
and to keep going through the hardship.
3. If you want to be truly happy, you must have an intense desire
for “justice.” This means you must be an honest, law-abiding,
fair, open-hearted, trustworthy, incorruptible, reputable person.
4. If you want to be truly happy, you must be filled with the qualities
of mercy and kindness. You have to be able to see around
the faults and failures of others and find their good qualities.
5. If you want to be truly happy, you have to set a high goal and
then stick with it. You cannot find happiness if you allow
yourself to run after every fleeting goal.
6. If you want to be truly happy, you have to want peace in your life.
You have to establish peace in your life and in the world around you.
7. Here is the list of traits needed to establish a solid basis for true
and lasting happiness in your life. The reader is reminded again:
This is not going to come easy. In fact, you will be laughed at,
mocked, hated, and even persecuted because your goals are so
high. When that mistreatment comes your way, don’t be
surprised. Don’t think of quitting. Don’t feel sorry for yourself.
This is exactly what they did to the great leaders of the past.
Just look at their lives.
If you want true happiness in your life today, you have to put meaning and value in the world about you. You must be the salt that seasons the world properly. You must be the light that makes all things visible. You must be a lamp, put on the pedestal, so that all in the world may see. The creative action and effective behavior demanded of true leadership have always met with opposition and this will never change.
CONTRACT OFFERED TO CITIZENS. SALT OF THE EARTH. Matthew 5:13-16.
Background information on “Salt of the Earth.”
We still use this phrase when we want to give high praise to a person. The image does not really mean much to us. To get its meaning we have to go back in time. Among the nomads, salt was used in their sacrifices and in the friendship meal that followed. This was so true that when a person was invited to a banquet, he immediately looked for the salt. If he was seated above the salt, it meant that he was invited as a true friend. If he was seated below the salt, it meant he was invited because he had to be and his presence was merely tolerated.
Our word “salary” comes from the Latin word for salt. The reason again was because of the importance of salt in the economy of Rome. The soldiers were actually paid in “salt.” It had a permanent value among the people and was far more valuable at the market and on the street than the coin of the realm.
Jesus sums up the whole life of a Christian in the words. “You are the salt of the earth!” He was talking about one value of salt only. That is the power to SEASON foods and make them tasty. We all know what happens to the taste of food if a little bit of salt is not cooked into it. It becomes flat and insipid. The salt used in proper proportions makes ordinary food into a banquet.
If salt loses its native flavor, what can be done with it? What can restore the flavor to the salt and give back its power of seasoning? The answer is “Nothing.” The salt is good for only one thing. It is thrown out on footpaths and roads and walked on to harden the surface of the path or road.
The Christian, by his/her life, is to have an effect on society similar to salt. The Christian is to have in his life the qualities that are needed to establish harmony and peace in the society around him. Then by example, this Christian permeates society and gives it the true Christian flavor.
There are several applications that are presupposed by this figure of speech. First, don't put in too much salt. Salt is a marvelous seasoning but if you put in too much salt, the food becomes inedible because all that can be tasted is the overdose of salt. So the Christian is not to lord it over the people with whom he lives, is not to act superior toward others, is not to be “pushy” or hypercritical. Like the salt, if the Christian loses his qualities that empower him to bring about change, the Christian will be the worst of the lot. He will imitate the unchristian attitudes and habits of those around him and will do far more harm than any other non-Christian.
“LIGHT OF THE WORLD” Matthew 5:14-16.
Another image expresses the same idea. Light comes into the room quietly and penetrates into the darkest corner. The more powerful the light, the more it will light up the surroundings. In this passage, Jesus said that the Christian is to be the light of the whole world. No one lights a light and then immediately covers it. Rather, the light is put up on the lamp stand so that everyone in the room can see more clearly.
The conclusion to both images is stated: “So let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and give praise to your Father in heaven.” The salt and the light are your good works. These works are to be performed so that others may see them. Thus they will establish the fatherhood of God through the brotherhood of men.
Application to today’s world:
The Christian teaching has been in existence for over 2000 years. During the first two and a half centuries of its existence, there was intermittent and fierce persecution. The outcome of their lives was the Edict of Milan in 313 when Constantine officially ended the persecutions and he himself became a Christian. The reason was because of what he had seen in the lives of Christians.
From 313 to today, the good example has faded. We have seen wars, fighting, killing, and every type of selfishness in the so-called Christian world. We have built beautiful churches and destroyed people. We have made more and more powerful guns and ammunition and have seen more and more people starve to death. What ever happened to that “Salt of the Earth” and that “Light of the World?”
"FULFILLMENT" Matthew 5:17-19.
Another point that bothered many of the first Christians was the relationship between the Old Law and its promises and this New Law. There had been over one hundred men in the last hundred years, prior to the coming of Jesus, who had claimed to be the Messiah. To a man, they had come to destroy what was already present and to start something new. Jesus was very careful to point out this was not his attitude or approach.
Jesus did not come “to destroy but to fulfill.” The Old Law was a preparation. It was never intended to be complete but would flower into completion with the coming of the Messiah. The prophets talked about this fulfillment in various ways. Each one stressed a particular point or aspect. None saw the complete picture or claimed to. John the Baptist was the last of the Old Covenant prophets and the bridge to the New Covenant. It was his privilege to point out Jesus, Messiah, and the fulness of the prophecies. Jesus carefully pointed out that he did not come to condone violence or the attempted destruction of the Law or the Prophets. At the same time, he clearly stressed that he was fulfilling the Old and setting up the New.
PERFECTION: NEW LAW. Matthew 5:20-28.
Jesus started this passage by condemning the shallow lives of the Scribes and Pharisees. The Pharisees were the “holier than thou” leaders of the populace. They condemned the stilted behavior of the Sadducees (the priestly group). But their piety was a letter-of-the-law approach and only letter-deep. The Scribes were the so-called learned men who could read and write. They read the Law for the Pharisees and interpreted it. They were as shallow as the Pharisees.
Jesus said simply: “Unless your justice greatly surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the Kingdom of the Heavens.” That seemed to say it all. Jesus did not compromise with these popular leaders nor did he hope to win them to see his ideas.
FATHERHOOD OF GOD. FAMILY OF MANKIND.
In the last sentence (Matt. 5:48) of this passage, Jesus set his norm: “You must therefore be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Just as his one sentence of condemnation said it all, so this one sentence of approval said it all. It is the Fatherhood of God that is to be manifest by the way in which Christians live and act. Therefore it is primarily as “children of Yahweh,” as the family of mankind, that Christians are to appear to the world. A double emphasis is contained in these words: Each individual must assume the responsibility of establishing his/her sonship with the Father. Like all sons, they will form a part of the family. Therefore they must carry out this responsibility always in the context of the family with the other children. So what Jesus demands of Christians is the FATHERHOOD OF GOD manifested in the BROTHERHOOD OF MEN.
The old Moses had given the Ten Commandments of the Old Law carved in the stone tablets. Jesus now took a few of these commandments what were most pertinent to the times, and showed how they were to be observed. He also took a few of the Pharisaic practices that were taught as part of the Law, and showed how these were to be reversed.
and if anyone does kill he must be judged in court.” So read the Commandment and the practice of the times.
Now Jesus said: If you get angry with your brother, you shall be taken into court (the local court). If you call your brother “Fool,” you shall be taken before the Sanhedrin (the Supreme Jewish Court). If you call him “Nabal,” you shall be cast into the gehenna of fire.
Note how this respect for the life of another had been upgraded. It was no longer just a question of avoiding murder. Respect for the life of another begins with the first violation of that respect which is ANGER. Anger brings with it the appearance in the local court. To threaten a person in a hateful way, to bear a grudge as a result of the anger, commands an appearance before the Supreme Court. To talk against a person and to do mean and under-handed things against him, this brings with it the “fire of gehenna.”
Gehenna is the Greek word for the “valley of Hinnom” that was on the west side of Jerusalem. It was a valley of excommunication because in this valley in the days of the kingdom, the worship of pagan idols was carried on. In the time of Jesus, there was a perpetual fire and here were brought all the parts of the sacrificial animals which could not be offered up or could not be eaten. They were burned in this valley. So anyone who was placed in this valley was considered a complete outcast from the people of God. Jesus, very clearly, had tightened the meaning of this respect for the life of a brother.
Now Jesus carried his application a step farther. If you are at the altar and remember that your brother has something against you, you have offended him in some way, leave your gift at the altar and go first to be reconciled. Then come back and make your offering. The alternative is to make no offering and be excluded from the people.
Get all differences of opinion settled among yourselves before you are hauled into court. Otherwise you will be judged and imprisoned, and then you will pay to the last penny or letter of the law. Jesus was commanding understanding, discussion of differences, and arriving at a solution.
Application to today:
Now pick up your daily papers and the list of disagreements that go to court each day. What would happen to all this accusation and recrimination and injustice if the truly Christian interpretation of respect for each other's rights was understood, accepted and lived?
THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.
The Old Law talked about the maximum of the crime. Jesus cut back to the roots of the problem. The lustful look is already adultery in the heart. How serious was Jesus about this commandment? Be willing to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand rather than have your whole person condemned to the gehenna of excommunication.
The widespread practice of divorce was also condemned as a violation of the rights of the woman. Jesus made one exception, “porneia.” This Greek word is translated as “fornication.” This is fine if you understand its biblical significance and not merely its modern legal meaning. For this biblical meaning, the reader will have to go, back to the Book of Wisdom and read the passage from 13:10 to 14:14.
Wisdom 14:13-14 told us exactly what “porneia” was and what brought it about. Porneia is the destruction of life through human selfishness or emptiness. The relationship of husband and wife is supposed to be the highest kind of creative love in all their actions. Selfishness is the destructive rot that weakens and nullifies this love. “Porneia” then is any kind of selfishness that destroys a marriage and its love.
Porneia is the making of idols and the phallic worship of the same. If a married person has turned or returned to the phallic cults, then this person can no longer live in the Christian household.
A further note should be added on this exception to divorce. It is not the idolatry itself that is the problem. Paul’s communities had the problem even more severely. He told us how it was to be treated. If the person who was a pagan was willing to live in peace and harmony with the Christian person, then the marriage continued. However if any form of antagonism or selfishness was present, then the marriage was ended and a new marriage could follow. This was dubbed “the Pauline Privilege.” Selfishness had already destroyed the marriage. The Matthean communities ran into the same problem and Matthew gave the same solution. He mentioned it explicitly in 5:32 and 19:9.
The sacredness of the marriage bond is upheld in its strictest sense by this passage. Again we can see the progression of this presentation in the teaching of Jesus. He was concerned about respect for the life of the individual and then respect for the foundation of all society that is the bond of marriage and the home that comes from it.
YOU MUST NOT BREAK YOUR OATH,
BUT YOU MUST FULFILL YOUR OATHS TO THE LORD.
This concerns interpersonal rights of people. These are the rights that follow the use of speech. We are to tell the truth to each other. In the time of Christ this commandment had deteriorated into the ridiculous.
An oath was to be judged according to the object by which a person swore. A person could take an oath by his own head, by the city of Jerusalem, by the earth, or by the heavens. The power of the oath was strengthened in that order or weakened in reverse. Jesus forbad all swearing. Jerusalem was the city of Kings. The earth was the footstool of Yahweh. The heavens were his throne. Therefore they were all equally important, holy and binding.
However, said Jesus, you should not have to swear at all. If you are an honest person, have true Christian justice, are a “dikaios,” then you need only say “yes” when you mean yes and “no” when you mean no. Everything else is a sign of an evil mind or an evil intent.
AN EYE FOR AN EYE, A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.
Revenge; Get even! This had been the spirit of the Old Law even though the prophets preached against it constantly. Jesus laid down a whole new set of standards:
a. Offer the wicked man no resistance.
1) If he strikes you on the right cheek, turn also your left.
2) If he wants to take your tunic, give him your cloak as well.
3) If he orders you to walk one mile with him, walk two.
b. Does this mean that evil people are to domineer in the world with their injustice and wickedness? By no means!
1) This is a typical Hebrew way of speaking:
Deny a statement by its exact opposite.
Jesus wants to condemn all spirit of revenge
or craving to get even as it was then practiced.
2) Jesus did not forbid us to resist unjust attack in due
measure. In fact, he did it himself. (cf. John 18:22f)
3) Above all, Jesus had given us the command
to eliminate injustice from the world.
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AND HATE YOUR ENEMY.
This was the restricted notion of the Old Law about brotherly love.
Jesus again went beyond the narrow confines of Jewish thought and practice of the times.
a. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
b. Imitate the example of the heavenly Father. God makes
the sun to shine on the good and the bad, and the rain
to fall on the upright and the reprobate.
c. If you love only those who love you, you are no better than
the people around you and really, you love only yourself.
The tax-collectors and the Gentiles do this.
BE PERFECT AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS PERFECT.
“YOUR FATHER IS GREAT! GET TO KNOW HIM AND DO IT HIS WAY.”
This is the command and the plan to establish the true family of mankind: THE BROTHERHOOD OF MAN IN THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD!
TREASURE WORTH KEEPING. Matthew 6:1-21.
The treasures talked about in this passage are three: ALMSGIVING, PRAYER, FASTING. These were the three headings under which all good deeds were classified and they still offer a complete basis for the actions of daily life.
HELP THE POOR AND UNFORTUNATE.
Don’t do things to attract the attention of other people and win their praise. Don’t act to show off. This is the action of the HYPOCRITE. Jesus lashed out at hypocrisy in all forms - especially in leaders. cf. Mt. 23:13-39.
Slogan: Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
NOT TO IMPRESS OTHER PEOPLE, NOT JUST EMPTY WORDS,
NOT TO INFORM GOD - HE ALREADY KNOWS WHAT YOU NEED.
Follow this model:
When we pray, it is as a member of the family of mankind approaching the Father of that family. This is the most basic disposition of Christian prayer. Without it in our daily lives, there is NO PRAYER. All prayer, as Jesus presented it, must be the expression of the FATHERHOOD OF GOD in the BROTHERHOOD OF MAN. Unless this family is real, no prayer is possible. Prayer follows the pattern of families. If a child refuses to respect and honor his father or mother here on earth, that child can expect little from the parent in return.
BROTHERHOOD OF MAN is not an idle phrase. This is the goal set by God from the very beginning. It is not a reality until people make it real. No matter how many nations or groups of people there are, they are to learn to live and work and act together harmoniously. This does not mean imposing a special religion or philosophy of life on other people. It means getting to know how other people think and live. Then we learn to adjust our way of life to theirs without sacrificing your principles or rights.
1) YOUR NAME BE MADE KNOWN AND HONORED.
You carry the family name which is that of God. Therefore your actions must uphold and honor that name or you cannot pray. So far, every nation that is known has some kind of supreme being. It is not a matter of saying one is superior to the others and the others have to be rejected. It is a matter again of learning how to adapt and adopt without destroying basic human rights.
2) YOUR KINGSHIP IS ESTABLISHED.
This notion will be developed fully in Matt. c. 13:1-53. It is the very heart of the picture of Jesus and his teaching as presented in Matthew. This Kingship is something INTERNAL to each person, something EXTERNAL as the society in which he/she lives, and something ETERNAL toward which all the members are working and want to reach. The very heart of this Kingship and the source of all its power are the harmony and community among the members.
3) YOUR WILL BE DONE.
Obedience on earth should be as perfect as it is in the presence of God. Living in perfect accord with this plan as presented by God is the source of all happiness and greatness.
b. EVIDENCE OF PROPER DISPOSITIONS TO PRAY.
1) Give us today our daily bread. Family togetherness
in the search for a daily livelihood.
2) Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are in
debt to us: Mutual forgiveness.
3) And to not put us to the test but save us from the evil one.
Stand strong in the great test of each day: true forgiveness
of each other. Love with no touch of revenge.
a. Have no sad or haggard look. If you fast to show off to others,
you have already received any reward you will get.
b. When you fast, go about your daily life as if nothing is happening.
Matthew. 6:21 - 7:29.
WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS, THERE WILL YOUR HEART BE ALSO.
6:22-23. What LIGHT shines in your life to guide you? 6:24. Whom do you SERVE: GOD or MONEY? You cannot serve both.
6:25-34. DON’T WORRY.
a. Set your sights on the KINGSHIP OF GOD and
HIS UPRIGHTNESS: (dikaiosyne)
b. Take care of today and tomorrow will take care of itself.
7:1-5. DO NOT JUDGE OTHERS!
a. Your judgments shall come back to haunt you.
b. “First take the TIMBER out of your own eye so that you
can see to take the SPLINTER out of your brother’s eye.”
7:6. “Do not give to the dogs what is holy.” Don’t waste what
is worthwhile on those who won’t or can’t appreciate it.
7:7-11. PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY:
ASK...It will be given.
SEEK...You will find.
KNOCK...The door will be opened.
7:12. GOLDEN RULE:
a. THEREFORE do unto others as you
would have them do unto you.
b. This is the Law and the Prophets.
a. You cannot COAST into this happiness:
the gate is narrow, the road is uphill, and
you have to take every step even the last one.
b. False Teachers: By their fruits you can recognize them.
7:21-27. TRUE DISCIPLE:
a. The DOER - not the talker. “Disciple” means a person that
is truly convinced and gives evidence of his convictions
by OBEDIENCE to the will of the heavenly Father:
i.e. is faithful in establishing the brotherhood of
man in the fatherhood of God.
b. Builds his house on the BEDROCK of CONVICTIONS,
not on the shifting SANDS of fickleness.
a. Jesus, the New Moses, finished what he had to say.
b. The people were really impressed because he spoke with authentic power and genuine sincerity (exousia) “Not like the Scribes.” The reference here is to the custom of the Scribes always proving their points by the “tradition of the ancients.” As long as it was done in the past or they could squeeze their interpretation into something that had been said or done, the Scribes and Pharisees maintained it had to be done now. There was no forward look in their teaching and they could accept no new circumstance that would demand a new interpretation of an old custom or statute.
Jesus was just the opposite. He started with the people in front of him and decided how their needs were to be fulfilled by the Law and the Prophets. He did not hesitate to call the interpretations imposed by the Scribes “useless burdens” intended by neither Yahweh nor his prophets.
MATTHEW. Chapters 8-10.
LISTEN UP! THIS IS THE KINGDOM OF THE HEAVENS.
LONE CRUSADER CURES ILLS.
Chapters 8-9 are a succession of actions performed by Jesus.
The literary format of the Matthew’s Gospel is well planned. This is due to the mental qualities of Matthew as a tax collector for Rome. He kept books. He listed mathematical figures and then added them up. The Gospel story was written in the same fashion. Matthew gave a series of incidents from the life of Jesus and then showed how these fulfilled the expectations of the prophets and the people. Then he composed a series of ideas, or teachings that flowed from these events into the lives of Christians at that time. In this way the life and example of Jesus Christ would always be relevant and doing its part to “COMPLETE” the plan of God for the whole universe.
