Gospel of Matthew
I. Introduction and Dating
Matthew the Evangelist
The evangelist we call Matthew wrote a structured gospel to a Jewish-Christian audience. He employed the tools of rabbis and scribes to promote his view of Jesus as the Christ. He cited Scripture far more times than any other gospel. And he used a pesher style of interpretation, quoting passages freely out of context to prove his point. He rearranged his sources from Mark and the "Q" to create an overarching chiasmus. Yet, besides his additions to the Passion-Resurrection narrative, he followed Mark's flow.
We can date Matthew's gospel to the 80's CE (see Dating the Synoptics).
Like Mark, Matthew constructed his Gospel in two parts: the body of the work (1:1-25:46) and the Passion-Resurrection narrative (26:1-28:28). The body consists of a five step chiasmus; each step contains a narrative portion and a discourse. The first step addressed the origins of the Messiah and the community, along with a discourse on lifestyle within the community; the fifth climaxed with the Temple ministry and the discourse on the end times. The middle steps instructed the missionary how to evangelize and the community how to live. The highest step included discussions on the place of the disciple in the hostile world and a parable discourse about such troubles.
In all, the body of Matthew's Gospel not only introduced the Christ to a believing Jewish community, it also addressed the struggles Jewish Christians faced in a hostile environment.
A. Step A1: Origins
B. First Discourse: Halakhah and Spirituality of Jewish Christians (5:1-7:28)
C. Step B1: Miracles Cycles (8:1-9:35)
D. Second Discourse: Missionary Instructions (10:1-11:1)
E. Step C: Place of the Disciple in a Hostile World (11:2-12:50)
F. Third Discourse: Parables (13:1-52)
G. Step B2: Jesus as the Christ (13:53-17:27)
H. Fourth Discourse: Community Instructions (18:1-19:1)
I. Step A2: Extended Jerusalem Ministry
J. Fifth Discourse: On the Eschaton (23:1-25:46)
K. Passion and Resurrection (26:1-28:28)
III. Synopsis and Commentary
The parts of Matthew's gospel will be denoted by square brackets: [Mt] for passages exclusive to Matthew, [Q] for those in the "Q" source, [M x:xx, L x:xx, J x:xx] for those found in the other gospels (in order, Mark, Luke then John) and finally [Mark-Q overlap].
A. Origins: Step A1
1. Infancy Narrative (1:1-2:23)
a. Genealogy (1:1-17) [Mt]
Matthew's gospel began with his title: The book of generations of JESUS CHRIST, son of David, son of Abraham (Mt 1:1). Whether title referred to the following genealogy, acted as shorthand for the events that genealogy represented or worked simply as a title for the gospel remains unclear. It could be all three. Nevertheless, the verse emphasized the relationship Jesus had with his kinfolk. Implicitly, he was a faithful Jew and inherited the promises God made to Abraham and David. The Nazarene fulfilled the covenant YHWH established with the Patriarch and the great King.
The evangelist constructed his genealogy symmetrically based upon the number "7." It represented fullness and completion. Any multiples of the number carried that meaning. So, the distance from Abraham to David was fourteen generations (Mt 1:2-6); it repeated the same number between David and the Babylonian exile (Mt 1:6-11); the same between the exile and the birth of Jesus (Mt 1:12-16). In constructing the list this way, Matthew emphasized the perfection of divine providence (Mt 1:17). With hindsight, the believer could see God sent his Messiah at the right time in salvation history.