It is important to keep in mind the final command of Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20: “Go, make disciples of the whole world. Teach them to observe everything that I have commanded you. And behold (i.e. be absolutely certain) I am with you until the ‘COMPLETION’ (synteleia) of the world.” He does not use the word “end” in the sense of something that is over and done with. Rather he uses the word “end” that means to bring something to its full meaning and purpose. An example would be this: Someone gives you a box with 328 separate parts, diagram and instructions to fit the parts together. When assembly is complete, it is a great machine. The work is done - in the sense that you have put all the parts together and made the machine. Your work is also just starting - in the sense that you can now use this new machine to do all sorts of wonderful things.
This is the meaning of the Greek word, “synteleia” that was used in the final line of Matthew’s Gospel. People will be here on earth doing the work of Jesus Christ until they bring this world to be what God intended it to be from the beginning. Then, and then only, will the human race be able to live as God intended from the time that he set the plan in motion.
In this way the final lines of Matthew’s Gospel and the opening chapters of Genesis are very closely connected. As Genesis says, God established the first couple in a Garden called “Happiness.” They were to use the garden and live there and bring all things to the fulness of God’s plan. However, a flaw came into the picture. The first people did not cooperate and the garden was taken away. People wandered in misery and unhappiness and went farther and farther away from the original plan.
Then Jesus came. He turned the picture around by obeying perfectly. He left a plan so all people can share in this fulfillment of the universe and happiness of all people. Jesus will help us all the way but he is not doing the job for us. It is the work of the followers of Jesus to lead mankind to this perfection and happiness, to get mankind back on the path to God, and keep them moving forward. That is the mission of the disciples, of the Church, of the world. By the looks of things in the world today, we still have a long way to go.
Let us now go forward in the development of the ideas.
Matthew wanted us to understand that as Jesus went about the countryside, he met people in all stages and kinds of misery. They heard that he could help them so they came forward and Jesus did help. Why did he do all these wondrous deeds, these cures? The Gospel writers stress that there was only one reason. Jesus saw the misery of the people, downtrodden, oppressed, put upon, used and abused, and his heart filled with sympathy, empathy, and pity. He wanted to help and knew that he could. So he helped by removing their misery even though he knew this would gradually bring him into conflict with authority-Jewish and Roman.
In chapters 8-9, there are ten specific wonders, miracles or signs and then many others are mentioned only in passing. The ten individual miracles or signs are: the cure of the leper, the cure of the centurion’s slave, the cure of Peter’s mother-in-law, the calming of the storm at sea, freeing the two possessed men of Gadara, the cure of the paralytic, the cure of the woman with the flow of blood, the cure of the official’s daughter, the cure of the two blind men, and finally the cure of the demoniac who was mute.
We are not given a lot of details about these incidents. We can imagine what would happen today if there had been television coverage for the local news. We are sure there were a lot more details known and handed on by word of mouth. However, Matthew gives only the essentials to develop the picture that he has in mind.
We turn back to the beginning of Chapter 8 and take each story individually, as told.
First, there was the leper. Leprosy seemed to have been quite prevalent. As soon as a person was diagnosed as a leper, he/she was excluded from society. The lepers were to live away from the inhabited towns and fend for themselves. They were to have no contact with healthy people because of the danger of contagion. If they approached healthy people, they could be beaten with sticks or even killed if they did not retreat into the desert.
This leper did not hesitate to approach Jesus. He had been watching and listening and was convinced Jesus could cure him. He said as much. Jesus stretched out his hand, touched the man, and said “Be made clean.” And the leprosy was gone. Then Jesus said, “Don’t stand around talking about this, but go, show yourself to the priests and make the offering demanded by law, so that you are officially restored to society.”
Matthew dropped the story right there. He was interested in the story only because it proved a point about Jesus which the Gospel would state explicitly a bit later. However, let your imagination fly back to that scene. What do you think happened as the people watched the leper approach Jesus? They saw Jesus touch the leper. Then the leper’s skin cleared up and he was cured. Can you imagine the shout of joy from the leper and the babble of amazement from the people? Jesus said simply, “Go and get this officially acknowledged by the priests so you can come back into society.”
All these added details are not necessary for the point that Matthew wanted to make. However, these details give life and meaning to the story for us the readers after all these centuries.
The second incident was even more remarkable as Jesus himself said. A centurion came up to Jesus to ask for a favor. Now remember that the centurion is an officer in the Roman army and Jesus is a Jew from Nazareth. The Romans were in complete control of Palestine and they despised all conquered people but especially the Jews.
The centurion had a slave that he liked. This was very unusual. The Romans looked on their slaves as chattel to be used, abused and cast aside. Slaves had no rights. They were from conquered people. Yet this centurion went to Jesus, a Jew, to ask a favor for one of his slaves.
When Jesus agreed to come with him, the centurion went a step farther. He said “I am not worthy to have you come into my house. I am a man of authority and I understand authority. So you just say the word or give the command right here and my servant will be healed.”
Jesus looked around in amazement. He could not believe the depth of this man’s faith in him. He said so in very clear words: “I take my oath on this that nowhere in Israel have I found such faith. I’m telling you that many a Jew will be rejected from the feast of the patriarchs but this man will be invited in as an honored guest.” Then he said to the centurion, “You go on home! What you have asked for has already happened because of your faith.” The slave was cured at that moment.
Can you imagine how this incident shook people? Can you imagine how the Jewish leaders hated him for his slam at their authority and power? The Romans would be amazed that one of their own had been helped.
Next, Jesus stopped at Peter’s house. Peter’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever. Jesus walked over and touched her and the fever left immediately. She got up and took care of their needs as the hostess.
That evening, said Matthew, they brought in people with every manner of sickness and he cured them all. Then Matthew made his application to the Old Testament. He quoted Isaiah 53:4. This is one of the special texts that the rabbis stressed to the people. It deals with this Servant of Yahweh who was to come. Matthew said that it was quite evident that Jesus was this servant we have been looking for.
Now, one of the Scribes was completely caught up with his dedication to Jesus. He told Jesus he would follow him to the ends of the earth, if need be. Jesus pointed out that this following will be a lot harder than it appears. He stressed that he has no standing among the leaders and, at any moment, he may have to escape from their presence.
“SON OF MAN.” Matthew 8:20.
This is the first use of the phrase in Matthew. Jesus and the early Christians take the phrase from Daniel 7:13. In this context, Jesus stressed that he had no permanent home. He was traveling from place to place until he fulfilled his mission as he understands it.
Another man was all set to follow Jesus but he wanted to take care of the burial of his father first. This would have been seen as the most sacred duty of a son. Jesus sounded almost flippant. “Let the dead bury the dead. If you want to be a true disciple, get over here and follow me.” Jesus left no room for a lukewarm acceptance.
This time Jesus and the disciples were down at the lake. He stepped into a boat and the disciples followed. They got out on the lake and a sudden terrifying storm rose up. This is not surprising because of the location and the nature of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was tired from his travels and preaching and was sound asleep. The disciples were veterans of the sea and yet they were scared. They woke Jesus with the cry, “Save us, Lord, we are going to capsize and drown.”
Jesus awoke. He reminded the disciples how small their faith was. Then he stood up and gave a command to the winds and the sea, and immediately everything was back to a normal calm. The disciples were amazed. They could not imagine exactly who Jesus was.
WHAT IS A HERD OF PIGS DOING HERE?
Now they arrived at the area around Gadara. Two men, possessed by the devil, were living among the tombs. Passersby were scared of these two men. They came to meet Jesus and his followers, and they protested his coming among them. There was a herd of pigs in the area. Jesus commanded the demons to leave the two men and enter into the swine. The pigs took off from the cliff and drowned themselves in the lake. When Jesus got to the town, the people had already heard the story and they told Jesus to keep right on walking. They didn’t want him in their town.
Jesus and the disciples got back in their boat and arrived at Capernaum, Jesus’ own town. Some people came out carrying a paralyzed man. Jesus looked at the afflicted man and said, “Have courage. Your sins are forgiven.” The scribes grumbled to themselves: “This man is blaspheming. Only God can forgive sins.”
Jesus knew their thoughts and he challenged their thinking: “Which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ or ‘Arise and walk?’ But to prove to you that the SON OF MAN has authoritative power on earth to forgive sins, I say to the paralytic, ‘Get up, roll up your pallet, and go home.’ ” The young man got up, rolled up his pallet, and went home. The people were amazed and all talked at once.
Now Matthew told a bit about how Jesus called him and how he responded. He said Jesus was walking past the customs house where he worked as a tax collector for the Romans. Jesus looked at him and said, “Come, follow me!” Matthew’s response was the shortest in history. He arose and followed.
Then Matthew pointed out a detail about Jesus that really appealed to him. Jesus was in the habit of eating publicly with tax collectors and other moral outcasts of Jewish society. The Pharisees saw this and they asked Jesus’s followers about it. The Pharisees said that they would never be seen in the company of such people, especially fraternizing at meals with them. Jesus heard about these complaints.
His answer was short and overpowering. First he quoted from Amos who was a prophet of the 8th century B.C. and was not accepted by the Jewish leaders. Amos was a farmer and did not have the dress, language, or deportment of an educated man. Amos admitted all this and then told the leaders what was going to happen to them. His language is some of the most graphic of the Old Testament.
Jesus quoted from Amos to refute this same attitude of the Pharisees in his time. Jesus reminded them that he had come not to call people who say they are already saved, but to call people who admit they need help.
When the Baptist’s disciples heard about this ruckus, they came to Jesus with their questions. John the Baptist had taught his followers that they must fast and lead lives of penitence in order to get ready for the coming of the Messiah. These people were faithful to the teaching of John. Now Jesus came, claimed to be the Messiah, and did not fast. Nor did his disciples.
Jesus gave the disciples of John a lengthy answer. Jesus compared himself to the bridegroom. He said as long as the bridegroom was present, everyone should enjoy themselves. The time will come, after the bridegroom was gone, when everyone would be sad. Secondly, Jesus used the image of patching clothes. If a garment was almost ready to be thrown out, it did no good to sew a new patch on it. The new fabric would be so out of place that it would pull away from and tear the old.
Finally, said Jesus, look at the wineskins. Wineskins were the intestines of animals. New wine was put into these new wineskins. They were still expandable and malleable. As the wine worked and fermented, the skins would adapt to the pressure. Finally, the wine was ready to age and the wineskins could set and grow firm. Later, the wine was used, but new wine would not be put into these old skins because there was no stretch left in them. As soon as the new wine started to work and expand, the skins would burst and all would be lost or wasted.
The meaning intended by all three comparisons is the same. Jesus, his teachings and his life, cannot be accepted or fit into the Pharisaic and Scribal traditions. These were hidebound and unable to adapt to the needs of the times. What Jesus had to say would burst out of the Pharisaic restraints and take on a whole new life. The same was true for John the Baptist. Jesus praised him for his forward look and solid approach to life. However, he fell far short of the enlightenment Jesus had come to spread.
The Kindness of Jesus Continues to Introduce the Mission of the Church.
This time, Jesus was approached by a Jewish leader. His daughter had just died. He was sure that Jesus could lay his hand on her and she would be restored to life. Jesus and his disciples left immediately.
On the way to the official’s home, there was a lady who had been troubled with a flow of blood for 12 years. No one could help her. She was convinced that if she just touched the hem of Jesus’ garment she would be cured. While Jesus was walking along, she got close and touched the hem of his cloak. She didn’t say a word but Jesus turned and said to her, “Have courage, daughter. Your faith has restored your health.” She was cured at that moment.
The story is important for several reasons. First, Jesus was well aware every time that power went out from him. Secondly, he did not need an effusion of words. The simple disposition of strong faith was enough. Nobody had to know what was happening except Jesus and the person involved. Great help can be given or shared in passing.
“The Little Girl Is only Sleeping.”
Jesus arrived at the official’s house. We know from the other gospels, that his name is Jairus. The official mourners were there, playing sad music, and carrying on. Jesus said, “Leave the room. This little girl is not dead but only sleeping.” The whole crowd laughed in ridicule at his stupidity but the room was cleared. Then Jesus took the girl by the hand. She stood up and Jesus gave her back to her dad. Everyone was amazed, and word of what happened rushed through the countryside.
Jesus traveled on. Two blind men followed and kept shouting: “Son of David, have pity on us!” When Jesus reached the house where he was going, he turned to the two men. “Do you believe I can cure you?” he asked. They stated their belief. Jesus touched their eyes and sight was restored. Jesus ordered them to keep quiet about the incident. The men, however, did as one would expect. They told everyone about what had happened.
Finally, we come to the mute person. He could not speak and everyone was convinced he was possessed by a mute demon. Jesus cast out the demon and the man was able to speak. The people could not get over all they had witnessed. However, the Pharisees had their own explanation. They could not deny the facts before their eyes. They said that Jesus was able to cast out all these devils because the prince of devils gave him the power.
The Harvest is Large. Where Are the Laborers?
Finally, we get the summary of this narrative section. Jesus had been helping people but now he looked at the crowds and saw how much more work was to be done. He saw the people as a huge flock of sheep that have no shepherd. Jesus said to his disciples: “Take a good look at what has to be done. The harvest is indeed great but we don’t have the laborers. Pray the lord of the harvest to send an abundance of laborers into the fields.”
Code for the Laborers. Chapter 10.
Chapter 10 is the discourse or the conclusions that are drawn from the narrative section above. Chapter 10 gives us a description of the basic work that is expected of the followers of Jesus when he himself is gone. It is a description of the way in which the Church should be functioning in the world today.
The official mission or sending is given to the twelve special disciples. Their names are given so that you will know exactly who they are. The number 12 was chosen very probably to indicate that they were the foundation of the new Israel. There were 12 sons of Jacob who were seen as the founders of the 12 tribes of Israel. The number 12 became symbolic of the whole people of God. Now we have the starting point of the new people of God.
In so many of the paintings and statues of these men, we are led to believe they were old men when called. As a matter of fact, these men were all younger than or about the same age as Jesus. Special mention is given to John because he is a teenager at the time of his call. I think we should put all the other apostles in the 18-25 year bracket. They were just a bit younger than Jesus but they were already working men.
Matthew may have been a few years older because he was a tax collector for Rome. However, he was also probably a youngish man because an older Jewish man could not bear the stigma of the job for himself and his family.
They are called “apostles” as the word means “sent.” These men were sent officially by Jesus to begin the work of the new people of God. Then their code of missionary conduct is outlined. At the end of the chapter we are told how these conditions are to prevail at all times.
For the time being, the apostles were to restrict the area in which they worked. They were not to go off into pagan (gentile) territory or even a Samaritan town. They were to restrict themselves to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The reason was clear. The former Israel had the first claim on the Kingdom. They were the people of God and they should understand and follow Jesus’s teaching more easily. At least, they would be given the first opportunity. At the end of the Gospel, Jesus would make this mission universal to all people and times until the work is complete.
FIRST CONDITION: GIVE FREELY.
This was not a scheme to make a lot of money or set up a financial empire. They were not to gather a lot of supplies to provide for their daily needs while they work. They were working for the people and therefore they could expect to receive the care of their daily needs from the people they helped. Every worker deserved his daily keep.
For the Christian mission to succeed in the world at any time, it has to be the basic principle of economics. Money and daily cares cannot be the main point of concern. Otherwise the work of the Kingdom will never be done.
SECOND CONDITION: MISSIONARIES ARE NOT PRIMA DONNAS.
Missionaries are to be satisfied with the care that is offered. They are not to spend time looking for the best housing, food, and comfort. Accept what is offered and give Christian “shalom” (peace) in return. If people do not accept you on these terms, then walk off and let them in their ignorance. They are the ones who will lose out in the long run.
THIRD CONDITION: SHEEP AMONG WOLVES.
What should be the mental outlook of the missionaries? Jesus said it was not going to be easy. In fact, it would be a world of hostility, sheep among wolves. The missionaries must be as cunning as serpents but as harmless as doves.
Both of these comparisons have an historic background in the Bible. The serpent is always the symbol of Satan in the garden. He was very cunning. He approached Eve and merely asked a question. He stirred up her curiosity and then led her to violate her trust. She then became the henchman of Satan and lead Adam into his failure.
This same cunning or clever rapport with people is to be part of the repertoire of the missionaries or followers of Jesus. The difference is clear. They are to be harmless but creative as doves. The reference is to another historic event in the Bible story. Noah wanted to know whether it was safe for him to leave the Ark and start all over again. He sent out the dove. The dove returned with an olive branch in its beak. Noah knew he would soon leave his boat and head out to do the work of God in the whole world. The follower of Jesus is to bring the same message into the world today. It is the message of “ shalom.”
FOURTH CONDITION: THE SPIRIT OF THE FATHER.
Jesus did not want his followers under any false impressions as to the difficulty of their work. They would meet opposition. Their message is in direct opposition to the selfishness and greed prevalent in the world and its philosophy. They will be ridiculed and hauled into the tribunals of men and condemned. In all of this mistreatment, they are not to be afraid or worry about what they should say. The “spirit” of the Father shall speak through them. More will be said about this “spirit” but for now just remember: it is the spirit of brotherly love that should exist in the family of man under the fatherhood of God.
FIFTH CONDITION: DON’T FIGHT.
The opposition will be great but will be especially devastating since it will come from the people of Israel themselves. They should have recognized Jesus and his teachings as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Instead, they turn a deaf ear to his followers and chase them from town to town. They try to destroy them and their work.
Jesus said: “Don’t be surprised. It won’t last long. They will soon receive the punishment for their opposition to God.” He was referring to 70 A.D. when the Romans wiped out Jerusalem, the Temple, and the remnant of the people. They were scattered throughout the world to drift aimlessly until the end of time.
Jesus repeated: “Don’t be surprised. The follower is no better than the leader.” They treated Jesus in the worst possible way and so the followers could expect no better treatment. They said that Jesus was working by the power of Beelzebul “the god of the flies” or the “god of the city-dump.” What can his followers expect by way of hostility and opposition from the same people?
SIXTH CONDITION: PROCLAIM MY WORD FROM THE HOUSETOPS.
Cast all fear aside. The enemies can do physical harm and put opposition in your way. Don’t worry about it. All this action will come to light in the end. Look carefully at the tender providence of the Father in the world around you. Not even a sparrow can fall to the ground without your heavenly Father being aware of it. Moreover, remember this for the future: When you stand before the Father in judgment, if you have acknowledged me before men, I will acknowledge you before the Father. If you have denied me before men, I will not know you before my Father.
DAILY LIFE: ARENA OF ACTION.
Here we have the conclusion again. Our lives are to be a series of steps in which we build up our identity in the family of mankind. This means that we recognize Jesus and manifest him in the actions of our daily lives. We are offered membership in the family of mankind, but it is up to us to establish our real identity.
SEVENTH CONDITION: A STRUGGLE IT WILL BE.
Do not think this is going to be an easy walk. There will be opposition. The opposition will come because of Jesus and what he has to say through the disciples. The opposition will be right in a person’s own family. Just don’t be surprised. You are warned ahead of time.
EIGHTH PRINCIPLE: SHARING (KOINONIA) IS THE SECRET. COMMUNITY.
This is the last principle. It is given as a sort of all-inclusive condition. Anyone who receives the disciple receives Jesus, because they are one and the same. Nothing shall be overlooked. Even a cup of water in the name of Jesus shall receive its reward.
These missionary principles have to be read, memorized and lived. They put the life and power of Jesus Christ into the lives of Christians and through them into the world. Jesus did not describe some kind of utopian dream. He did not offer a bed of roses for his followers. He presented reality with all the selfishness that accompanies it. In this selfish world, the followers of Jesus have the mission to overcome selfishness and establish the peace and generosity of God as Father.
Matthew 11:1-30. WHAT IS THIS KINGDOM?
This section describes the actual make-up of the Kingdom of the Heavens. Note from the start: Matthew almost always referred to the “Kingdom of the Heavens.” Other writings talk of the “Kingdom of God.” A few passages have the “Kingdom of heaven.” All three phrases refer to the same reality.
The “Kingdom of the Heavens” is probably the oldest because it goes back to the Semitic notion of the world. For them, there were at least three heavens. As a person looked up, he could see the sky. This, in their opinion, was a solid blue tent in which the sun, stars, and moon were present. This was the first heaven. The second heaven was above that. It was the place where water and snow and all forms of precipitation were stored. When it rained, the first heaven would open and the waters, snow, hail, or ice would come dashing to the earth. Above this was the third heaven. This was the home of God and his court. This is the heaven in which the throne of God and all his faithful would enjoy their fulfillment.
The phrase, The Kingdom of the Heavens, refers to all three heavens. St. Paul talked about being taken up to the “third heaven.” He had a vision of God (2 C. 12:2). Chapter 13 gives us a series of parables about the Kingdom and explains various aspects of its nature. They are not intended to be all-inclusive but they will give us a good starting point on which to build.
As usual, in the Gospel according to Matthew, we get the narrative section first. We have some incidents from the life of Jesus that will have bearing on the notion of the Kingdom that follows.
The first scene is with the disciples of John the Baptist. John was in prison because of his outspoken condemnation of the immorality of Herod. Herod wanted to put him to death quietly but he was afraid of the people. There could easily be a great uprising and then Roman authorities would call Herod in for a special talk and warning.
This meeting of John Baptist and Jesus has to be rightly understood. Mary and Elizabeth, the mothers of the boys, were cousins. They were close to each other and Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months until John was born. Jesus and John spent a lot of time together as children. Today, both would be called gifted and talented children.
Both were concerned about the failure of the Chosen People in carrying out their mission to the world. John started his work six months before Jesus. Then Jesus appeared and began his work. John had no doubt of the authenticity of Jesus and his ideas and ideals. He wanted his followers to hear it from Jesus. So he sent some of his followers to Jesus to ask if he was the authentic Messiah or should they wait for someone else. Jesus’ answer was a bit enigmatic for us but it would have been clear to the Jews of the time. He quoted from Isaiah 61:1ff. This was a prophet from the end of the 6th century B.C.
The remnant had returned from the Babylonian captivity and this prophet was encouraging them. His words and ideas were much like the teaching of Isaiah, the prophet of the 8th century B.C. So his teachings were attached to the scrolls of Isaiah. Today, he is referred to as Isaiah II. His teachings were very popular among the Jews in the time of Jesus.
This passage from Isaiah is one of the texts that describes the person known as the Servant of Yahweh. The Old Testament writings attempted to stress the importance of obedience in order to establish the true people of God.
John the Baptist, of course, would understand all the implications of these texts. So Jesus assured the disciples of the Baptist that he was truly the Messiah they were looking for - even if he did not seem to be winning too many of the people.
After the messengers went back to John the Baptist, Jesus described the greatness of John the Baptist. John the Baptist had lived away from cities and lived in uninhabited areas. People flocked out to him. Jesus asked them: “What did you go out into the desert to see? Did you expect to see a weakling, afraid of his own shadow? Or did you expect to find a man of strong conviction who demanded the same of anyone who listened to him? Did you expect to find some wealthy noble living in the lap of luxury? If that is what you want, go into the palaces and houses of the rich.”
What you really went out to see was a “PROPHET.” In fact, you were looking for and you found a person who is greater than any of the prophets who went before him. Jesus quoted from Malachi 3:1. John the Baptist was the FORERUNNER of Jesus. Again, it is essential that you understand this term as it was spoken and used at that time.
Additional background information:
Palestine was not noted for its good roads. It had mostly narrow paths. If an important person came along, he would be transported in a "sedan-chair". To have him bouncing from side to side as the bearers walked over the rough terrain would not be in keeping with his dignity. Therefore the forerunner would go out and warn the people in the towns through which the visitor was coming. They would gather crews who would prepare a special road for the visitor. They would level off the high spots and fill in the low, so that all would be level. They would remove the boulders and other stones and make this path a road worthy of their visitor.
John the Baptist was the FORERUNNER of Jesus. His role was to prepare the hearts of the people to receive Jesus and his teaching. John the Baptist was the greatest of all the prophets of the Old Testament and he was the first prophet of the New Testament. The Baptist has the special honor of being the living link between the Old and the New Covenant.
Then Jesus described the contradictory attitude of the people. John the Baptist came. He was a recluse and lived a life of poverty and hardship. The people looked at him and said he was some kind of a “nut.” They refused to listen to him. Jesus (SON OF MAN) came. He lived the ordinary life of the people of the times. He worked and ate and traveled among them. They refused to accept him because he was too ordinary and associated with ordinary people.
Then Jesus uttered some of the strongest condemnations in his career. He compared the Jewish cities of his time to the pagan cities, Tyre and Sidon, and to the corrupt city in the Old Testament, Sodom. Jesus admitted these cities were bad but if he had performed in them such signs and offered the teaching he was now giving the Jews, these pagan cities would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Instead, the people of Israel ignored both the Baptist and Jesus. He told them they will be tossed down into the nether world. And in the final judgment, the verdict would be easier and lighter for Sodom than for the people of Jesus’ own time.
Then, to sum up this basic teaching about proper dispositions and conduct, Jesus talked of his relationship to the Father and his proposed relationship to all his followers. Jesus was the “Son of God” and favored above all others. He knew exactly what the Father wanted said and he said only that. Jesus and the Father were truly one in their goals, their ideas, and their way of attaining these goals.
THE YOKE THAT CHAFES AND GALLS.
Now Jesus gave a summary of the way in which all his followers must act. It is a graphic picture. It presupposes you know farming practices of those days in Palestine. Jesus used the image of oxen and a yoke.
Oxen were very strong animals and could do tremendous work. However they were very stubborn animals. To keep them under control and working, the farmers made a very heavy neck-yoke. This was fitted on the necks of two oxen and kept their heads down. As long as the heads of the oxen were down they would pull the plow and other tools and do the work expected of them. But the yoke was purposely heavy, cumbersome, and totally disliked by the oxen - even though the yoke was fitted to the oxen.
Now Jesus addressed the people of Israel of his time. He called them people who “toil and are heavily burdened.” He was referring to all the minute applications of the Law as interpreted by the Scribes and Pharisees. The regulations were so often just ridiculous. Jesus invited these people to him and he would give them respite from the degrading, dehumanizing, useless, legalistic practices and show them the way to live in the life of the Father.
MY YOKE: PERFECTLY ADAPTED TO EACH; A TEAM WITH JESUS.
“Take up my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and kind of heart and you will find rest for your souls. My yoke is perfectly adapted to each one and therefore the burden is light.” 11:28-30.
Remember what we said about the yoke. It linked two oxen together and kept the heads bowed in lowly submission. Jesus said - this is my yoke. He is the other part of the team with each person. He will carry the yoke with each person. He will form a team with each follower. The yoke will be adapted to the abilities, needs, and goals of each person and therefore the work will be completely within the grasp and abilities of that person. This was a wholly new concept of authority and obedience. Jesus did not merely tell us what to do. He forms a team and does it with us.
WHO'S BOSS HERE? Matthew 12:1-50 .
We are back to the notion of the Sabbath again. The Sabbath is a Hebrew word which means “rest.” It was established as a special day during the slavery in Egypt to make sure that the people were able to get physically rested from their heavy labor. Gradually the day, which is the equivalent of our Saturday, became a sacred day and various liturgies and rituals were developed for it.
In the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had established innumerable ritual and liturgical practices that became more and more ludicrous. Finally, they got to a point where a person could not even prepare a meal on the Sabbath. All this had to be done on the day before.
Another practice has to be recalled. The public paths from one place to another ran alongside the fields or right through them. It was allowed, by custom, to pick a handful of grain to eat as you walked along. You could not gather the grain in any container and you could not step off the path even to get the one handful. As they walked along, the travelers were allowed to take this handful of grain, rub it in their hands to remove the hulls, and then put it in their mouths and chew it until they could swallow it or turn it into a paste somewhat equivalent to our chewing gum.
Jesus and the apostles were walking by a grain field. It was the Sabbath. The apostles took a handful of grain, rubbed it in their hands, and then put it into their mouths. The Pharisees saw what they are doing. They said the apostles were breaking the Sabbath. Rubbing the grain in their hands was a work forbidden on the Sabbath.
Jesus really cut directly to the heart of their hypocrisy. First he recalled how David and his men were hungry. They came to the Holy Place where the Loaves of Proposition were placed before the Ark. This was considered sacred bread and the priests alone were allowed to eat it. David and his men were hungry. They took these loaves and ate them. Not only is the story told but it is preserved in the Torah as a holy deed. It is read and admired regularly in the Temple services.
Jesus recalled a basic point from Hosea. God is looking for kindness and mercy in the conduct of men rather than a lot of ritual sacrifices. Finally, Jesus said that if this did not satisfy them, then they should remember that he, the SON OF MAN, was the master of the Sabbath. He can make new rules if he needed them.
PLOT OF PHARISEES BACKFIRES AGAIN. Matthew 12:9-14.
It was another Sabbath. Jesus and his disciples went to the synagogue as usual. A man in the synagogue had a withered hand. The Pharisees saw a chance to trap Jesus again. They asked a seemingly innocent question: “Is it against the law to cure a person on the Sabbath?”
Jesus knew their intent, so he answered the question with a question. “If you had only one sheep and it fell into a hole on the Sabbath, wouldn't you take hold of it and lift it out? Man is far more valuable than a sheep. So it follows that it is allowed to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he turned to the man and said “Hold out your hand.” The man held out his hand and it was as healthy as the other one.
The Pharisees were really caught in a bind. They had actually drawn more attention to Jesus and could not raise any objections, so they went off to lick their wounds and plot other ways to ensnare Jesus.
ANTAGONISM GROWS. Matthew 12:15-21.
Jesus realized the antagonism and hatred that was building up against him. He left the area but the people followed him. He cured them all with a constant caution not to spread the news about him. He was fully aware that there was no way to stop the news from spreading, but he cautioned against the talking to show that he was not just trying to “show off” in front of the crowds.
Matthew took the action of Jesus a step farther and recalled and applied the words of Isaiah 42:1-4. It was the first description of the Servant of Yahweh and showed him as a mild-mannered person who tried to spread the knowledge of God’s plan and obedience to his word. He did not in any way try to bluster or bully people into accepting what he had to say.
“HE WORKS WITH BEELZEBUL.” Matthew 12:22-32.
As background to this passage, it would be good to look up the writing of Sirach 38:1-15. This is a collection of ideas from the third or second century before Jesus. In this passage, the writer put forth the healthy attitude toward medical doctors and the practice of medicine at that time. Medical doctors were not looked on as magicians or tricksters. Medicine and its practice were seen as a true science founded on the healing powers that God had put into the plants and their uses.
A mute was brought before Jesus and he cured him. The people were in awe of Jesus. The Pharisees tried some more slander. They accused him of demonic sorcery. They said Jesus was casting out devils and curing sick people because he was working hand in hand with Beelzebul. This was intended to be the worst of insults.
Beelzebul can mean merely “Baal the Prince” and could mean, the “prince of devils.” Another interpretation is “god of the city dump” or “god of the flies” (in the city dump). No matter which meaning you take for the name, it was intended as the worst of insults.
Jesus knew what they were thinking so he turned their thoughts back on them again. “A house or kingdom divided against itself cannot remain. It will destroy itself. If I am casting out devils by the power of the prince of devils, then it is a house divided against itself and it will not stand. Moreover, your own sons cure people. How do they perform their cures? Are they, too, doing it by the power of Beelzebul? However, if I, by the Spirit of God, cast out devils, then the Kingdom of God has come among you.” Then to make sure that these leaders had to face up to themselves he said, “If you speak against the Holy Spirit you will not be forgiven in this life or the next. By your words you will be acquitted. By your words you will be condemned.”
THE “SPIRIT” OR “HOLY SPIRIT”.
For centuries we have been confused on the notion of God. We admit he is a limitless being that cannot be contained in a definition. Yet the theologians continue trying to wrap a definition around him. The terms “Spirit” and “Holy Spirit” are used frequently in the New Testament.
The Latin word “Spirit” and the Greek word “Pneuma” refer to “breath.” The ancient people considered “Breath” in some way the identity of a person. In the creation account in Genesis, chapter 2, God is presented as “breathing the breath of life into the nostrils of man” and man becomes a “living being.” This was the first appearance of “the breath of God” and man was allowed to share in it.
Jesus was going to restore this “creative breath” which had been tainted or lost by the sin of mankind. The “Breath” was even greater than the breath in the creation story. This breath given by Jesus was the “Breath of Holiness” - the breath that made it possible for people to share in the holiness of God and live their lives accordingly.
“If a person says a word against the Son of Man, he will be forgiven. But if anyone speaks a word against the Holy Spirit he will not be forgiven in this world or the next.” Jesus said the same thing with a different figure of speech. He talked about the “good” and “bad” tree. Botanists, today, would not agree with these ideas but Jesus was not teaching 21st century botany.
Jesus said you can judge a tree by its fruit. You would get good fruit from a good tree and bad fruit from a bad tree. Botanically speaking, this is not acceptable but was accepted in the time of Jesus. Be that as it may, the application is true. A human being can be judged by his/her actions. Good people will not be guilty of evil lives and bad people will not be capable of virtuous lives. By your works you will be known. By your lives you will be accepted or rejected.
Application to today:
In general, all this is true. We say that good or evil will come out into the open sooner or later. This does not preclude fakers and hypocrites who can fool those around them. Sometimes this hypocrisy can go on for a lifetime and is exposed only after the death of the person. But these cases are the exception.
“GIVE US A SIGN; ” NINIVITES LISTENED TO JONAH.
QUEEN OF SHEBA SEEKS SOLOMON. Matthew 12:38-42.
The scribes and Pharisees tried a new approach. They asked for a “sign” to prove that his mission was from God and that he truly was the Messiah. Jesus was not fooled. By the fact that they did not accept what he had done and said so far, they showed that they would never accept him.
Jesus referred to a couple of situations in the Old Testament times that paralleled their conduct. First, there was the story of Jonah. He was a prophet or preacher in the 4th century B.C. The people of Niniveh were openly flaunting their immoral lives to the world and Jonah preached against them. Finally, he was swallowed by a whale and stayed in the whale for three days and three nights, and then was put back on land by the whale and continued his work.
How you interpret the story of Jonah is of no importance in this comparison. You can take the event as if it happened exactly as presented. Or you can take it as a story or parable. The conclusion is the same. Jesus referred to it as a figure of what would happen to him in a short while. He (SON OF MAN) would be put to death, be buried and on the third day he would be raised from the dead.
The people of Niniveh repented at the preaching of Jonah but the leaders of Israel would not even accept the preaching of Jesus. Yet he was greater than Jonah.
The next comparison was to the foreign queen who came to visit Solomon in the 10th century B.C. She had heard of his wisdom and the splendor of his kingdom and she wanted to see and hear for herself. She listened and was amazed at his wisdom. Jesus was greater than Solomon but the people of Israel would not listen to him.
WORSE THAN THEIR ANCESTORS. Matthew 12:43-45.
Jesus now gave a severe prediction. He said a wicked person could be cured if he repented and turn from his evil. However, if he fell back into his evil ways he would probably be far worse than before. He said this was what had happened to the people of his time. They not only have fallen back into the stubborn immoral ways of their ancestors, but they have gone far beyond them. Jesus held out no hope for them if they do not truly repent.
FAMILY FEARS REPERCUSSIONS. Matthew 12:46-50.
Now Jesus’ mother and his relatives come to speak with him. There is not much doubt about the purpose of the visit. Jesus was opposing all the leaders of the Jews at that time. He insulted them and called them the worst kind of sinners. He said there was no hope of salvation.
It doesn’t take an astute mind to see that he was in big trouble. His family was afraid they would also be condemned because they could not contain one of their members.
Jesus’ response was what we would expect. He was responsible for ties that go far beyond the physical bonds with his family. He was responsible for all the people in the world and therefore, if his family didn’t like what he was doing, they would simply have to cut him off.
I think these last couple of verses are the heart of this whole picture. Jesus did not in any way appear to be the Messiah as they had imagined him. He was an ordinary man, from a small town in Galilee, from a little known family. He had no great education. He was not even a member of the educated class of the Jews. So where did he get this idea that he could tell everyone what he or she was to do?
The story proceeds until Jesus stands completely alone, accepted by no one, defended by no one, feared because association with him could mean getting into trouble with the leaders. Even the people who had shared in his miraculous powers by cures, all the people who had been fed by him, not one will stand up to be counted with him.
KINGDOM OF THE HEAVENS: DYNAMIC, GROWING, WITHIN & WITHOUT.
“THE KINGDOM IS LIKE...” (SEVEN PARABLES)
AESOP'S FABLES :: JESUS' PARABLES. Matthew 13:1-52.
Matthew, chapter thirteen, is a series of 7 parables or comparisons that describe the Kingship (Greek word “Basileia”) of the Heavens. It is one of the most important chapters in Matthew because it gives us the varied aspects of the Kingship and especially stresses that the Kingship is not a static structure, but something alive and growing.
“BASILEIA” - Greek Word for “Kingship.”
The word used for Kingship in Greek is “Basileia.” It is a noun that ends in “ia.” This means that it is an “action” noun and should be translated as such in English. The closest equivalent in English is “ing” attached to a word. Examples: sailing, teaching, crawling, choosing, crying. Each of these words connotes something that is going on right now because of the syllable “ing” which is attached. In Greek, the “ia” at the end of a noun does the same thing.