The genealogy mentioned many male figures who had an impact on Judaism's history. But it also listed three women of dubious morality: Tamar (Mt 1:3, Gen 38), Rahab (Mt 1:5 by name association, Jos 2), Ruth (Mt 1:5, Ruth 3); these characters used their sexuality to advance their interests and that of Israeli history. A fourth woman, the "wife of Uriah" was included, possibly a victim of rape (Bathsheba; 1 Kgs 1, 1 Kng 2; 2 Sam 11, 2 Sam 12). Matthew included these names for several reasons. First, he noted sin was part of the nation's history so the Chosen People themselves needed redemption. Second, although ancient Semites considered women the "weaker sex" both physically and morally, they, too, were worthy of salvation. Third, God's plans worked in mysterious ways, even in events that caused shame; this foreshadowed the shameful demise of Jesus.
b. Birth of the Christ (1:18-25) [Mt]
Matthew related the story of Jesus' birth as an act of the Spirit that resulted in a virgin birth (Mt 1:18, 20). He needed to explain that short credal statement in terms Jewish-Christians could understand. He did this in three ways: dream revelation (Mt 1:20), voice of God through an angel (Mt 1:20-21) and the fulfillment of prophecy (Mt 1:22-23). When he wrote Joseph received the dream revelation, he echoed the charism of the famous interpreter of dreams, Joseph (Gen 37:5-11, Gen 40:7-22, Gen 41:1-40). He described this message in terms of later apocalyptic literature through the voice of an angel (Gabriel in Dan 8:15-27, Dan 9:20-27; Raphael in Tobit 12:5-20). And he cited Isa 7:14 combined with Psa 130:8 as the fulfillment of prophecy found in the Hebrew Scriptures. While Matthew did quote Isaiah from a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (Septuagint) and shifted the pronoun from "you" ("you will call him...") to "they" ("they will call him..."), he cited Scripture as a means to support the beliefs of his community.
In the experience, according to Matthew, Joseph shifted from a reluctance to marry (Mt 1:19) to acceptance (Mt 1:24-25). And he gave his adopted son the name "Jesus," the Greek version of "Joshua" which meant "God saves."
c. The Magi (2:1-12) [Mt]
by Jan Joest
After Matthew established Jesus' place in Jewish history as the legitimate Messiah, he shifted from a parochial sense of salvation to a universal level. The visit of the Magi represented a far larger class of pagans than Roman or Greek Gentiles. These were Parthian astrologers who studied the night sky for signs of divine revelation. Astrology had its roots in ancient Mesopotamia and moved west into Greek and eventually Roman cultures. The Magi served the royal court as advisers to the king; hence they wielded power.
Protocol demanded these officials report to the political authorities in order to insure their safety (Mt 2:1). Here, they arrived to find a king greater than any they had encountered, based upon their study (Mt 2:2). Of course, this upset the ruthless Herod who had gained his throne through slavish allegiance to Rome (Mt 2:3).
At this point, the reader might ask: why didn't Herod eject them from his court and send them home? There are two reasons. First, Parthia represented a threatening power on the eastern border of the Empire. In 40-37 BCE, their forces drove deep into the eastern Mediterranean basin and established a vassal kingdom in Judea. However, a quick Roman counter offensive pushed them out of the area; then the Senate named Herod as "King of the Jews." Herod could not dismiss the Magi out of hand without facing consequences of Roman displeasure or war with a foreign power. He was stuck in the middle.
Second, who was this great king the Magi announced? Matthew answered the question of birthplace by combining Micah 5:2 and 2 Sam 5:2 (Mt 2:5-6). But, notice who cited the Scripture: the religious leadership in Jerusalem (Mt 2:4). They and Herod could not see the signs that brought the Magi to Jerusalem (the "star in the East" in Mt 2:2). Matthew would infer their blindness later as hypocrisy. The leaders would later deny what they pronounced out of their own mouths.
To placate his visitors and find this new King they proclaimed, Herod lied to the Magi. After finding the meaning of the sign (appearance of the star). he sent them on their quest to find the child so he, too, could honor the new King (Mt 2:7-8). His duplicity would become apparent in the slaughter of the innocents (Mt 2:16).
But, for now, the Magi followed their sign to the place where Jesus lived (Mt 2:9-10). Overjoyed with the end of their quest, they paid homage with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Mt 2:11). While much has been written on the meaning of the gifts, we should note they were offerings of riches suitable for a very powerful figure. After their visit, they received divine instructions to return home a different way through a dream (Mt 2:12). Note they received revelation just like Joseph; implicitly, the religious leaders did not. Indeed, the leaders could not see the sign ("star") that brought the Magi on their search.