The word, “Basileia,” makes far more sense if we translate it as the “Kinging of the Heavens.” The English equivalent in meaning is the use of the word “king” in the game of checkers. A player works all the way to the opponent's end of the board. Triumphantly he shouts, “King me!” This means that he can now move this “Kinged” checker in any direction. The player who is first “Kinged” is often the winner.
This stresses that the act of becoming or establishing a king is going on right now. With this basic idea in mind we now go through the parables that tell us what this Kingship is and what Kingship does.
The account in Matthew tells us that Jesus went to the lakeshore and the crowds followed him. They pressed against him so much that he got into a boat and went out a few feet and dropped anchor. Now he could see the crowd and talk to them without fear of being pushed into the water.
THE FARMER SOWS GRAIN: A BUMPER CROP EVERY YEAR.
This parable or comparison, like all the others, presupposes that you know the customs of time and place. When a farmer sows grain today, you expect him to use machinery and the bigger the acreage the bigger the machines. In the time of Jesus in Palestine, the farmer would take a bag or basket of grain and go out to the field. He did not prepare the ground ahead of time. He simply walked back and forth across the field and “broadcast” or scattered the seed by hand.
As he cast the seed, some fell on the path where the farmer was walking. The birds immediately swooped down and ate the grain. Some fell on the rocks that were strewn throughout the field. There would be a bit of soil and a little moisture. The seed would sprout immediately but the roots would run into the stone, dry up and die. Some of the seed fell in among the weeds and thorns that abounded in the area. The weeds took the nourishment and moisture from the soil and choked the life out of the grain even as it sprouted. Finally, some of the seed fell on good soil and brought forth a harvest. But even this harvest varied, depending on the quality of the soil: some 30-fold, some 60-fold, and some a 100-fold.
Then Jesus added, if you can hear my words, then listen carefully to what they mean. The disciples were a bit amazed that Jesus spoke in these seemingly abstruse parables. They expected him to make his teachings crystal clear.
Jesus answered: “You have the opportunity to understand what I am talking about but the others will not get this chance.” Then there is a reference to the beginning of the prophetic career of Isaiah in the 8th century B.C. The basic reason is that people have to be properly disposed before they can understand. If they stand there with the “show me” attitude of a stubborn child, they will get nothing. If they truly want to learn, they will understand and accept what Jesus says.
TEACHING NOT ESOTERIC; IT DEMANDS OPEN MINDS.
For further clarification of this notion of proper dispositions, look up Daniel 2:28, 11:35, and 12:3. Also, read 1 Cor 4:1 and Job 8:16-18. All these passages deal with the necessity of proper dispositions for understanding the teaching of Jesus or the mysteries of God. This does not mean that the teachings of Jesus are some esoteric or hidden doctrine that can be grasped only by a few elite. Rather, the teaching is intended for everyone but it will not be understood or accepted unless the person has the right dispositions.
Jesus truly wanted all people to listen, understand, change their ways, and find happiness. However, he demanded cooperation from every person in the form of dispositions. If these were missing, Jesus was not going to force his ideas on any person or any society. These people would simply lose out in the fulfillment of themselves.
Once these preliminaries were understood, Jesus explained the parable. The explanation is very simple. The seed that is sown is the “Word of God” or the plan that God had for mankind from the beginning of time. The power of this “Word” is carefully described in Isaiah 55:10-11. “As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for food, so the word that goes forth from my mouth does not return to me empty. It carries out my will and succeeds in what it was sent to do.”
SEED IS ALWAYS GOOD.
SON OF MAN IS THE SOWER; SOIL MAY BE AT FAULT.
If the seed does not produce in any situation, it is no fault of the seed. The fault is in the soil where it has been sown. In keeping with this comparison, Jesus said there are three things that can cause failure to produce: “no shoot, no root, no fruit.” In the soil where the seed does produce, the dispositions can vary and the rate of production will vary accordingly.
“No shoot” refers to the seed that falls on the footpath. The person hears what is said but makes no effort to understand. Then the “evil one” snatches the seed out of the heart as the birds clear the seed from the footpath. The “evil one” is the biblical “devil“ - “adversary”- but it can be anyone who becomes an obstacle to understanding the plan of God.
“No Root” refers to the seed that falls on the rock. Such a person listens to what is said and grasps the meaning but the ideas do not take root in his/her life. The seed sprouts because there is a little soil and a bit of moisture. When these are gone, the newly sprouted seed shrivels and dies.
Such conduct refers to people who see the wisdom of the ideas and realize how they will influence their lives. Then the understanding stops. There is no follow-up. These are the people who love to listen to powerful speakers or read well-written books. They can talk freely about what they have heard or read. But that’s where the action stops. There is no follow-through.
“No Fruit” describes the seed that falls among the weeds and thorns. These people hear the Word and are moved by what they hear. They decide that they should follow through with their ideas and convictions. Then the cares and worries of this world, the lure of money and making a living, become more important and more absorbing in their lives. The wise ideas or plans are choked off. There is no follow-up. Results are wanting.
It is important to note in all three instances, there is no product from the seed. The Word or Plan of God is wasted on these people. It is equally important for a person to make sure that he is not in one of these groups.
The comparison goes on. If you are a productive receiver, how much do you produce? In farming, the amount of the yield depends on the richness of the soil no matter what the weather conditions are. So you may produce 30-fold, 60-fold, or a 100-fold or anything in between. The most important point in this whole comparison is that no one can be a passive receiver. The Word or Plan of Jesus depends on the active response of every person who accepts it.
“The sower of this Good Seed is the SON OF MAN” (v.38). The SON OF MAN will send his angels and they will gather from his kingdom all things that cause trouble or do evil. They will throw these into a blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
WHO SOWED THESE WEEDS? WHO IS THE ENEMY?
CERTIFIED SEED. WEEDS. Matthew 13:24-30;36-43.
This is the second comparison. In this story, the farmer goes out and sows the grain in his field. He had good certified seed. While he was asleep, an enemy came in and sowed weeds. The Greek word used is “zizania”. It is not just any weed but a weed that looks like wheat when it first comes up. Only when it heads out do you see it is a weed.
After the grain and the weeds came up, the servants said to the master, “Sir, didn't you sow certified seed in your field? Where do the weeds come from?” The farmer knew what has happened. “An enemy has done this.” Somebody did not like him and saw this as a way to do him harm.
“LET SEED AND WEED GROW TOGETHER!”
The servants were totally loyal and were ready to go out and pull all the weeds. The farmer denied permission. He said that the grain plants were fragile and if you pull the weeds, you'd loosen the soil around the grain. Hot, dry air would get at the roots of the grain and all would die. Rather, they were to let the two grow together until the harvest. At harvest time, the farmer would tell the reapers to go first and gather up the weeds and bind them in bundles. These bundles would be burned. Afterward, they would gather the good grain into the barns.
According to our modern methods of farming, this would be considered quite unskilled. We have pesticides and herbicides of every kind to get at those pesky weeds. But again, the story is told from the viewpoint of the customs of those times in Palestine.
The application was the all-important point. The grain represents good people. The weeds represent evil in any shape or form. The point of the parable is that the followers of Christ are not going to live in isolation or in protected hothouses. They are to live their lives in the midst of the world with all its evil. Only at the end will a separation be made.
The weeds are useless and will be destroyed. The grain will be gathered into the barns of Christ. The people who listen will arrive at the goals that they have set and which have been set for them.
THE MUSTARD SEED: BIG EVENTS START SMALL. Matthew 13:31-32.
The story of the mustard seed passage is very short but it carries a powerful idea and lesson. If this Word of God is so important and effective, it must be something that is difficult to grasp and hard to manage. Jesus denied this impression. In fact, the seed is really a “mustard seed.” This is the smallest of all seeds known at that time. But if it gets a start in a field it can easily take over the land.
Naturally, a farmer does not want mustard to get a start in his fields. That is not the point of the story. These parables are dealing with various aspects of the Kingdom of the Heavens and each must be interpreted by itself. Then all the ideas can be put together in the end.
This mustard seed comparison stresses that the Kingdom of the Heavens is not a doctrine that is overpowering, difficult to grasp, or over and beyond daily living. Rather, this teaching is a part of daily life and must be understood and woven into each action of each day. No matter how small the seed is when it is planted, it can grow into a large, mature plant with abundant fruit.
YEAST or LEAVEN POWER THAT PERMEATES. Matthew 13:33.
Now the comparisons turn to a different area. In the baking of bread, a piece of the leavened dough was set aside. If it were kept cool, the leavening process would be stopped. The next time the person wanted to bake bread, he/she would mix the new dough and then mix in and knead the leavened dough from the previous batch. As soon as it warmed up, the leaven would begin to spread through the whole new batch until all was leavened. Today, people will usually buy prepared yeast. It works on the same principle.
The important point of this comparison is the way in which the Kingdom of the Heavens works. It is something that gets inside a person and permeates his/her whole being and changes the person into someone new. This process is given the Hebrew word, AMEN. It is frequently translated into Greek, Latin and then English as the word “Faith” or “I believe.”
In English, if you say that you believe somebody or have faith in the person, it means you accept what is said or trust him or her. Biblical faith is a far more thorough process. This is the reason the word, Amen*, is used so often in the liturgical rituals. Its meaning goes far beyond the real realization that something has ended.
* “AMEN” or BIBLICAL FAITH:
I UNDERSTAND what is said.
I am CONVINCED of what I hear.
I am COMMITTED to the ideas, ideals, and truths.
I CARRY OUT these ideas and ideals in my daily life.
To be able to say that you “believe” in the Biblical sense means that your faith has all four of these steps: 1) you understand, 2) are convinced, 3) are committed, and 4) will live by what you have heard and accepted. If anyone of these four steps or actions is missing, you cannot say that you believe. Hence the comparison with leaven or yeast is quite appropriate. Through Faith, the Word of God becomes a part of your being, permeates your whole life and governs your every action. Any action that does not proceed from faith and complement faith is a wasted or empty action.
THE TREASURE and THE PEARL. TREASURES: NEW and OLD.
The parable of the leaven stresses that the Word of God has to permeate the believer’s whole life. But there could still be a question as to exactly how far this acceptance should go. To offset all doubts, Jesus made two more comparisons.
The Word of God is like a big treasure that someone hid. The believer uncovers this treasure as she goes about daily life. She is filled with joy and goes, sells all her possessions, and buys the field in which the treasure is found so that the treasure becomes her property.
The other comparison says exactly the same thing. This time the person is shell fishing. Oyster after oyster is opened. Then suddenly an oyster with a pearl is found. The worker goes immediately and sells everything he owns and buys the oyster and the treasured pearl.
TOTAL LOYALTY AND OBEDIENCE.
Two different comparisons are used to denote exactly the same truth: If you want the Word of God or the Kingdom of God to take control in your life, you have to give total and unquestioning loyalty and obedience to that Word. You have to be willing to sacrifice everything to live by that Word in all actions.
THE DRAGNET: SORT THE CATCH. Matthew 13:47-60.
This time there is a large crew of fishermen. They go to sea and set the dragnet. One end is anchored securely and the other end is pulled in a wide semicircle. Everything that is in front of the net is imprisoned in it. When the net has been fully extended, the people on the one end pull slowly and firmly toward the other end and thus close the gap in the net. When the net has been closed on itself, it is pulled up on land and the catch is dumped out. The fisherman goes to work. They pick up all the tiny fish or unwanted fish, and toss them back into the sea. The good fish are the catch of the hour. Each one gets his/her share. So, says Jesus, are the workings of the Kingdom of Heaven at the end of time. The angels will appear and separate the wicked from the just people. The wicked will be cast into a furnace filled with fire and the people will weep and gnash their teeth.
Greek word “SYNTELEIA” - “COMPLETION.”
We are talking about the “synteleia” of the world. This does not mean “end” in the sense that it is over and done with. It means “end” in the sense of COMPLETION or FULFILLMENT. When people have developed this universe into the world that it is supposed to become, and have brought to fullness all its potentialities, then the second phase of the world or creation will begin.
This last parable or comparison is to stress that people do not automatically participate in this fullness of creation. Only the people who have cooperated in the plan will be included. The rest will be thrown out. The pit of fire is a repeat reference to the Valley of Hinnom in Jerusalem. It was translated as “gehenna” in Greek and came into English as “hell.” It was the valley where the remains of sacrificial animals were tossed and burned. They were excluded from the sacrifices and worship in the Temple because they were unclean. So in this division at the fullness of time, only the people who have identified themselves as men and women of God will enter into the Kingdom. The unidentified will be cast into oblivion.
Jesus concluded with the question: “Did you understand all of this?” The disciples said “Yes.” Then Jesus said that he had brought together both the new and the old, and that the picture was now complete.
SUMMARY REMARKS on “KINGSHIP.”
NOT STATIC STRUCTURE.
These remarks are a sort of conclusion to the previous section on the Kingship. The Kingship is something so mammoth that we can never fully understand it. The first and most basic notion is that the kingship is not static, covering a certain area of space and time, and then coming to an end. The very word in Greek signifies a process that is going on at all times. The speed at which it moves forward depends on the people alive at that time. How well do they cooperate?
The seven parables of chapter 13 tell us the most basic aspects of this process of “Kinging.” Kinging grants all sorts of new powers. That is close to the meaning of the Greek word “Basileia” which is translated as “kingdom.” It is an action word. People who accept the ideas and ideals of Jesus are supposed to “King” everything and everyone in their lives. Chapter 13 brings out the basic aspects of this work.
In the world about us, there is some soil that is productive and some that is non-arable and non-productive. People are the same. Some produce nothing because they will accept no responsibility or they will not persevere if the work lasts long or is difficult.
Some land produces more, some less, even though the weather conditions are exactly the same. Again, people are the same. Some produce more than others because they work harder at the process or stick to the work - no matter what difficulties they face.
THREE BASIC FAILURES: NO SHOOT, NO ROOT, NO FRUIT.
This means that some people fail to get started. Others make a start but fold and call it quits at the first sign of difficulty. Finally, others stay with the work for a while, but they never mature or produce fruit.
The weeds are going to cause problems for the grain. The members of the kingdom will live in the midst of an adverse population, They have to develop their identity and do the work of the Kingdom in spite of the opposition. At harvest time, the separation will be made.
This very small seed is a MUSTARD SEED. The life of a member of this kingship is not going to be some kind of sensational headliner. For most people it will be the routine life of daily chores, problems, successes and failures. The greatness of the Kingship is to be established in and through the small actions of daily life.
LEAVEN: WORKS FROM INSIDE OUT.
Leaven works from one generation to the next; it cannot start itself. The parable stresses the power and importance of example, motivation, and tradition in the establishment of the Kingship. The Kingship cannot be tacked on the outside of people and events. It has to grow from within. It is handed on from parents to children, from generation to generation.
You have to be willing to sell everything you own in order to purchase the land and get the treasure. The land in this case is a person's daily life. There are thousands of repeated actions and days. There is always the danger of losing sight of the value and importance of small daily actions because the whole picture is ignored or forgotten.
PEARL: LOOK CAREFULLY AND BUY.
How many thousands of oysters does the fisherman have to open before he finds a pearl? When he finds one, he has to sell all his possessions in order to purchase the pearl. The basic lesson is this: It is hard to see the actions of daily life as a pearl. Yet pearls they are, and they must be bought with full use of our energy and resources.
DRAGNET: EVERYTHING GATHERED.
Many of the netted fish are not worth keeping so the fishermen separate the them. The small and useless are tossed back into the water or left on the sand. The good fish are kept. At the end of time, or in the final phase of this kingship, all people who have ever lived will be brought together. The separation will be made. Those who identified themselves as members of the Kingship will enter into the fullness of the joy and happiness of the kingship. Those who failed or refused to identify themselves will be tossed out on the scrap heap to moan and groan at their loss.
THE CHURCH; FIRST-FRUITS OF THE KINGSHIP; OPPOSITION.
The narrative for this section runs from chapter 13:53 to 17:27. The incidents recounted show some of the opposition that Jesus met in his own lifetime and are a harbinger of the opposition that his message will meet in its journey through time.
HOME-TOWN BOY NOT ACCEPTED. MATTHEW 13:53-58.
This first episode shows the antagonism of the hometown people against Jesus and his teaching. They hear what he has to say. They are amazed at the wisdom of his teaching. But there is a stumbling block. They know his background and origins. He is one of them. He comes from their little town. He had no education beyond what was received in the little village. They knew his family and there were no outstanding people in his background. So they refused to accept him. They were not proud of their gifted member. They were afraid.
HOMETOWN BLINDED. PEOPLE HELPED - ONLY IF THEY RESPOND.
Jesus' reaction was straightforward. He says a prophet is despised only in his own country and by his own household. So Jesus does not perform any of his signs in his hometown because of their lack of faith. The important lesson for the Church is that there will be opposition from some people. If the opposition comes from ignorance and a deliberate refusal to listen, then as Jesus did, the Church should not waste its time. People cannot be helped in spite of themselves but only with their cooperation.
JOHN BAPTIST LOSES HEAD, WINS CROWN. HEROD IS PUPPET OF ROME.
The next example of opposition is from Herod, the Jew who is ruling under the aegis of Rome. The fact that he’s in power with the approval of Rome shows how shaky his position is. One slight move against the whims of Rome and Herod would go to the dungeon and execution.
JOHN THE BAPTIST ACCUSES OPENLY; HEROD’S DILEMMA.
John Baptist had spoken openly against Herod because of his adulterous union with his sister-in-law. To shut him up, Herod had John arrested and thrown into prison. He wanted to put him to death but he was afraid of the people with whom John was very popular. Then comes the dilemma.
Herod was celebrating his birthday. The party was filled with all the important people of society, both Jews and Romans. Salome was the daughter of Herodias, Herod's concubine. Salome danced for the crowd. She was a sensation and Herod, under the sway of his drinks, his party, and the company, called her over and told her to ask for anything. He swore on oath to give it to her.
TRAGIC REQUEST. INNOCENT MAN DIES.
Salome went right to her mother and Herodias saw a solution to her problem. As long as John the Baptist was alive, she would not be safe. So she tells Salome to ask for the head of John on a platter. Herod was flabbergasted. If he refused, he would be mocked because he did not carry through his loud-mouthed, brash promises. If he acceded to the request, there might be an uprising. He decided to grant the request and he sent word to the prison. The head of John the Baptist was removed and brought to the banquet on a platter. The servants presented it to Salome who took it to her mother, who was certainly satisfied. John’s disciples got the body and buried it.
The notion of unjust opposition is clear. John the Baptist certainly was preaching the word of God. He was certainly carrying on the tradition of the prophets. However, the civil powers did not like the message and John died.
OUT OF SIGHT... Matthew 14:13-21.
Jesus heard about the death of John the Baptist. He decided it would be best for him to slip out of the limelight for the moment. So he and his disciples went off to a place by themselves. It was out of town and probably on the desert side of the Lake.
FEED THE CROWD. “WHA IS THIS AMONG SO MANY?”
The crowd learned what he had done so they followed him on land. When they met up with Jesus again, he was moved by their faith and acceptance and he began to heal their sick. Evening came and Jesus did not feel he could send them back to their villages as the disciples suggested. He told them to feed the crowd. Matthew says there were 5000 men plus all the women and children. No matter how you look at it, such a crowd would take a lot of food.
The disciples had a lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish. Jesus was not the least bit shaken. He had the people be seated on the grass. He blessed the food, broke the loaves and gave the pieces to the disciples to hand out to the crowd. They fed that whole crowd and when they were done, they gathered 12 baskets from the leftovers.
There is no doubt this is a reference back to Moses. He had a huge crowd in the desert and he fed them regularly. In the stories about Moses, we learn that the manna and quail were natural phenomena. Moses knew about them because of his years in the desert. He used this knowledge to take care of the people. The same could be true of this incident with Jesus except we do not know of any natural phenomena that were present. Also, if Jesus and his followers had a bit of food, so perhaps, did others. And the “miracle” was that all shared with others.
ACROSS THE WATER. Matthew 14:22-36.
Jesus puts the disciples in the boat and tells them to head for the other side. Jesus remains behind, dismisses the crowd, and goes into the hills alone to pray. During the 4th watch, 3:00 to 6:00 a.m., Jesus starts to walk toward the disciples who were out in the middle of the lake. A fierce storm had blown up - as was quite common on the Lake of Galilee. Jesus walks over the water toward them. The disciples see him coming and they are filled with terror. They think it is a ghost.
Jesus calls out very calmly. “Take heart! Stop the panic! It is I!” Peter, in his usual brash approach, tells Jesus to tell him to come out on the water to him. Jesus says simply, “Come!” Peter jumps out of the boat and starts on his way. Suddenly he realizes what he has done and he is petrified with fear. He starts to sink. He cries out in his terror and Jesus reaches out and takes his hand. “Why did you doubt?” Jesus puts Peter in the boat, gets in himself, the wind drops, and the boat is at land. The disciples are amazed. “Truly, you are the Son of God!”
When they landed, the local people recognized Jesus and brought their sick and suffering to him. He healed them all merely by letting them touch the edge of his garment.
Additional information on miracles:
This is a good point to discuss the notion of the miracles a bit more. The usual explanation is to say simply that Jesus is both God and man. He uses the divine power to do things that are completely beyond human power. This is a simple explanation but it does not account for the power of healing that was used by the apostles and their successors in the early days.
It is not enough to say that the faith and trust that the people had in Jesus was so deep and so strong that the cures were effected. At the same time, the words used in the New Testament for these extraordinary deeds do not stress how they go beyond natural power. The word “mystery” stresses they are hard to understand. The Joannine tradition talks only about “semeion,” Greek word for “sign.” John and his followers are interested only in what the action teaches or portends.
My problem with this explanation is: If Jesus, so often in so many places in such a short time, had been working miracles in our sense of the word, how did that crowd turn so completely and viciously against him? The fact is, the crowd was totally agog with Jesus in his triumphal parade into Jerusalem. Yet the next day, they were shouting for his death and in a frenzy to get him on the cross.
I think the only answer that makes sense is that Jesus is totally and only human. He shares in the healing powers of God as did other prophets and holy men before him. However, the hatred of the Jewish leaders and the power of the Roman threat, were enough to make a fickle crowd turn violently against him. Jesus himself recognized this danger on various occasions. He was afraid of his sufferings and death and seriously would like to have avoided them. However, he deemed them necessary for the success of his mission and ideals.
CLEAN or UNCLEAN: SCRIBES INTERPRET. MATTHEW 15: 1-20 .
This incident is concerned with opposition to Jesus. It comes from the Scribes and Pharisees - again. The Scribes are the men with formal education who can read and write. They are the interpreters of the Word of God and, for the most part, have aligned themselves with the Pharisees.
The Pharisees, as their name indicates, are a group of fanatics who separated themselves from the “unclean, ignorant rabble.” They think of themselves as a notch above all other people and demand a certain show of deference and respect from everyone. The Pharisees have presented a severe interpretation of the Torah for the people, but they themselves do not follow their interpretation. On this occasion they seek to trap Jesus because his followers do not wash their hands before they eat. Jesus really scolds them on this occasion.
“Why do you break the commandments of God in order to carry out your traditions?” Then he uses the commandment of duty to parents as an example. Children are to work with and help their parents according to the commandment of God. However, the Pharisees taught that if this help was given to them in the name of religion, obligation to parents was cancelled and their parents would have to fend for themselves. Jesus calls them “Hypocrites!” They give only lip-service to God. Matthew shows how they are already condemned in the teaching of Isaiah, centuries before.
Jesus goes on to explain why his statements are true. Basically, it is not what goes into the mouth that makes a person unclean in the eyes of the Law. Rather, it is what comes out of the mouth. His point is clear. No food that you eat is going to render you morally unclean. However, when you speak, your words express your ideas and convictions and these will condemn you if they are immoral.
“BLIND LEAD BLIND -- ALL LOSE.”
The disciples react strongly. They see that the Pharisees are really angry at this public affront. Jesus takes a firm stand again. He stresses that the leaders of the Jews are not truly men of God. In fact, he says they are blind people leading blind people and all will fall into the pit together.
The disciples were still not sure they understood what he was saying. Jesus spells it out in detailed form. Anything you eat goes through the digestive system and the waste matter passes out into the sewer. But from the heart and out through the mouth come the expressions of all evil intentions: murder, adultery, fornication (porneia), theft, perjury, slander. “These are the things that make a person unclean. To eat with unwashed hands does not make a person unclean.”
UNSHAKEN FAITH. “EVEN THE DOGS GET THE SCRAPS.” Matthew 15:21-28.
This story is really unusual. Jesus seems almost cruel. However, he wants to make a strong point and he knows the dispositions of the woman are up to it. She is a Canaanite woman, not an Israelite. She comes running after Jesus and begs him to cure her daughter. She is so loud and persistent that the apostles ask him to help her - just to get rid of her. Jesus gives what seems a rather snobbish answer. He is here only for the people of Israel. Then Jesus turns and speaks a terrible insult. He compares this woman to one of the dogs that skulk around the homes and tables of the rich. Jesus said it is not right to give the food of the children to such curs. The woman comes right back: “Yes, sir! But even the dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall from the table or are thrown to them.” Jesus turns in glad amazement. He praises the lady for the depth and strength of her faith and tells her to go on home. Her favor has been granted and the daughter was healed from that time.
This is another summary of the way in which Jesus worked. This time he is up in the hills along the shores of the Lake of Galilee. Crowds are amazed at the healings that take place.
This is another account of the feeding of large crowds in the desert area. The numbers are not quite as large as the previous story. Did Jesus feed these large crowds more than once and is that why the story is told more than once? Or is this another account of the same incident from a different source and so not exactly the same details? Either solution would fit in with the Semitic notion of history. I don’t have a solution to the question. I would be inclined to think that Jesus would be in this situation more and more as the crowds grew.
JEWISH LEADERS STUBBORN. Matthew 16:1-4.
This short account is very stern. The refusal of the Jewish leaders to accept Jesus is becoming more and more open. So Jesus is becoming more and more blunt in his condemnation of them. As he points out later, he is trying to offset their bad influence on the crowds. He does not really hope to convert the leaders. He tells the Pharisees that they are always reading the skies to interpret the weather. But they are too stubborn and obtuse to read the signs of the moral awakening that should be happening. Then he says they can look up the sign of Jonah again.
LEAVEN OF PHARISEES. MATTHEW 16:5-12.
The apostles are over on the other shore with Jesus. They forgot to bring along food for themselves. Jesus makes a statement about the “leaven of the leaders.” The apostles think that Jesus is giving a subtle rebuke for forgetting the food. So Jesus addresses them directly to remind them how easily he fed the large crowds. So he surely could provide lunch for their little group. Finally, the apostles understand that Jesus is talking about the false and narrow-minded teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He is warning them not to be fooled and dragged into their net as so many of the people were.
A KING WHO IS TO DIE: A BEDROCK WILL CRUMBLE AND FALL. Matt. 16:13-20.
Now comes one of the highlights of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus has only his apostles with him. He asks a question. “You have been listening to the talk. Who do the people think I (the Son of Man) really am?” They give the answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Jesus continues his probe: “Who do you say that I am?”
This time Peter speaks up, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This is really a surprise confession until we remember the kind of person Peter is. He is brash, outspoken, dedicated, and a leader. Jesus is really fond of Peter and now he shows it: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona. You did not learn this from any human person but from my Father in Heaven. And so I say to you: You are ‘Bedrock’ and on this Bedrock I will build my Church. The gates of Sheol shall not be able to withstand it. I will give you the keys of the kingship of the heavens. Whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth shall also be loosed in heaven.”
No words in the Gospel are more meaningful. In this statement there are five points of extreme importance:
1.The OCCASION of the statement: Peter's act of faith.
2.The Aramaic name given to Peter by Jesus:
KEPHA, meaning BEDROCK.
3. THE GATES OF SHEOL: Sheol is the kingdom of death.
The gates of Sheol will not be able to withstand the power
of the Kingship of the Heavens which is founded on Peter.
Some special power over all death is being conceded
to the followers of Jesus.
4. THE KEYS OF THE KINGSHIP: As keeper of the keys, Peter
will control all that the Kingship stands for.
5. TOTALITY PHRASE: to bind or to loose. This is a Semitic
idiom that stresses the totality of this power and
the extent to which it is to be exercised.
Matthew. Chapters 16-18.
THE CHURCH AND PETER'S ROLE. Matthew 16:13-20.
(BEDROCK - GATHERING - CITY DUMP - LOOSE OR BIND.)
(KEPHA - EKKLESIA - SHEOL - KEYS OF KINGSHIP.)
If a person had to choose the most basic and most important statements in the gospel story, these few verses would get the highest number of votes. Jesus tells how he expects his teachings to remain alive through all of time and to carry on their creative, beneficial work for all of human society.
First of all, there has to be a strong charismatic leader. Simon is the man chosen and his role is defined perfectly. His name is changed to “Kepha” - the Aramaic word for “Bedrock.” It does not simply mean stone or rock. A loose stone or rock, no matter how big, is able to be moved. Bedrock, by its very nature, goes to the heart of the earth. This may not be the best geology but it was the picture at the time this word was spoken. Hence, the primary aspect of the role of Peter and his successors, is stability and firmness. As the Kingship grows and expands, it is rooted ever more firmly in the leadership of Peter.
Note that Simon is called: the Kepha - the Bedrock. The bedrock is at the bottom lending strength and stability to the building. The authority of Peter and his successors is to be a support from the bottom, not a control from the top. The upper structure of a building is important but the firmness and soundness of the building is based on the foundation.
The Leader Combines Bedrock and Shepherd.
To depict the kind of leadership Peter and his successors were to exercise, the figure of the Shepherd leading his flock is chosen. For the full explanation of this image, look up John chapter 10. The shepherd is up in front leading and calling each sheep individually but in no way does he domineer or force his ideas on the flock. These two notions of leadership, bedrock and shepherd, have been used, misused and abused through the centuries by the people in power.
Next, there is the only principal enemy of the Church: the gates of Sheol. This too is an Aramaic word that means the whole realm of death. Until the time of Jesus, death was a huge mystery. No one came back from the dead to tell the living what happened after life ended. Now, Jesus says, the realm of death shall be completely under the control of the church, and the kingdom of death cannot withstand the power of this church. This church will in some way have total power over death.
Keys of Kingship to the Kingdom as Understood by Parables.
Then comes the notion of the Keys of the Kingship of the Heavens. Whoever has the keys controls all that they open. Go back to chapter 13 and re-read the parables on the Kingship. Each is a description of some aspect of the power of the Keys. Wherever an aspect of the Kingship is developed in the Gospel, this is also an aspect of the power under the control of these Keys.
The Kingship of the Heavens is the farmer who sows grain in the fields. The farmer becomes the Church. The grain is the teaching of Jesus. The fields are the whole world and all the peoples in it. The Church has the role of dispensing the teachings and ideals of Jesus.
The Kingship of the Heavens is the field in which the good seed is sowed and then the enemy comes and sows the weeds. The two grow together until the end of time. Then the weeds will be gathered first and destroyed, and the good grain can be gathered into the barns of Jesus. The application has meaning for all times. No matter when or where the church is alive, there will be people who do not accept or live by the principles of Jesus. These people must be thwarted in their evil influence as much as possible but they will never be totally eradicated until the final stage of the Kingship.
Application to today’s Christian churches:
The church should always be the small mustard seed. This is one area that I think has to be reconsidered and then some adjustments made. The church has become a huge structure parallel to the pagan world around it. Over the centuries, the church has been guilty of social and moral abuse of individuals and whole peoples. To admit this abuse is not enough. Steps must be taken to restore the “Mustard Seed” quality of the church.
The church is to function as leaven or yeast. This means that it must function from its inner strength as it grows in the consciences and lives of the members.
The church must be seen as treasure or a pearl of great value. This means that the church must be a reality that appeals to the members at all times and for which they want to live and die. They are willing to give everything so that the ideas and ideals of the church may take root and spread.
Then, the church is likened to the dragnet made up of human beings. Some people are convinced followers who live their high ideals at all time. They recognize their responsibility to the people around them. Others come along just for the ride. This division cannot be fully and finally corrected until the end of time. Then the parasites are cast off and the truly zealous followers of Jesus will enter into glory with him.
Finally, the totality phrase “to loose and bind” clearly indicates that this power is judgmental. Peter and his successors are to make some decisions and these decisions are to be respected. Does this statement refer to “infallibility”? I don't think so. The object of this judgment is the measuring up or failure to measure up to the qualities of membership. It is concerned with selfishness or “sin” insofar as this conduct destroys the harmony, peace and love that are basic to the teachings of Jesus. The judgment of Peter in his office as leader will be ratified by the Father.
As I mull over what the church has become and see what it was supposed to be, I get both angry and sad. I get angry because the structure of the church is identical with the Pharisaic reality which Jesus so roundly condemned. Today’s church is worse because it has spread to the whole world -- not just Palestine. I get sad because I realize how different the world would be if the basic Christian principles were believed and lived.
“I'M AFRAID. CAN I BEAR IT?” MATTHEW 16:21-23, 17:22-23, 20:17-19.
These three passages all deal with Jesus' awareness of his suffering and death that were soon to come. How often did he talk about these somber events? Probably often and more frequently as the time drew near. How did he know these things would happen? He knew how much he was antagonizing the Jewish leaders. He knew the people were really enthusiastic about his works. He also knew how easily this crowd would turn against him at the first sign of opposition from the leaders. He knew the leaders could not allow him to continue or their authority would be completely destroyed. He had seen the way in which previous political leaders had been threatened and stopped in his own lifetime.
He knew the kind of punishment that would befall him because he knew what was in Jewish law and what the Romans allowed. He knew he would get the worst of everything because he had attacked the leaders openly and exposed their hypocrisy for all to see and ridicule.
Peter, following his usual emotional patterns, protested openly that these sufferings would not come. Jesus was too powerful. He had withstood the leaders publicly. Peter expected Jesus to remove the Pharisees’ stinger entirely. He couldn't imagine anything else. This very loyalty will be the source of his undoing in a short while.
TRAITS OF A FOLLOWER. BIG SURPRISE. Matthew 16:24-28.
What are the conditions for being a true follower of Jesus? The answer would have been earth-shaking for those who heard Jesus say it. For several generations, the Jews had been building this notion of a temporal, earthly kingdom and a Messiah much like David in the Old Testament. He would be a great warrior and lead the Jews to worldwide military victory. He would establish his kingdom and they would rule the world as David and Solomon had ruled over Palestine.
Now Jesus describes what he expects of his followers. He wants real soldiers. He wants people who will conquer the world. But he is not talking about war machines and military tactics. He is talking about a complete reversal of the way of thinking. His followers will give themselves totally in order to win the world to Jesus and his ideals.
Matthew 16:24-28 is a true “SON of MAN” summary. Jesus stresses the real content of his offering. It entails suffering and even death in order to live up to his ideals. The SON OF MAN will come in the glory of his Father and will reward each according to his/her deeds.
None of this would have made sense to the people who listened to Jesus. They did not protest aloud as Peter did, but many of them walked away - disappointed and discouraged. They were not disposed to take up the cross of suffering but the sword of belligerence.
A GLIMPSE OF SUCCESS! ALL WILL BE FULFILLED. MOSES AND ELIJAH.
JESUS IS THE MESSIAH. GREATNESS CANNOT BE HIDDEN.
This is one of the scenes in the life of Jesus that needs careful consideration. It is referred to in all three other gospels. Peter also refers specifically to the incident in his second letter, 1:16-18.
In all the accounts, Jesus takes the three apostles, Peter, James and John, up on a mountain in Palestine. While they are up there they hear a voice speaking to them about Jesus. It is the Father, and he says Jesus is his most loved Son. They are to listen to him. Then they see apparitions who are Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus.
There is no doubt of the significance of the event. The writers wish to point out the most basic truth about Jesus: He is the Son of God, in a very special way. He is not just a Messiah or prophet. For the Jews, this meant that Jesus was the King of Kings. (cf.1 and 2 Samuel). They want to stress that his work is the continuation and fulfillment of all that has gone before. We are to see all the promises fulfilled in Jesus.
There was a popular notion that Elijah was to return when the Messiah came. The apostles want to know about this idea. Where is Elijah? Jesus says he has already been here. He referred to John the Baptist. They understood what he was saying. John the Baptist was a man in the spirit of Elijah and had pointed to Jesus.
Again, we have to stress that this is Semitic history. The writers were not trying to give us all the details of the events that happened. They wanted to show us the meaning of these events in their lives, our lives and the life of the whole world. To try to dig deeper and get other meanings or facts is a waste of time. Semitic history narrates “why” and not “how.”
SEVEN MOUNTAINS IN MATTHEW.
This will be a good place to point out the 7 mountains in Matthew's Gospel. They are arranged in symmetrical fashion.
(gathering / bedrock)
1. Matthew 4:1-11: Mount of Identity
2. Matthew 5:1-7:29: Mount of Teacher
3. Matthew 14:23-33: Mount of Courage
4. Matthew 16:13-20: Mount of Qahal /Kepha
5. Matthew 17:1-13: Mount of Glory
6. Matthew 27:33: Mount of Sacrifice
7. Matthew 28:16-20: Mount of Mission
EPILEPTIC CURED. Matthew 17:14-20 .
The key to these cures for the apostles is strong faith. Without this faith, their work will be impossible.
WHO PAYS THE TAX? Matthew 17:24-27.