The problem of sight brings us back to the question: what did the "star" mean? Before the Renaissance, common people considered the movement of stars and planets directed by divine will. After Copernicus and Galileo, scientists discovered that laws of nature, not divine edict, determined the paths of the heavenly bodies. Since the sixteenth century, many have speculated about the "star" as an event of astronomy. This line of reasoning, however, replaced the event with its deeper significance. It was a vehicle of divine revelation. Through the sign, God invited the Magi to seek out the Christ child in a way they could understand: astrology. Matthew used this fact to implicitly fulfill Isa 60:1-6. Salvation for all meant revelation for all.
d. Flight into Egypt and Herod's Slaughter (2:13-23) [M]
The Flight to Egypt
Matthew injected a transition between the Magi passage and the slaughter of the innocents with two themes: dream revelation (Mt. 2:13-14) and the fulfillment of Scripture (Mt 2:15). An angel told Joseph to take his family and flee to Egypt until Herod died. In this way, the babe represented Judah and his clan migrating; his return would echo the Exodus, summed up in Hosea 11:1.
The evangelist returned to the duplicitous Herod who felt snubbed by the Magi. He lashed out in anger and order the wholesale murder of all the young boys in the area (Mt 2:16). Besides this verse in Matthew, no other evidence exists that such a brutal act ever happened, but the slaughter does resonate with the personality of Herod. He was an evil man. So, Matthew reported the event as a fulfillment of Jer 31:15 (Mt 2:17-18).
After the death of Herod, Joseph received another message in a dream to return (Mt. 2:19-21). However, considering the ill reputation of Herod's son, Archelaus, Joseph settled his family in Nazareth (Mt 2:22-23). "...he will be called a Nazarene..." can not be found anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, so its place is a matter of speculation.
When we overview Matthew's Infancy Narrative, we can see the evangelist's concerns for dream revelation and the fulfillment of Scripture. Four times, an angel spoke to believers: three times to Joseph, once to the Magi. If the "Nazarene" comment in 2:23 was included, Matthew cited five Scripture passages. With the introduction of the adult Jesus in chapter three, the need for dream revelation fell to the wayside. Revelation came directly from the words of the Christ. But the need to explain the gospel by citing the Holy Book will continue.
2. Early Ministry of Jesus
Matthew chapters 3-4 marked the transition from Jesus' private life to his public ministry. It began with the person of the Baptist, continued with his baptism by John, his Temptation in the desert, his move to Capernaum and, finally ended with his call of the first disciples. Three qualities marked his arrival on the scene. He adopted John's apocalyptic message ("Repent! The Kingdom is near.") He preached in the synagogues of Galilee. And he exercised his ministry as a folk healer. All three grew his reputation to regional proportions.
a. John the Baptist (3:1-12)
[M 1:3-5] Matthew introduced John the Baptist with his message of repentance and the immanence of the Kingdom (Mt 3:1-2, Mk 1:4, Lk 3:3). He justified the Baptist's ministry with a quote from Isa 40:3 (Mt 3:3, Mk 1:3, Lk 3:4). This verse pinpointed the place of the Baptist's ministry: the desert.
John was a wilderness survivalist. He dressed in camel hair and ate foods of the land (Mt 3:4, Mk 1:6) He drew an audience from Judea and along the Jordan road that connected Jerusalem with Damascus (Mt 3:5, Mk 1:5). His audience responded with a baptism while confessing their sins (Mt 3:6, Mk 1:4).
John's ministry was unique. He adapted the mikveh bath and inserted himself as an intermediary. From the time of Jesus to present times, the mikveh immersion merely "cleansed the pollution" of daily life from the Jew and prepared him or her for the presence of YHWH. John shifted that notion. The baptized prepared to enter the Kingdom. Thus, the immersion was a singular event in the life of the penitent. Unlike the mikveh which was practiced on an individual level, his baptism was a communal event.