Jesus points out that he is not really subject to this tax but to avoid a dispute over something so trivial, he will pay it. However, the manner in which he gets the money is quite unique.
WHAT IS THE CHURCH? Matthew 18:1-35.
In some ways, this is the most important chapter in the gospel. The writers give us the key ideas about the church as it is to extend down through time, in the midst of the world, renewing and changing all things. The qualities that are pointed out are few and clearly spelled out: childlike simplicity, avoiding scandal, universality, love for each other especially in correcting faults, power of prayer together, and forgiveness. If these few qualities are found in all the followers of Jesus, the world will truly be changed into the Kingship of God.
SIMPLICITY & OPENNESS OF CHILD. DON'T MAKE OTHERS STUMBLE.
Firstly, there is to be the simplicity and openness of a child. The sense of false pride and obstinate refusal to listen to others is so foreign to the spirit of Jesus and his church that they will nullify all its power.
To make sure that simplicity can flourish, all scandal must be avoided. The Greek word, “scandal,” means a stumbling block. A person is walking along and some obstacle is in the path. He/she stumbles and falls because of this obstacle. That is the meaning of scandal. Jesus condemns scandal in any shape or form.
Next, Jesus stresses the need for welcoming everyone into the church. There is to be no prejudice or sense of superiority over another for any reason. Everyone is to be welcomed and helped to develop into a full follower of Jesus.
At the same time, all the members of the church are human. Everyone
will have faults. These faults are to be corrected. The simplest form is for friend to talk to friend. If that removes the problem, no more is to be said. If private advice does not work, then get a witness and make the correction a bit stronger. If this does not work, then bring the person before the whole assembly. If the correction is not effective after this, then the offender is to be cut off from the assembly.
Prayer together is the source of strength. It is not just words being sent to heaven. Rather it is a mutual strengthening of each other and helping one another because of the recognition of each other’s needs.
Finally, comes the question of forgiveness. How often, asks Peter, do I have to forgive the others? Seven times? Peter figured he was stretching this idea of forgiveness to the fullest extent. Jesus said simply “70 x 7.” That is, there is no limit as long as repentance is sincere and forgiveness is truly wanted.
FORGIVE, IF YOU WANT FORGIVENESS.
Then Jesus tells the story of the unforgiving debtor. This story is really powerful and applicable to daily life. A man owed his master a huge debt. The master asked for payment. The debtor asked to be given a little more time. The master was so gracious that he wiped the debt off the slate.
As the servant was going out, feeling very secure and self-righteous, he met a fellow servant that owed him a few pennies. He demanded payment. The fellow servant could not pay so the other servant had him thrown into debtor’s prison until the debt was satisfied.
The master is told of the conduct of this selfish man and calls for him. He reminds him that he had wiped his slate clean just a few minutes before. Now this servant could not do the same for a mere pittance. The selfish servant is then tossed into debtor's prison until all has been paid back.
Sincere forgiveness is the backbone of the life of people in the church. If this practice were truly followed, the world would have been changed centuries ago. Forgiveness of the faults and failures of each other is the foundation of all true Christian life.
THE KINGSHIP ARRIVES. Matthew 19:1-25:46.
The Narrative Section: Matthew 19:1-23:39.
The stage has been set for the arrival of the Kingship. First there was the proclamation of its coming (cc.3-7). The principal idea in this section is the personal qualities of the members.
Then comes the section that describes the reaction of the world to this Kingship (cc.8-10). This is a description of what the followers of Jesus can expect and how they are to react.
Now the reader is ready for the nature of this Kingship. What is the Kingship of Heaven? How is it defined? The notion is so vast it cannot be put into a simple definition. Rather it is presented in a series of parables or comparisons that stress the key concepts of the Kingdom.(cc. 11:1-13:52).
We come to the very heart of the picture. This is the church or the gathering of the followers of Jesus and how they are to bring about the mission of Jesus (cc.13:53-18:35).
THE TRANSFIGURATION. Matthew 17:1-8.
This incident is recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and in 2 Pet 1:17. There is not much doubt that the writers and the early Christians saw this incident as a duplicate of the Moses story in Exodus 17. Yahweh talked to Moses from the clouds and established him as the leader of his people. Yahweh spoke to Moses on top of the mountain and in the clouds and gave him the basic rules that were to govern his people and all mankind.
Now we are told about Jesus going up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John and they’re in the midst of the shining glory of Yahweh. He is pointed out not merely as the Messiah but as the Son of God. There is no doubt that the New Testament writers want to show the parallel between Moses and Jesus and to show how far Jesus surpasses Moses. Exactly what happened on this occasion is open to interpretation. The reader may take the words as they stand and see it as an actual apparition. Or, the reader may take it simply as a literary presentation of basic facts about Jesus, the apostles, and their combined work in the church.
ELIJAH HAS RETURNED. Matt 17:9-13. THE FIERY CHARIOT. 2 KINGS 2:1-18.
There was a popular tradition that Elijah was to return to earth before the Messiah came. Part of this tradition is clearly the result of the account of his journey to heaven in the fiery chariot. However, Jesus says that the tradition was really fulfilled in the life of John the Baptist. If you compare the traits of John the Baptist with those of Elijah, you will see there is a lot in common. John the Baptist is clearly depicted as the forerunner of Jesus, as Messiah. Matthew says the apostles understood what Jesus was saying. It made good sense.
SUFFERING BEFORE GLORY. Matthew 16:21-23; 17:22-23; 20:17-19.
The story of the Transfiguration was to stress the glory of Jesus as Messiah. However he did not want any mistaken ideas. Jesus would come to his glory only through his suffering. He had to take on the penalty of the sin of the first Adam, in order to establish himself as the second Adam. Jesus had to be a living example of obedience to the Father, when the First Adam followed his own wishes. The second creation could restore the first creation through the life of Jesus. Jesus was not offering a utopia. He offered happiness but as the fruit of victory in personal life.
STRONG FAITH. Matthew 17:14-20.
This story is the cure of an epileptic person. The relatives had brought the man to the apostles and they had been unable to help him. Then they brought the person to Jesus and he cured him with a word. The apostles were curious as to why they had been unable to help the sick man. Jesus says explicitly it is lack of faith on the part of the people asking for the favor and lack of faith on the part of the apostles. Then Jesus talks about the power of faith as he understands it.
Too often, as we said earlier in this commentary, the term “faith” is understood in a narrow way that destroys its power. Faith, in the biblical sense, does not mean merely that I accept what someone else says. Biblical faith has four parts and all must be present or there is no faith. These four requirements are:
I UNDERSTAND what is being said.
I am CONVINCED of what I hear.
I am COMMITTED to what is said.
I LIVE by these convictions.
All four of these processes go to make up the biblical notion of faith. Faith is a way of life based on the teachings of Jesus. The Hebrew word for this faith is “AMEN.” That’s why the word is used so often in all the liturgical gatherings. It does not mean something has come to an end. It is a profession of profound, strong personal faith.
THE TEMPLE TAX. Matthew 17:24-27.
This is the famous incident of the paying of the temple tax. Jesus maintains that he is not bound to the tax because the temple is his Father’s house, and the children do not have to pay taxes for upkeep of their house. But Jesus decides it is not worth the bother so he sends Peter down to the lake to fish. The first fish he catches will have a shekel in its mouth, which is twice as much as is needed for the tax.
Again, did this happen exactly as it is told? Or did Peter actually catch a fish one day, and find a shekel in its mouth? Then Jesus tells him this is from the Father and to go pay the tax with it. Either interpretation would fit in with the notion of Semitic history.
THE BASIC TEACHINGS ABOUT THE CHURCH. Matthew 18:1-35.
This chapter is a follow-up on the previous history or incidents in the life of Jesus. It has a list of the basic dispositions and duties of anyone who wants to be a member of the Church and true follower of Jesus.
The basic truth is that a member of the Church must have the dispositions of a little child. This entails, first of all, ¬avoiding any kind of SCANDAL. Jesus is very clear in his definition and very strong in his condemnation of the scandal-giver.
Scandal is any word or action that leads another person to fall. The basic Greek word means a “stumbling block,” - any obstacle placed in the path of another so that he stumbles. The condemnation says simply that a person is better off to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand than to use these to give scandal to others.
This condemnation was taken in the literal sense in the course of the centuries. People’s hands and offending parts were actually cut off or removed. Whether this was ever intended is a question.
Then comes the comparison to the lost or straggling sheep. Jesus wants to show that the church and church leaders are never to be vindictive. They are to seek the straying member as the shepherd does for his sheep. In fact, Jesus says the really good shepherd will leave his 99 sheep alone (but safe in an enclosure) and go in search of the sheep that is missing.
THREE STAGES OF FORGIVENESS.
The church is made up of people with faults. They are still working toward perfection. Therefore there has to be some sort of tribunal of justice. Jesus gives three stages in the practice of justice. If someone does an evil to you, go talk with him. If he listens and straightens out the problem, that is the end of the matter. Justice is restored. If the offender does not listen to you, then take a common friend and confront the offender. If he listens this time, that is the end of it.
If the offender does not listen to the two of you, then call him into the general assembly before all present and hold a trial. If he listens, he is forgiven. However if he will not listen in the general assembly, then he is to be tossed out and cut off from the assembly. Until he repents, he can no longer be a member of the church.
INTERCOMMUNION OF PRAYER.
Prayer is the principal way in which the members of the church work together. Jesus does not talk about the prayer of the individual but about the prayer in the church. This does not mean that the individual is not to pray but rather Jesus is explaining the power and necessity of communal prayer. Jesus says clearly that any time a few people gather together to pray, he is in their midst, talking for them.
Matthew. Chapters 19-25.
THE KINGDOM OF THE HEAVENS ARRIVES.
THE NARRATIVE SECTION. Matthew 19:1-25:46 .
PROCLAMATION OF KINGDOM. Matthew 19:1-23:39.
The stage has been set for the arrival of the Kingdom. First there was the proclamation of its coming (cc.3-7). The principal idea of the proclamation is the personal qualities of the members.
KINGDOM IN MIDST OF WORLD.
Then comes the section that describes the reaction of the world to this Kingdom. (cc.8-10) This is a description of what the followers of Jesus can expect and how they are to react.
The reader is told the nature of this Kingdom. What is the Kingdom of Heaven? How is it defined? The notion is so vast that it cannot be put into a simple definition. Rather it is presented to us in a series of parables or comparisons which stress the key concepts of the Kingdom. (cc. 11:1-13:52)
We come to the very heart of the picture. This is the church or the gathering (Greek work EKKLESIA) of the followers of Jesus and how they are to bring about the mission of Jesus. (cc.13:53-18:35)
In chapters 19-25, we are ready to see how this church is to carry on its day-to-day living.
One of the first questions that had to be faced was the problem of divorce and remarriage. This was a severe problem in the early Church, as is pointed out by Paul in 1 Cor. 7. There was the question of one partner becoming a Christian and the other did not. How were they to live together? Paul settled it in a practical way. If the non-Christian partner was willing to live peaceably with the Christian partner and not place obstacles to the Christian way of living, then the marriage was to continue. There was a good possibility the partner would be led to the church by the example of the Christian partner. If there was disharmony and friction between the Christian and the non-Christian, then divorce and remarriage were allowed.
The Pauline communities were not the only groups to have marital problems and questions. Matthew treats of the point twice and gives exactly the same advice in each place. The presentation of divorce and remarriage is the same in this passage as in chapter 5 of Matthew. The one exception to the permanence of the marriage bond is “porneia”. This is described as “aliquid foedum” in Latin. It has to do with the basic selfishness that is the denial of the generous giving demanded of true marriage. It is summed up in this Greek word “porneia” which brings together all the selfish practices that nullified the marriage bond among the pagans.
Note the way Paul states the one reason for divorce and remarriage. He says if the “porneia” gives rise to selfishness, friction, and general inability to work together, then divorce and remarriage are allowed. If the selfishness is not present, the marriage is to continue. It is the SELFISHNESS that destroys the marriage bond and sets the couple free.
A note is added about voluntary continence or abstention from marriage and marital love. The apostles were upset when they heard the unyielding nature of the marriage bond, and they said it would be better not to marry than risk failing. Jesus answer was just as ready and clear. Not everybody can do this and not everyone is called to this type of life. If a person wants to lead a life of the single, unmarried person, this is fine. However it should never be imposed by force, and not chosen for the wrong reasons.
CHILDREN AND THE KINGDOM.
The next incident deals with the conduct of Jesus in relation to children. Because Jesus was obviously such a good, wise and holy person, the parents were anxious for their children to reach him. This was totally out of the question in the society of those days. Children simply did not have a place of importance. They were not to be seen or heard until they grew up. The apostles tried to turn the parents and children away. Jesus said “Let the children alone and let them come to me. To people such as these the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Then he laid hands on the children to bless them, and went on his way.
Next comes a topic that touched some of the early Christians. Where does wealth fit into this picture? Can a wealthy person be a Christian? In chapter 5, Matthew had already treated the point in the Beatitudes. The happiness promised by Jesus demanded, first of all, that a person be “poor in spirit.” This was a sort of negative idea. It did not necessarily mean the person had to be poor but he could not be attached to his wealth or the life that it offered.
THE CAMEL AND THE NEEDLE.
Now a young man comes up to Jesus. Obviously he has been listening to him and has been impressed with his teaching. He asks “What good must I do in order to have eternal life?” Jesus gives the standard response “If you wish to enter life, keep the commandments.” The young man wanted a specific answer so Jesus named a few commandments. The young man listened and then he said, “I have been keeping all these commandments. What more must I do?” Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell all that you own, give it to the poor, and your treasure will be in heaven. Then come, follow me .”
When the young man heard this last part, he dropped his head, looked sad and walked away. He was a very rich man and he could not bear to think of giving it up.
Jesus drew his famous conclusion. He said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” The apostles were upset at this thought but Jesus said it would be work. Everything was possible with God.
THE FIRST LAST, THE LAST FIRST.
Finally, Peter blurts out his question, “What about us? We have given up everything? What do we get?” To be perfectly honest, none of the apostles had a lot to start with. However they did give up what they had in order to follow Jesus in his work. Jesus says the reward is great beyond imagination. His famous saying is: “Many who are first will be last and the last first.” That is, there will be no favoritism but everyone will be treated fairly and justly from the start. No one can buy a first place in the kingdom of heaven.
This point is so clearly stated here from the very start and yet the use of wealth to buy prestige and power has been one of the major problems or weaknesses in the history of the church. So many times the churchmen have become wealthy lords and developed separate classes in society, based on wealth. The principles of Jesus were abandoned and the power of Christian living was set aside.
WORKERS FOR THE VINEYARD.
To summarize this point, Jesus presents us with another parable. It is the story of a landowner who had a big vineyard and had to hire workers to get the crop harvested. The custom was for the workers to gather in the village square early in the morning. Men who needed workers went there, each morning, and hired workers for the day and settled on a wage. The amount was frequently influenced by the number of people available and the urgency of the work to be done.
In this story, the landowner is at the square at 6:00 in the morning. He hires workers and offers them a denarius for the day, which was a good wage. At 9:00 a.m., he went out again and hired more workers. The same thing happened at 12:00 noon and at 3:00 p.m. Finally, at 6:00 P.M., the landowner sees that there are still some workers there. He asks them, “Why have you stood here all day loafing around?” They said, “Because no one hired us.” The landowner sends them to the vineyard to work this one last hour of the day.
At the end of the workday, the workers are lined up for their wages starting with the ones who came at 6:00 p.m. Each one received a denarius. When the people who had worked the whole 12 hours came up, they also received a denarius. They were upset and grumbled aloud. The landowner asked what the problem was. They told him quickly. They had worked 12 hours and gone through the heat of the day. These people had all come later but especially, the one group came in at 6:00 p.m. and worked only one hour. They too received a denarius. It wasn’t fair. The landowner said simply, “This is the wage you agreed on and it is a fair wage. I am doing you no wrong. Are you angry because I am generous? Take what is yours and go your way.”
This parable has been used and abused many a time. Keep in mind the original intent. Among the first Christians, there was a real rift between the Jewish converts and the Gentile converts. The Jewish people had been the chosen people of the Old Covenant. Now they belonged to the New Covenant. The Gentiles had been outside the people of God. Some of the Jewish Christians felt they were being shortchanged when the Gentile Christians were offered the same rewards for the good life. Jesus’ answer is that the reward is for everyone according to his or her merits. This story has nothing to do with wage laws in the secular society. This story cannot be used for or against the ideas of fair wages in the business world as such.
The next incident is one that is often repeated. John and James, the sons of Zebedee, wanted to get good places in this Kingdom. So they get their mother to speak to the Jesus for them. She approaches and, in the presence of all the apostles, asks Jesus to make sure that her boys sit at his right and left side when he sets up the Kingdom.
Jesus must have smiled inside at their naiveté and ignorance of what he had been teaching. So he goes along with the request and asks, “Can you drink the cup that I have to offer?” The boys said, “We can drink anything!” Jesus says, “That’s right! You are going to drink the cup I have to offer. As to the first and second places in the Kingdom, I am not in charge of these details. My Father takes care of that.”
The other apostles show their ignorance as well by getting angry with James and John for their request when they wanted the favors for themselves. Jesus’s answer was a kindly correction: “The Gentiles around you run their lives exactly as you are thinking. They jockey for position, domineer each other, and make their authority felt. This will not be the way of the Christian society. The great people among you will be those who serve the most. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for all.”
Jesus leaves Jericho and a large crowd is with him. Two blind men were sitting beside the road begging for alms. When they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted out, “Son of David, take pity on us!” The people impatiently turned and told them to hush up because they couldn’t hear Jesus. However, they shouted the louder and Jesus stopped. He called the two men to him and asked, “What do you want me to do?” They eagerly replied, “Lord, give us our sight!” Jesus felt sorry for them. He touched their eyes and they had their sight.
THE PARADE. HAIL! SON OF DAVID. KING.
Chapter 21 begins with the triumphal march of Jesus into Jerusalem. It wasn’t something planned. It just happened but Matthew points out the events of the past that are recalled. Jesus chooses to ride on a donkey and Matthew says this is the approach of the true King David into his kingdom. It is not a time of external pomp and fanfare. The people wave palm branches and sing out their words of praise. The leaders are really shook at the audacity of Jesus.
MY FATHER’S HOUSE IS A HOUSE OF PRAYER.
Jesus compounds the difficulties. He goes into the Temple and there he sees the money changers and the tradesmen buying and selling for the sacrifices and banquets. Jesus really shows his anger. He drives the whole group out of the Temple, he overturns their money tables in the sandy floor, and chases the animals out of the enclosure. It is easy to imagine how the crowd took to this work.
Jesus summarized the incident in words from the Old Covenant, “My Father's house is a house of prayer and you have made it a den of thieves.” The priests and scribes were irate that Jesus would allow this conduct and Jesus answered, “If they don't sing and cry out, even the babes in arms will do so.” Then Jesus left the city and went to Bethany for the night.