John also acted as a mediator between the sinner and the divine. He represented God to the baptized and that person to God. In doing so, he created a "baptism of repentance" that his followers emulated. As a result, a community of disciples developed that outlasted his death and spread in the eastern Mediterranean basin (see Acts 18:24-26, Acts 19:1-7).
[Q 3:7-9] Matthew integrated John's harsh critique of the religious leaders from Jerusalem. He inferred their evil origin ("children of snakes;" see Gen 3:1, Gen 3:14-15). Then, he charged them with spiritual complacency. They depended upon their place as "sons of Abraham" to justify their place among the Chosen, but they did not heed, much less practice, the words of the prophets. They did not reform, hence they would suffer condemnation ("trees cut down and cast into the fire;" Mt 3:7-10, Lk 3:7-9).
[M 1:7-8, Q 3:16] John then defined his ministry and his place viz-a-viz the coming Messiah. He baptized with water but he was unworthy to serve the future Christ. For that mighty leader would baptize with the Spirit (Mk 1:7-8; Mt 3:11 and Lk 3:16 included "and fire" to the verse).
[Q 3:17] In Mt 3:12 and Lk 3:17, John added a harvest metaphor to the ministry of the coming Messiah. The Christ would separate the good from the evil like a harvester would shovel wheat into the air on a threshing platform (which was located on the side of a hill). The breeze at the top of the hill would blow the light chaff to the side while the heavier grain would fall back onto the platform. The harvester would shovel up the grain over and over; this implied the ministry of the Messiah would shake up the populace, even produce violence. After the stress-filled times, the Christ would gather the saved ("into his barn") while condemning the unfaithful ("chaff burned in an unquenchable fire").
b. Baptism of Jesus (3:13-17)
The Baptism of Jesus
[M 1:9-11] All the Synoptic gospels described a seminal event in the life of Jesus: his baptism. Only in Matthew did John object his baptism of the greater. But Jesus insisted the act would "fulfill all righteousness" (in other words, the divine will; Mt 3:13-15). Then, John baptized Jesus. When the Nazarene emerged from the water, he witnessed the heavens rent open (representing the unity of heaven and earth), the descent of the Spirit upon him and the heavenly voice that approved of his "beloved Son" and his offspring's mission (Mt 3:16-17, Mk 9-11, Lk 3:21-22). Note the appearance of the three persons/realities that would later form the doctrine of the Trinity (see Mt 28:19).
c. The Temptation (4:1-11)
[M 1:11-12, Q 4:2-13] Matthew and Luke expanded Mk 1:11-12. In their version, Satan tempted Jesus with three distinct attractions: turn stones into bread (Mt 4:3-4, Lk 4:3-4), jump off Temple roof (Mt 4:5-7, Lk 4:9-12) and rule all the nations (Mt 4:8-10, Lk 4:5-8).
When the devil enticed the hungry Jesus to transform stones into bread, the Evil One tempted him to become the "Great Provider." Just as the Empire fed the people of Rome with bread and pagan religious festivals passed out free meat to the poor of a city, people looked to their leaders for physical sustenance. This created a dependency mentality among the populace. When Jesus rejected that logic, he quoted Deu 8:3; the believer's need for YHWH outstripped any physical hunger.
When Satan tempted Jesus to jump off the roof of the Temple, he quoted Psa 91:11-12. This hymn stated a faithful leader (king in the Davidic line?) enjoyed divine protection (Psa 91:1-4), especially in time of battle (Psa 91:5-7). The palace would be a place of peace (Psa 91:9-10). The angels would support the leader like servants would carry a Persian potentate throughout his capital in his royal litter (Psa 91:11-12). So, the devil not only enticed the Nazarene to produce a public act of great power, the Evil One framed the Messiah in images of the psalm: the warrior leader. Jesus rejected the test by quoting Deu 6:16. Note the quote from the Torah superseded the psalm verse, both in priority and theological weight.
Finally, Satan dangled the power of the nations before Jesus. The devil offered the Nazarene the seat of Caesar, the pagan "king of kings." The only thing required of Jesus was paganism; he would worship the false idols which Jews and early Christians considered demons in disguise. Jesus dismissed the Evil One with Deu 6:13.
Jesus rejected the image of the Messiah as the Great Provider, the superhuman Temple leader or the new Caesar. Yet, on his own terms, he fulfilled those roles. He multiplied the loaves and fishes for the hungry (Mt 14:13-21, Mt 15:32-39, Mk 6:31-44, Mk 8:1-9, Lk 9:12-17, Jn 6:1-14). He challenged the leaders for supremacy when he cleansed the Temple (Mt 21:12-17, Mk 11:15-19, Lk 19:45-48, Jn 2:13-16). The early Church declared the Risen Lord as the "King of kings" (Rev 17:14, Rev 19:16).
A last note. Matthew and Luke tracked each other thematically but they quoted Scripture word-for-word. Both evangelists used the Greek translation known as the Septuagint.
d. Message and the Fulfillment of Scripture (4:12-17)
[Mt] Matthew presented the emergence of Jesus through the lens of Scripture. He moved from his hometown of Nazareth to his ministry hub in Capernaum (Mt 4:12-13). Thus, the evangelist quoted Isa 9:1-2 (Mt 4:14-16); the Christ would give "light" to a region "darkened" by the ethnic cleansing that the northern kingdom Israel suffered at the hands of the Assyrians 600 years before.
[M 1:14-15] Mt 4:17 and Mk 1:15 recorded the initial message of Jesus: "Repent! The Kingdom is at hand."
e. The First Disciples (4:18-25)
[M 1:16-20] Matthew paralleled Mark's call of the earliest disciples. These were two sets of brothers: Simon Peter and Andrew, John and James. In the periscope, Jesus approached Simon and Andrew first with the invitation to "fish for men" (Mt 4:18-19, Mk 1:16-18, Lk 5:10). Then, he called the sons of Zebedee (Mt 4:20-21, Mk 1:19). In both cases, the sets of brothers "immediately" followed the Nazarene (Mt 4:20, Mt 4:22, Mk 1:18, Mk 1:20).
[M 1:39, 3:7] After gathering his core community, Jesus established his ministry of message and healing. He preached in the synagogues throughout Galilee. Along the way, he restored the infirm to wholeness (Mt 4:23, Mk 1:39, Lk 4:37, Lk 4:44). Responding to his growing reputation, the people brought their ill to the Nazarene for healing (Mt 4:24). He created a regional following that stretched from around Galilee, the Sea of Galilee, Judea and the Jordan valley (Mt 4:25, Mk 3:7). Note that the crowds included both Jews and Gentiles (from the pagan area of the Decapolis).
B. First Discourse:
Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:28)
1. Beatitudes (5:1-12)
The Sermon on the Mount
by Carl Boch
Matthew adapted the blessings found in the Q source. He shifted the emphasis from socioeconomic conditions to the spirituality of the individual believer. He also expanded the blessings.
The term "blessed" (in Greek, "makarios") can also be translated as "happy" or "fortunate." What tied all these meaning together? The presence of God. The term "blessed" implied a theological passive. The believer was blessed, but who blessed him? God. As a result, the believer was happy and fortunate. Note, the believer's disposition depended upon divine initiative.
[Mt] Matthew opened the scene with Jesus climbing a mountain (Mt 5:1), like Moses who ascended the heights to receive divine revelation (see Exo 24:1-2, Exo 24:9-18). Then, the Nazarene sat down, assuming the ancient position of the teacher with his disciples at his feet (Mt 5:2). The position echoed that of the Scripture commentator took on the "seat of Moses" in the synagogue (see Mt 23:2). Then he began to teach the Beatitudes, blessings on those who deferred immediate gratification for future fulfillment.