As they were coming back the next morning, Jesus was hungry. He saw a fig tree and went over to it because it was leafed out. He expected to find delicious first fruits. But the tree was all leaves and no fruit. Jesus cursed the tree and it shriveled up on the spot. The apostles were amazed at this phenomenon and they told Jesus. His answer was a powerful one, “If you but have faith you will be able to wilt fig trees and even move mountains. Everything you ask for in prayer you will get if you have this faith.”
JOHN BAPTIST'S AUTHORITY?
The leaders could not restrain themselves. They confronted Jesus and demanded to know by what authority he was doing all these extraordinary things? Jesus, not to be trapped, answered a question with a question. “By whose authority did John the Baptist baptize and preach?” The leaders were caught by the question. If they said John's authority came from heaven, he could ask them why they did not follow John’s acceptance of Jesus. If they said John's authority came from man, then the people would rise up in arms because of their high regard for the Baptist. So they said, “We don't know.” Jesus follows with, “Then neither will I tell you by what authority I act!”
THREE PARABLES: WHICH SON OBEYED? SHARECROPPERS REBEL.
DRESSED FOR THE WEDDING? Matthew. 21:23-22:14.
These three parables are aimed primarily at the leaders of the Jews. They have become more and more open in their opposition to Jesus and in their efforts to offset his teachings. Jesus tackles them head-on and knows this will lead to a final showdown quickly.
A man had two sons. He told the first son to go out into the vineyard to work. The boy refused outright and then later repented and went to work. The dad told the second son to go out in the vineyard to work. He agreed to go immediately but then went about his own business. Jesus asks, “Which boy did the will of his father?” Their answer was obvious. The first boy obeyed. Jesus applies the parable. He says he is talking about John the Baptist. John preached. The tax collectors, prostitutes, and other public sinners listened and repented. The leaders of the Jews did not follow the Baptist's teaching. So the public sinners are welcome in the Kingdom but the leaders will be rejected.
There was another farmer with a large vineyard. He had a lot of sharecroppers hired. At vintage time he sent his servants to collect the harvest from the croppers. But they seized the servants, beat one up, killed one, and stoned a third. The farmer sent some more servants, a larger number. They got the same treatment. Finally the farmer sent his son, figuring the croppers would respect him because he was the son and heir. But they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him thinking they would take over the inheritance. Finally, the farmer sends a crew to deal with these criminals as they deserved. Then leased his vineyard to other sharecroppers. The leaders listened as Jesus applied the teaching to them. They wanted to kill him but they were afraid of the crowds.
Finally, there is the story of the wedding feast. A king has prepared a wedding feast for his son. Remember a few of the details presupposed in this story. A wedding feast lasts at least eight days. The invited guests merely have to come. The host is expected to have the wedding garments, the lodging, and the food for all of them for the entire feast.
EVERYONE IS INVITED; FEW RESPOND.
As this story develops, the guests who had been invited and agreed to come, now refused the final notice, mistreated the servants bringing the message and even killed some of them. The dad was furious but he did not want to spoil the occasion for his son so he sent the servants out in every direction to bring people in to the feast. When the feast was under way, the king went to see the guests. There he saw one who did not have on a wedding garment. He was furious. He had the man bound hand and foot and tossed outside.
Remember, the king supplied the garment. The guest needed only to take a bath when he arrived and then get dressed properly for the feast. The guest was obviously in the wrong and, according to their customs, offering a serious social affront to the king. Then Jesus gives the punch line: “Everybody is called, but only a few respond.”
LIP SERVICE IS NOT ENOUGH.
These three parables are aimed primarily at the leaders of the Jews in the time of Jesus, but the lessons are clearly applicable to us today. Lip service is not enough. A person can make a mistake and straighten it out. But the answer has to be followed by action. Unjust actions will be reproved and punished. Physical force may look like it holds a winning hand but in the long run will be defeated, and the people will be excluded from the Kingdom. Everybody is called and urged to belong to the Kingdom but the basic conditions have to be fulfilled. Membership in the Kingdom of the Heavens is not a hand-out, but an earned reward. Everyone is called to belong but only those who respond will be received.
GIVE CAESAR HIS COIN. GIVE GOD YOUR ALLEGIANCE. Matthew 22:15-22.
The Pharisees try to trap Jesus again. This time they hope to get the Roman authorities on his back. The Romans exacted a high tax from all their conquered peoples. They were adamant in their demands and ruthless in their punishments if the tax was not paid. They tolerated no one speaking against them.
The Pharisees ask Jesus publicly, “Is it lawful for a Jew to pay taxes to Caesar?” If Jesus said “yes,” the people would be riled up against him. If Jesus said “no,” the Romans would go after him immediately.
Jesus, of course, knew exactly where the Pharisees were headed. His answer was a scathing verbal defeat for the questioners. “Hypocrites! Show me the money with which you pay this tax.” They held out a denarius. Jesus did not even take it in his hand. He asked, “Whose image and whose inscription are on the coin?” They answered “Caesar’s.” Then he fired back, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
THE DEAD SHALL RISE. Matthew 22:23-33.
The Sadducees, the priestly group, approach Jesus. They try to trap Jesus in doctrine. They did not believe in the resurrection from the dead. So they pose what looks like a ridiculous scenario. It is concerned with the Law of Levirate from the Old Testament (Deut. 25:5). The law wanted a man’s name to continue. Therefore, if he died childless, his wife was expected to marry one of his brothers and raise up children to the dead brother’s name. This meant that the property would not shift owners but stay in the same family.
The case proposed by the Sadducees was a man who died childless. He had six brothers. The second one married the widow but he too died childless. So they went until all seven had married this woman and there were no children. Then the woman died also. “Now,” said the Sadducees, “in this resurrection you talk about, whose wife will this woman be since she was married to all seven men?”
Jesus answered shortly and to the point. He said, “You haven’t the slightest idea of what you are discussing. In the resurrection there will be no marrying. People will live like the angels in heaven. Don’t you listen to what God says? I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is God of the living, not of the dead.”
Jesus tells us that we are not able to understand what the life in the resurrection will be like because we are not there. The life of the resurrection is so much different from our present life that it cannot be explained in human terms. It would be something like stopping one of the prairie schooners of the middle 1800’s as they plodded their dry hot miles across the plains. Explain to them about the superhighways, the fast air conditioned cars, or talk to them about the jet airplanes that make the whole trip in a few hours. How much would these pioneers understand or believe? Yet we take these advances and comforts for granted.
LOVE IS THE BEGINNING, THE CENTER, AND THE END OF ALL LIFE.
The Pharisees couldn’t keep quiet. They saw that their enemies, the Sadducees, had been silenced so they decided to try their prowess again. There were many verbal debates about which was the most important commandment or law of the Torah. Rabbis spent hours of useless argument to establish their preferences. The various opinions gave rise to schools of thought, and they were adamantly opposed to each other. So if the Pharisees could get Jesus to pick one of the laws, he would have all the rest of the schools against him.
Jesus answers their question: “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is just like it. You must love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments are built the whole Law and the Prophets.” There was no rebuttal and no Rabbinical school had chosen these commandments. So the Pharisees had failed again in their deceitful attempts to trap Jesus.
Now Jesus pushed the Pharisees farther into the corner. “In your opinion, whose son is the Messiah?” “David's,” is their reply. Jesus follows, “Then how is it that David, moved by the Spirit, calls the Messiah, Lord?” Jesus then quotes Psalm 110:1, “The Lord said to my Lord.” This would be translated “Yahweh said to the Messiah.” Now Jesus throws in his punch line. “If the Messiah is David's Lord, how can he also be his son?” They had no answer, and that stopped the questions from that day forward.
WITHERING WOES: SCATHING REBUKE OF SCRIBES AND PHARISEES.
Matthew 23: 1-39.
The end of Jesus’ earthly life is soon to come. He has challenged the Jewish leaders more and more openly. They will soon resort to some way to get rid of him. So Jesus draws together all that he has told his followers about these Jewish leaders in the course of his teaching life.
JESUS ADAMANT IN FACE OF HYPOCRISY.
Whether Jesus actually made a summary such as this, or whether this is the work of the Gospel editor, makes no difference. The basic facts are here so that we can see the full effect that they have in the Christian way of life. A very important detail is to notice that Jesus, who can be so gentle and kind with small children and penitent adults, can be unbending in the face of hypocrisy and fakery.
Jesus stresses that the Scribes and Pharisees do occupy the teaching chair of Moses. His followers are to listen to what they say but not to follow their example. They do not practice what they preach. Everything they do is to attract attention to themselves. They spend hours and days on the making of their phylacteries and tassels. They look for and expect the places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. They want the people to fawn over them in the streets.
Jesus says this is backwards. His followers must lead a life of service. Service is not a demeaning way of life. Service is a true concern for the welfare of others and doing what is necessary to attain it.
SEVEN WOES AGAINST THE LEADERS. Matthew 23:13-32.
The word “Woe” that is used in this selection is by far the worst condemnation that could be given. Today the word would mean bloodshed or lawsuits. It is a word whose meaning includes the sum total of all that is bad or evil.
WHAT JESUS WILL NOT TOLERATE:
1. You close the doors to the Kingdom of Heaven and are
too dumb to go in yourselves.
2. You travel and work to make one convert and then make
him twice as bad as you are.
3. You apply superficial technicalities to the Law and blame it on God.
4. You are precise in your tithing but then thwart justice, charity
and trust. You strain out gnats and swallow the camel.
5. You present a pious exterior and inwardly are morally rotten.
6. You are whitewashed tombs: clean and white on the outside
and full of dead men's bones and corruption within.
7. You praise the prophets and decorate their tombs but you
follow in the footsteps of those who killed the prophets.
Jesus makes it very clear where he stands with regard to the life and teachings of the leaders of his times. He ends it all in a total condemnation “Brood of Vipers!” They are not just one snake as in the account of Genesis, but a whole brood of the most poisonous snakes. They are but continuing the thought and action patterns of their ancestors. So often, in the past, through the prophets, Yahweh had tried to lead the people into righteous lives. But they would not listen. They killed the prophets and continued their way of sin and corruption. And so desolation shall come to Jerusalem and the Temple because of the inward decay of the people themselves.
THE FINAL PICTURE! THE ESCHATALOGICAL DISCOURSE. Matthew 24:1-25:46.
The setting for the following remarks of Jesus is about the year 30 A.D. The Jews are in control of Jerusalem only insofar as they do the bidding of Roman authorities. Some of the Jews have sold out to the pagans and are working for them. The majority resent the dominance of the Romans but they can do nothing about it. A few years later, 68 A.D., this hostility and animosity will break into the open and the Roman armies will come in and wipe the people out completely.
In this section of Matthew, Jesus is talking about these events as he sees them shaping up in his time. The gospel writers, of course, are describing them after the events have taken place.
The apostles called Jesus’ attention to the beauty of the Temple buildings. They stood out in every direction because, no matter where you came from, you had to walk up to Jerusalem. Jesus says simply, “The day is coming when there will not be a stone on top of stone. All will be destroyed.” The apostles were amazed, and they wanted to know when this was going to happen. Jesus uses the occasion to stress the key notions of his teaching.
First, he points out that the actual end of time is unknown. Many times it will seem like the end is near and then things seem to right themselves. One truth they must keep in mind: there is going to be a lot of violence in all ages. There will be murders, wars, and the wild news that goes with these. The important point is that the end will not come until the Gospel of the Kingdom has been carried to the whole world. Everybody will have the opportunity to be saved.
Then comes the description of the destruction of Jerusalem. Remember this is being written after the fact. The actual destruction took place about 70 A.D. The gospel is written about 30 years later. Jesus could have foreseen that some of this would happen. He also knew the rebellious attitude of the Jews towards Rome, and the pattern of the Romans in putting down any insurrection.
Jesus describes the whole catastrophe as “the abomination of desolation.” This is a clear reference to the picture in Daniel as he describes the destruction of Jerusalem in 168 B.C. under Antiochus Epiphanes. This was explicitly called the “abomination of desolation” which was the placing of the statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies.
Jesus stresses the certainty of what he is saying. He emphasizes that even if the heavens and the earth were to disappear, it would not happen until everything that Jesus has said was fulfilled. Then he calls their attention to the days of Noah when the Ark was being built. Everybody could see the work and ask about the meaning. In spite of the warnings, the people kept right on with their lawless lives and were caught in the punishment.
Then we have three parables that stress this idea of being prepared, because we know neither the day nor the hour when the end will come.
First there is the story of the servant. The master is gone and the servant does not know when he will return. He decides to take his chances. He mistreats the fellow servants. He has his own special parties at the master’s expense. And in the midst of the revelry, in walks the master. Jesus says there will be some bitter frustration.
THE UNPREPARED BRIDESMAIDS.
Next comes the story of the ten bridesmaids. They were waiting for the wedding party to come. When they heard the bridegroom was on his way, they were to go out to meet him, lead him back to the house of the bride, and their work was over. Five of these girls were wise and five were foolish. The bridegroom was slow in coming so they all retired. In the middle of the night, the cry went up, “He’s coming!” The wise girls got up, lit their lamps, and were ready to go. The foolish ones found themselves with no oil for their lamps. They wanted to borrow some but the provident girls said no. There was not enough for all. They should have foreseen the needs. Again, the conclusion is clear. Stay awake. Prepare. Be Ready!
HOW DID YOU USE YOUR TRUST? I BURIED THE TALENT YOU GAVE ME.
This story tells us how we should use our gifts in preparation for the end. The master was going off on a trip. He gave one servant 5 talents, another servant 2 talents, and the last servant received one talent. Now remember, a talent was a huge amount. The man who got five, worked hard and made another five. The man who got two, worked hard and made another two. The man who received one talent, buried it so that he could retrieve it when the master returned.
The master returns and calls for an accounting. The first servant comes and presents the initial five and the five he made. The master says, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Because you have been faithful in small details, I’ll put you over something big. Enter into the joy of your master.” The second servant presents the original two talents and the two he had made. He, too, receives exactly the same praise and reward. Finally comes the third servant who had buried his talent. He said, “I knew you were a tough master and I was scared so I buried the talent you gave me. Here it is.” The master was very angry. He took the one talent away from him and gave it to the first servant who already had ten. Then he threw the third servant out of his house because he was useless.
At first glance this looks unjust, until Jesus draws his conclusion. Everyone receives certain gifts or talents from God. They are all good but they are to be used. It doesn’t matter what the initial gift was. The important point is what each one does with his gifts. If they are used gainfully, he will be fully rewarded. If the talents are wasted or not used, even what he seems to have will be taken away and he will be thrown out.
THE GREATEST TALENT: SERVING OTHERS.
Finally, Jesus spells out exactly what these gifts are and how they are to be used. He is concerned with the most important part of the life of his followers. How do they relate to the needs of the people around them? If they help others who are in need, they are doing it to Jesus and shall receive the big reward. If they fail to help others in need, they are failing in regard to Jesus and shall be rejected accordingly.
KINDNESS TO OTHERS: GUARANTEE OF REWARD.
THE VALLEY OF HINNOM: GEHENNA.
The conclusion to this section is the application of all these ideas to the final coming and the last judgment of the whole world. Everyone is going to be brought before the throne of Jesus in his glory. The people who lived the law of love will receive their “inheritance,” the reward that is theirs by rights because they have been kind to others especially those in need.
The people who showed no compassion or love for others, especially those in need, will be expelled. The place they go is described as a place of perpetual fire and they will be outcasts from the Kingdom. The image used here is the valley of Hinnom, or “Gehenna,” in the Greek. It refers to the one valley near Jerusalem where all the parts of animals that could not be offered on the altar were thrown. There was a fire burning here at all times to consume the trash. People who did not identify themselves as members of the Kingdom in this life will be excluded totally in the end because they have no identity.
Matthew 26:1-28:20 .
JESUS SUFFERS, DIES, RISES AGAIN.
Matthew 26:1-28:2. Matthew 26:1-75.
We come now to the end of the earthly life of Jesus and the important events of his death, resurrection, and ascent into heaven. These were the facts about Jesus that the followers saw and remembered most vividly. They knew the terrible fear they had felt for themselves and how they had deserted and hidden. Then they recalled how Jesus had come back and how delighted and reassured they had become.
The key to these events in Matthew's Gospel is in the final three verses. Jesus gives his disciples their mission as he leaves for the last time. The disciples were to spread throughout the entire world and make disciples of everyone until the world was COMPLETE. We translate the final phrase “until the end of the world” in English. That is misleading because such a phrase usually means the final stages of something. The Greek word, “telos,” means “end” in the sense of “completion.” It is the end in which something is brought to the perfection it is supposed to achieve.
A good example: A boy receives a kit for making a wagon. He has all the needed tools. He works on the project until he has a new wagon in front of him. He has worked "to the end" in the Greek sense of this phrase. He has "completed" the plans as they should be and has the finished product.
The boy could get disgusted and say, "I quit! That's the end!". This too, is "the end" but it is not the meaning of the Greek phrase in the Gospel. Yet this is the meaning that many interpreters have taken from the phrase. So they keep talking about the “end of the world.”
It's true, the book of Revelation talks about the end in the sense of a day of destruction and slaughter, fear and terror. But remember also, the Book of Revelation is first and foremost the account of the persecution of the Christians by the Romans in the late first century. It was a warning of worse terror to come and the kind of courage the followers of Christ would have to have. Again, because of extended and unintended interpretations, many applications have been made to our lives that were never intended.
With this understanding, we go back to the story.
Matthew describes the two groups. Jesus and the apostles are getting ready for the Passover celebration. Jesus says this will be the time when the leaders of the Jews will take him. The outcome will be death by crucifixion.
At the same time the leaders of the Jews were in session plotting the death of Jesus but one point they all agreed on. They were not going to take Jesus during this feast because of the huge crowd present and the danger of a riot.
The next scene is at the house of Simon the leper. Jesus is there for the Passover meal. During the meal, a woman comes in and pours expensive ointment over Jesus head. The apostles were appalled at the waste. This oil could have been sold for a good price and the money given to the poor. Jesus scolds them for their thoughtlessness. This woman has anointed the body of Jesus in preparation for his burial. And Jesus promises that wherever the Gospel is preached, this story will be told to the credit of the woman.
John gives a few more details of this story. He says that Lazarus and Martha and Mary were at the meal and that it was Mary who did the anointing. Frequently, people identify this Mary with Mary Magdalen. The Gospels do not make this identity. Secondly, because Mary Magdalen was supposed to have been possessed by 7 devils, they say she was a sinful woman. However, the phrase can also mean that she was a very sick person and Jesus cured her.