[Q 6:20, GTh54] The first beatitude promised the Kingdom to the common folk. Matthew changed Lk 6:20 from the second person possessive ("yours") to the third person ("theirs"). He also added the phrase "in spirit" (Mt 5:3; see Isa 27:15, Isa 66:2). In doing so, he expanded his audience beyond the immediate reader to all the humble.
[Q 6:21b] The second beatitude addressed mourners who would receive divine comfort (Mt 5:4). Here, Matthew shifted the Q's emphasis from crying to laughter (Lk 6:21) to one of grieving. Funerals were a common occurrence in the ancient world. People faced disease, famine and natural upheavals, as well as political oppression and prejudice, on an ongoing basis. Death was in the air. Naturally, they yearned for God's reassurance in the face of so much darkness (see Isa 61:2, Isa 66:10-13).
[Mt] Matthew's third beatitude said the meek would inherit the earth (Mt 5:5). The term "meek" did not mean weak or timid. The original word Matthew used was "praus" which meant "self-control." The "praus" were centered. They balanced their various passions and directed them towards a goal. They accepted whatever life sent them. But, above all, they focused on God and his will in their lives. These were the true inheritors of the divine promises (the Promised Land; see Gen 26:3, Gen 28:13, Num 34:1-12, Deu 19:8-9).
[Q 6:21a, GTh 69b] The next beatitude promised food for the hungry. But, again, Matthew expanded the Q verse (Lk 6:21) from bodily needs to the desire for true piety (Mt 5:6). Now, instead of mere hunger, the yearning for a right relationship with God would be satiated. Those who desired life with God would live with the Almighty.
[Mt] In Matthew's next three beatitudes, he presented three virtues that led to the Kingdom. In Mt 5:7, he inferred divine reciprocity for acts of mercy. To receive God's mercy demanded mercy for others. In Mt 5:8, those who resisted diversions in life and maintained a spiritual focus on God ("pure in heart") would experience the divine ("see God"). In 5:9, those who restored wholeness in people's lives ("peacemakers") would have a special relationship with the Almighty ("sons of God"). Peace in this sense meant more than a cessation of hostilities but true reconciliation between people. The peacemaker brought enemies together. Notice the three virtues promoted a healthy spiritual life. Mercy, a lazer-like focus on God and a desire to seek the good of others shifted the believer away from the affairs of the self.
[Q 6:22-23, GTh 68] Matthew edited the final beatitude about persecution. Lk 6:22 detailed the means of oppression while Mt 5:11 streamlined the verse; both implied evangelization was the cause of the opposition by others. Mt 5:12 did the same to Lk 5:23. Persecution was a reason to rejoice, for it promised a heavenly reward. However, Matthew left out the phrase "For in the same way, their fathers did to the prophets."
2. Parables of Salt and Light (5:13-16)
[M 9:49-50] All three Synoptic gospels recorded the parable of salt (Mt 5:13, Mk 9:49-50, Lk 14:34-35). Jesus compared his disciple to salt deposits found in nature ("You are the salt of the earth"). Some scholars point to the salt pillars that formed with water evaporation around the shore of the Dead Sea (see Gen 19:26, Lk 17:32). They speculate villagers in the area would harvest one of these pillars as a community source of salt. They used the salt to preserve meat and fish. They also used it in their ovens as a means to evenly distribute heat. When the villagers could no longer scoop out pure salt from the pillar, they spread the remaining "dirty" salt on the hamlet road to harden it for the rainy season ("trampled under the foot").
[M 4:21, GTh 32, 33b] The Synoptics also recorded the parable of light (Mt 5:14-16, Mk 4:21, Lk 8:16). Jesus compared his followers to light in a dark world. He extended the analogy to a city on a hill (Mt 5:14) and lamp on a stand (Mt 5:15). Both cast light in their environments. Clearly, the analogy of light referred to the example his disciples gave to those in their circle. Jesus expected his followers to act in a way that caused others to praise God (Mt 5:16).
3. Matthew's Halakhah
a. Preamble: Fulfill the Law (5:17-20)
[Mt] Matthew began his halakhah (application of the Torah to everyday life) with a declaration. Early critics of the Jesus movement maintained the Nazarene and his follower (especially Paul) wanted to destroy the Torah. In Mt 5:17, Jesus asserted he came to fulfill, not destroy the Law.
Yet, the notion of fulfillment had no lack of controversy. Psa 19:7-10 held the Law was perfect (see Lev 11:45) and implied it was self-explanatory. Yet, the Essene community looked forward to the final authority of its interpretation (the "Teacher of Righteousness" in CD 1:4-12). While the Law in itself was perfect, those who read the Scriptures knew some passages required proper explanation so they could apply these verses to daily life. Practical needs required guidance.
In Matthew, Jesus saw himself as such a Scripture authority. Here, fulfillment meant proper interpretation which Jesus would provide in the following verses.
[Q 16:17] Mt 5:18 and Lk 16:17 stressed the permanence of the Torah (see Isa 40:8) even in the smallest command ("iota and serif"), even up to and beyond the Day of YHWH. Again, notice the need to fulfill ("all things are accomplished.")
[Mt] Jesus shifted to the quality of teaching (Mt 5:19). The lazy instructor who caused minor scandal by his example would still enter the Kingdom, but he would lack standing. The consistent teacher who led by example would have a great reputation before God. Note, Jesus did not compare the lax with the strict but the inconsistent with the consistent. Word and deed should go hand in hand.
[Mt] Jesus insisted that, in order to enter the Kingdom, Jewish Christians needed to live out the Torah more faithfully than their opponents ("scribes and Pharisees" in Mt 5:20). This did not mean a stricter observance but a more authentic one. In other words, they should keep an eye towards the spirit of the Law not merely an effort to "build a fence around" the Torah.
b. Interpretation of the Fifth Commandment (5:21-26)
[Mt] In Matthew, Jesus began his commentary on the commandment against murder (Mt 5:21; see Exo 20:13, Deu 5:16). He repeated the command with a popular saying that had the same meaning. Then, he warned his followers about judgment for angry insults. The term "Raca" meant "worthless." Imported directly from Aramaic, it questioned the place of the person in society. The term "fool" cut even deeper. In the light of Psa 14:1, it challenged the piety of the insulted. Taken together, both terms encouraged the listener shun the insulted. With so serious a result, no wonder Jesus compared the fate of the accuser with standing before the Sanhedrin ("Raca") or eternal condemnation ("fool"; Mt 5:22).
Gehenna initially referred to the Hinnom valley where a few Judean kings sacrificed their children by fire to idols (2 Kings 23:10). Soon, the faithful looked upon it as the place of the cursed (Jer 7:31, Jer 19:2-6). The "fires of Gehenna" eventually became a code phrase for Hell.
[Q 12:57-59] Matthew continued his theme with a passage from the Q source. In the light of one's own judgment, what should a sinner do? Reconcile before the court appearance. In this case, Jesus shifted the proceedings from the Sanhedrin to a debtor's tribunal; unlike eternal condemnation ("fires of Gehanna"), the imprisoned had the possibility of repayment (Mt 5:25-26, Lk 12:57-59). The lepton (Greek coin in Lk 12:59) and the quadrans (Latin coin in Mt 5:26) were the smallest denominations in circulation.
c. Interpretation of the Sixth Commandment (5:27-30)
[Mt] In Matthew, Jesus turned his sights on the prohibition against adultery (Mt 5:27; see Exo 20:14, Deu 5:16). But like his interpretation of the Fifth Commandment, he stressed intent over action. Just entertaining the thought of lust broke the edict (Mt 5:28).