Then we come to the betrayal by Judas. Matthew stresses that Judas was one of the twelve, one of the privileged followers. What happened to bring Judas to this pass is not spelled out in the Gospels. Matthew says that Judas had already made the agreement to sell Jesus and was now looking for the opportunity to carry out his plan. The price that he was given was the price fixed by law for a slave: 30 shekels.
The time for the Passover meal was at hand and the apostles prepare for the feast. When the meal was in progress, Jesus solemnly tells the group that one of them will betray him. The apostles figured it was an unintentional act and each began to ask if he was the guilty one. Jesus answer was especially meaningful, “One of you who has dipped his hand into the cup of friendship with me will betray me.” This did not identify anyone in particular because they all did this. Then Jesus says how terrible the act is. There is no doubt it gave Judas an opportunity to repent even though the plot would go through.
Judas also asks, “Is it I, Lord?” Jesus answers, “You have said it.” This did not betray him to the other eleven because the words were ambiguous. What was really in the mind of Judas is difficult to say. I think his subsequent conduct is evidence that he did not expect Jesus to be taken. He had seen Jesus disappear before, so he figured the same thing would happen again. After it was over, he could go up to Jesus and show him the 30 pieces of silver and put the money in the common coffers. However, Jesus did not free himself. When Judas saw Jesus really condemned, he went out and hanged himself. His second sin was worse than the first.
Then comes the central part of this feast. It is extremely important but has been misconstrued in my opinion. Judas is gone. Jesus now takes the bread and the cup and gives it new meaning - the sign of the New Covenant. The dipping of bread into a common cup of wine was part of the Seder ritual. In the Old Covenant, it signified the sharing and community of those present. Now Jesus establishes the New Covenant of Love. He uses the same sign but gives it new meaning.
This special sharing became the center of the celebration of the first Christians. Gradually the whole jumble of transubstantiation and Eucharistic Presence and consecrated bread came into play. There is no doubt that this communal meal and its significance should be the center of the lives of Christians. However, the meaning should be something crystal clear and easy to see so that it is clearly a sign of the kind of lives they lead, and the principal means of spreading the good news of Jesus. The REAL PRESENCE is the SHARING (KOINONIA) of all the people present. The Passover takes on a new meaning from this time forward. No longer does it look back to the deliverance of Israel from the slavery of Egypt. Now it reflects the deliverance of all mankind from sin and death in Jesus Christ.
There is no doubt that this final Passover dinner of Jesus with his apostles was the center of the lives of the first Christians. Every time they got together for a meal they were to render Jesus totally present by the kind of lives they were living and sharing.
Application to today: We see this in our parishes, today. It is Sunday morning. The Holy Name Society or the Altar Society has a special Mass in Church. They all go through the ritual of receiving the Communion Bread. Then after the Mass is over they go over to the school hall, talking and laughing, and join together for a real good community breakfast.
Which of these ceremonies is the true Eucharist or meal intended by Christ? In my mind, there is no doubt that the second event is the real Eucharist. The Mass is a meaningless ritual which has become a matter of rubrics and superstitions. The parish meal is the real sharing of real people in a life situation. Because of the love that reigns in their lives, they truly render Jesus present in their community in a special way, that day.
When the meal was over, Jesus and the apostles walked out to the Mount of Olives. This was a favorite spot of Jesus. Jesus tries to warn the apostles about their fear and how this fear would lead to desertion that very night. Peter again declares his loyalty. So Jesus puts his prediction on the line. That very night, before dawn, Peter would have the chance to express his loyalty to Jesus, or to deny him out of fear. Peter will choose the latter course.
We can see the impression this incident made on Peter and all the early Christians. The prediction and the fulfillment are carefully and explicitly told in all the gospels.
Now the final events in the life of Jesus are ready to unfold. Jesus takes the eleven and goes out to Gethsemane, “The Oil Press,” in the Kedron valley at the foot of the Mt. of Olives. This was a favorite retreat of Jesus. He went there often when he wanted to be alone to think things through. He left eight of the apostles at the gate. He took Peter, James and John and went into the garden. He left the three at a special spot and told them to keep vigil with him. Then Jesus went off a little further and began to do battle within himself over the choice he was about to make. He came back to the three who were supposed to be keeping him company. They were sound asleep. He woke them and told them to stay awake and watch. He came back a second time and found them sleeping again. A third time, he went off to struggle through his decision. He came back, woke up the three and told them to come with him. His decision had been made. He was going to face the betrayer and the crowd of enemies rather than run away.
Note very carefully how this story is told. Jesus is having a very difficult time making his decision. He knows the terrible suffering and death that await him. He knows these executions have been carried out often on other people. He is looking for some other way to carry it out. Finally, he decides that the only way he can show his sincerity in what he is teaching and preaching is to die for the truth.
This is often referred to as the Agony in the Garden. The Greek word, “Agon,” is perfect for the action. It means a fearful struggle, both physical and mental. Jesus struggled and then made his decision to be taken. He made it with his eyes wide open and made it willingly. But he made that decision only after great fear and anguish.
While Jesus is still speaking with the apostles, Judas appears leading a band of thugs and crooks sent by the leaders of the Jews. Judas had told them not to make a mistake and catch the wrong person. He had given them a signal. He would give the kiss of friendship to the one who was to be taken. I think this is evidence that he expected Jesus to free himself from the crowd somewhere along the line.
Judas says, “Hello Master!” and then kisses Jesus with the sign of friendship. Jesus says, “My friend, what’s up?” The others surged forward and seized Jesus. Then one of the apostles, John says it was Peter, took his sword and badly mangled one ear of the servant of the High Priest. Jesus reached up and healed the ear and told Peter to put his sword away. If the Father had wanted him to go free he would have sent armies of his angels to defend him.
Jesus boldly faces the crowd and condemns them for the cowards they are. He had been among them constantly and publicly, teaching and preaching and helping all who needed help. Now they come after him as if he were a dangerous criminal. They take Jesus and the apostles run away.
The supreme court of the Jews was called the Sanhedrin. Caiaphas, as high priest, was in charge of the Sanhedrin. This trial, of course, was a farce. They had no case so they trumped up various charges but could make none of them stick. Then one of them said Jesus had blasphemed against the Temple. He quoted Jesus as saying, “I can destroy the temple of God and in three days build it up again.” According to the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law this would be blasphemy because the word “to destroy” and the word “Temple” are used in the same sentence.
The High Priest tries to force Jesus into some kind of answer but he stands there in dignified and total silence. Then the High Priest puts Jesus under oath to state whether he is the Messiah, the Son of God (King). And Jesus spoke. “That’s right! And I say to you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of the heavens.” Jesus quotes from Daniel and states that he is that victorious Son of Man.
The High Priest had what he wanted. This was clearly blasphemy. He tore his garments (a ritual act) and stated, “He has blasphemed! Why do we need witnesses? You have just heard the blasphemy.”
Sentence is passed. The Sanhedrin gives in to demeaning conduct by striking the accused and spitting in his face. Then they blindfold him and strike him in the face and ask him to prophesy who had hit him.
Meanwhile Peter has sneaked along at the back of the crowd to see the outcome of the trial. He sat down in back with the servants. A servant-girl came along and said, “You, too, were with Jesus of Galilee.” Peter denied this statement categorically in front of everyone. He started through the gate and another servant girl said, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth!” In answer, Peter swore on oath he did not know Jesus. A little bit later one of the crowd said to Peter, “You are one of them for sure. Your accent gives you away.” Peter became vehement in his denial of any knowledge of Jesus. At that moment, the cock crowed and Peter remembered that Jesus had said, “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”
Then comes the most vivid sentence in the story. “HE WENT OUTSIDE AND HE WEPT BITTERLY!” Sources outside the Gospels tell us that Peter regretted these denials all his life. Some ancient paintings show him with deep grooves worn in his cheeks by the tears of a lifetime.
OFF TO THE COURT OF PILATE. Matthew. 27:1-66.
The night was finally over. All the priests and elders, the whole Sanhedrin, were present as they bound Jesus over to be led to Pilate. The Jews no longer had the power to put anyone to death. Rome had to approve. Pilate is the Roman governor of the times. Pilate was definitely not liked by the Jews. They did not like any Roman who sat in power over them. They especially did not like Pilate because it was clear he despised them, used and abused them at every opportunity.
Now Judas sees what is going to happen. He sees that Jesus is bound over to Pilate and he knows that Pilate will definitely kill another Jew. Judas was overcome with sorrow. He took the 30 shekels back to the Priests and elders. He made a perfect confession: “I have sinned by the betrayal of innocent blood.” (But he made the confession to the wrong priest. Jesus could have forgiven.) Their answer came back instantly, “What’s that to us? That’s your problem!” Judas flung the coins on the temple floor and went out and hanged himself.
Now we see the depth of the hypocrisy of these leaders. The money is tainted in the eyes of the Law because it is blood-money. Therefore, the leaders pick up the coins and buy a field that can be used as a cemetery for foreigners too poor to pay for their own burial.
Additional information on Judas: This is a good place to give information on the vocation and role of Judas just as the Gospel story does. Judas should not be depicted as some kind of terrible criminal whose ways were all bad. Jesus chose him as a young man out of all his followers, to be one of the special twelve. Judas certainly did not expect his failure to be the cause of the death of Jesus. When he saw the magnitude of his mistake and admitted it completely to himself, he was well on the road to perfect recovery. He had only to go to Jesus, the person whom he had offended, express the sorrow he felt for what he had done, and forgiveness and a new opportunity would have been his. He saw his failure and admitted his guilt. He confessed his sin and failure but he went to the wrong priest. The first word of Jesus on the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" Judas was included in this forgiveness.
Jesus is now brought into the presence of Pilate. Pilate and Jesus are now the central figures in the drama of salvation. Pilate says he knew that Jesus was innocent from the very start and that he had been delivered into his hands out of envy, jealousy and spite. So Pilate goes right to the heart of the accusation. He asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus replies: “You said it!” He seems to be saying that such is not the issue here. The Jewish leaders take up their chant of accusations. Jesus did not say a word and Pilate was amazed. He asked Jesus if he wanted to answer their accusations. But Jesus did not say a word. He would not be sidetracked into a false issue.
Pilate tried another way out of the dilemma. It was a custom of Rome at the time of any Jewish festival to release one of their political prisoners. At that moment, Rome was holding under close guard a man named Barabbas. He was a notorious murderer and everyone was glad to see him kept under lock and key. Now he offers the leaders a choice between Jesus and Barabbas. He thought for sure they would choose Jesus.
Before he could make a decision, Pilate's wife got word to him. “Have nothing to do with this just man for I have suffered today in a dream about this man.”
During this interlude, the leaders had moved through the crowd urging them to cry for the release of Barabbas and the death of Jesus. Now Pilate asks the question and is met by an uproar of cries for Barabbas. When he asked what he should do with Jesus, they shouted over and over, “Crucify Him!” Pilate saw there was no possibility of changing the flow of the mob. He gave in. He took water and washed his hands publicly and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just man. It is on your consciences.” The people shouted back: “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” Pilate released Barabbas and bound Jesus over to be scourged and crucified.
Additional Information: Before we go into the actual punishment, let us look at the two statements about the blood of Jesus in this chapter. Judas calls it innocent blood. Innocent it was. Jesus had never done anything to harm any person. He had done good to all who asked and believed in him. Now the people in their wild frenzy of injustice say they are willing to take the blame for the shedding of this blood. Shed the blood they will, and on these people it will come but, if they see their mistake, it will flow as a river of forgiveness and salvation rather than the curse they intended.
In our world, today, there are rivers of blood being shed from little children to old people. Violence is more and more a way of life. We need the river of salvation and sanctification in place of all this bloodshed. But the change will take place only when the people ask for it and live so as to achieve it. Judas confessed but was not forgiven because he confessed to the wrong people. The people called for the blood of Jesus to flow on them for generations to come but they wanted it as a curse. We have to make sure that these mistakes are not repeated in our days.
After Jesus is condemned to death by Pilate, the Roman soldiers take him as their prisoner. This is exactly what the leaders of the Jews wanted. They knew the brutality of these men. They knew there was no limit to the torture they could inflict. The Jews could inflict a scourging but it could never be more than 39 lashes and the whips were not allowed to break the skin or bruise the flesh. The Jewish scourging was more an indignity and a public shame.
The Romans had varying degrees of scourging. Their whips were all deliberately cruel and inhuman. Frequently the person died in the act of being scourged and could go through only a token crucifixion. Jesus got the worst of everything. They beat him. Then they picked up an old scarlet cloak. They fashioned a helmet of thorns for his head and put that on as a crown. They put a reed in his right hand as a scepter. Then they bent a knee in mockery, spat in his face, struck him with the reed on the thorns, and shouted, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Finally they stopped out of sheer exhaustion. They took off the symbols of the mockery and replaced his own clothes. Then they took him out to be crucified.
The place of execution or crucifixion was called Golgotha, the hill of the skull. On the way to the hill, the soldiers impressed a man named Simon to help Jesus carry the cross. He was from Cyrene and was probably just some passerby or bystander. The Romans had the right as captors to force any Palestinian to do any chore, like it or not.
Golgotha seems to have been a designated place of execution. The usual procedure was that the uprights of the crosses were firmly planted into the ground. The victim carried only the crossbar. When they reached the top of the hill, the procedure depended on the mood of the soldiers. The victim was usually given an alcoholic or drugged drink to help ease some of the pain. Then the person was tied or nailed through the wrists to the crossbar. The body was hoisted to the upright and the person was usually impaled on the seat. If the person did not die from the crucifixion, the soldiers would break the legs, the body would slump, and the person would suffocate.
Ordinarily there was a plaque placed on the upright to tell why the person was dying. So the Romans put up the sign, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Then they crucified two other criminals on either side of him.
The soldiers were entitled to any possessions the condemned man had. So in the case of Jesus, they rolled dice to see who would get his clothes. The ultimate shame has now been placed on Jesus. The passers-by mocked him as a faker. The leaders of the Jews joined in the mockery and made it even worse. Even the robbers who were on the crosses beside Jesus joined in the mockery and ridicule.
The actual stay on the cross, according to Matthew, begins at 12:00 noon, and lasts until 3:00 P.M. At 3:00 P.M., Jesus cries out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” Literally, It means, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me!”
Two things must be said about this cry. First of all, the people misunderstood and thought he was calling on Elijah. Secondly, it sounds like a cry of despair but is actually an expression of complete confidence in God. It is the opening line of Psalm 22 which starts out with a cry of almost despair to emphasize how great is the need of David. Then the psalm goes on to express how great is the writer’s confidence that Yahweh will save him no matter what the problem. The Gospel writers are telling us the attitude of total confidence that Jesus had in the Father when everything looked like a total failure.
At 3:00 P.M., Jesus cries out in a loud voice and dies. At that moment according to the Gospel, the veil of the Temple between the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place was torn from top to bottom. The significance of this statement is clear. The Old Covenant is over and done with. The Holy of Holies, which was the original seat of the Ark of the Covenant, was exposed as an empty and meaningless room. There was an earthquake and the tombs opened and many ancient holy men were seen walking about the city. The meaning of this description is also clear. The work of all these former saints is now fulfilled and they will be able to share in the victory of Jesus for which they were waiting. Many of the ordinary people who had been so loud in their mockery, were suddenly filled with fear. Finally, Matthew makes special mention of the women who stood faithfully by to the very end: Mary of Magdala, the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of John and James, the Zebedee boys.
It is almost 6:00 P.M. and the beginning of the great Passover. Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man, was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate to ask for the body. The body was handed over. Jesus was wrapped in a clean shroud and placed in Joseph’s own tomb which was new, and unused - up to that time. They rolled a large stone across the entrance and left. Mary of Magdala and the other Mary were sitting across the way.
The next day, the leaders came to Pilate again. They reminded him that Jesus had promised to rise in three days. So they asked that Pilate put a special guard around the tomb to prevent the apostles from stealing the body and saying that Jesus has arisen. This error would be worse than the first. Pilate was really fed up with the whole incident and he told the leaders to take care of this guarding themselves. So they put a guard of temple police around the tomb.
The fear that the apostles would steal the body was groundless. The apostles were so afraid that they had run off. Only Peter had come back and he, in no way, wanted to be connected with Jesus. Yet the guard did a great service. It guaranteed that the body could not have been stolen.
ONE LAST LIE. A BRIBE. Matthew. 28:1-15.
Early on Sunday morning, the two Mary’s come to the tomb. There was another earthquake and the huge stone was rolled back. An angel of the Lord sat there in radiant garments and the guard was flat on its face, scared to death. The angel spoke to the women. “Don't be afraid. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He is not here because he has risen as he said he would. Come, take a quick look at the spot where he lay and then go tell the apostles.” The women went running to find the apostles.
Suddenly Jesus appears to the women. They are really afraid. Jesus reassures them and then tells them to go to the apostles and tell them to head for Galilee to meet him.
Meanwhile, the guards went back to Jerusalem to tell the leaders what had happened. The leaders listened and realized they were worse off than before. So they gave the guards some money and said, “Go out and say, ‘While we were asleep, the apostles came and stole the body!’ ” The guards did as they were told but how stupid could they be? If the guards were asleep, how did they know who stole the body? If they were not asleep, why didn’t they prevent the stealing?
MOUNT OF NEW MOSES. MARCHING ORDERS - MISSION TO THE WORLD.
The Gospel story is brought to a quick end because the rest of the story is to be told in the lives of the followers of Jesus.
The eleven apostles go to the mountain in Galilee where they were supposed to meet Jesus. Some of them were really scared as Jesus walked up. Jesus reassures them and then gives them the mission of the Church until the whole universe is brought to completion.
Here are the words from the gospel. First, Jesus gives his credentials: “All power has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” This is clearly a reference to Genesis 1:1. All the power that was set in motion with the first creation has now been set forth again by Jesus.
This power he is handed over to his followers. Their mission is this: “Make convinced followers of all nations.” Everybody is included. There is no one small, chosen nation. “Immerse them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” This is the full revelation of who God is and will be developed at great length by the first Christians in Acts of the Apostles.
“Teach them to obey all commands whatsoever I have given you.” The whole message of Jesus is to be spread throughout the world. “And I-with-you-Am until the fulness of time” (synteleia tou aionou). Yahweh had been the special presence among the people of the Old Law. Now Jesus will be the presence manifest in the world through his followers. The work of the followers of Jesus is to bring the whole universe to fulfillment.
The whole Gospel story according to Matthew ends on a positive, upbeat note. There is no thought or word of the destructive end of the world as is so often talked about. The whole of creation is to be brought to its “synteleia,” its “completion” so that all the parts fit together as intended by God from the beginning.
The basic Greek word is “koinonia” or “perfect sharing” with each other. This is the description of the judgment of each individual. We shall be judged not on whether we took part in some ritual or liturgical exercise. We shall be judged by the way in which we interacted with true love with all the people who came into our lives. That is the unique message of Jesus. When this message is truly lived then the world is ready for its full and complete life.