[M 9:43-47; see Gth 22c] Jesus shifted from the sin to its prevention. Speaking in hyperbole, he stressed activities to avoid temptation; he did not encourage self-mutilation. The one tempted should look away (Mt 5:29, Mk 9:47) or turn away (Mt 5:30, Mk 9:43). However, the hyperbole turned the notion of Jewish holiness on its head. Lev 21:17-20 forbade the lame, the blind or the deformed from serving as a Aaronic priest. By extension, only the whole could approach YHWH in worship. Yet, Jesus envisioned the blind, the crippled and the lame more worthy of entering the Kingdom than the unrepentant sinner.
d. Interpretation of Biblical Duties
1) Divorce (5:31-32)
[Mt] Jesus addressed the social institution of divorce which was allowed under the Mosaic Law (Mt 5:31; see Deu 24:1).
[M 10:11] However, he forbade divorce, equating it to adultery (Mt 5:32, Mk 10:11, Lk 16:18). Jesus took this strict stance for several possible reasons. First, divorce undercut faithfulness to a spouse and thus encouraged thoughts of adultery. Second, it placed the divorced wife in an untenable position. She either returned to her own kin in possible shame. Or rejected by her family, she lived homeless and was even forced into a life of prostitution. In either case, she might have to care for her children if her former husband repudiated his own offspring.
2) Vows (5:33-37)
[Mt] Next, Jesus addressed the problem of swearing an oath (Mt 5:33). The Torah allowed for oaths but insisted upon consistent follow through (see Num 30:2, Deu 23:21, Ecc 5:4). But, a Jew might swear by heaven (Mt 5:34) or by the earth or by Jerusalem (Mt 5:35) or by the hair on his own head (Mt 5:36) in order to defend a statement and, by extension, his reputation. Yet, these oaths had no follow through, thus lacked any real meaning. Instead, they might verge on blasphemy since heaven, the earth, Jerusalem and even one's own hair belonged to the Almighty. So, Jesus dissuaded his followers from swearing any oath. Instead, their "yes" or "no" should be enough (Mt 5:37).
3) Justice (Exo 21:24; 5:38-42)
[Mt] In Matthew, Jesus introduced the subject of justice with the principle of limited retribution (Mt 5:38). To avoid the escalation of clan feuds, Exo 21:24 limited calls for justice to what was lost but no more.
[Q 6:29] Here, Jesus shifted the principle from a question of limits to a question of giving. If a believer lost in court, for example, he should not only suffer the punishment ("slap on the cheek"), not only give what was demanded ("the tunic") but offer more (Mt 5:39-40, Lk 6:29-30).
[Mt] The same principle applied to Roman conscription of non-citizens (carry supplies for imperial soldiers one mile; Mt 5:41).
[Q 6:30] The principle also included those who borrowed material goods (Mt 5:42, Lk 6:30).
4) Loyalty to Neighbor (5:43-48)
[Mt] In Matthew, Jesus invoked Lev 19:18 and a popular attitude that limited the command's reach. "Love you neighbor, but hate your enemy" merely encouraged xenophobia (Mt 5:43).
[Q 6:27-28, 35] Jesus expanded the Torah injunction to all people, even opponents . He encouraged the faithful to merge that attitude into outreach and prayer (Mt 5:44, Lk 6:27-28). He also portrayed equal treatment of friends and enemies with divine providence (Mt 5:45, Lk 6:35).
[Q 6:32-34, 36] Jesus implicitly questioned the effectiveness of charity limited to one's social circle. Through a set of rhetorical questions, he pictured limited outreach as ineffective in evangelization. If disciples could not "step outside of their comfort zones" to serve others, what good was their efforts? They would rank no better than outsiders (Mt 5:46-47). Pagans were not the measure of morality and piety; God the Father was (Mt 5:48, Lk 6:36).
4. Popular Spiritual Practices
In this section, Jesus clearly differentiated reasons for spiritual practices. What took priority: intent or behavior? A relationship with God or a burnished reputation before others? Of course, he painted his opponents as caricatures but to make a point. Mere behavior did not suffice in spiritual matters.
a. Almsgiving (6:1-4)
[Mt] Jesus began his commentary on popular spiritual practices with almsgiving. People contributed to the poor. But what was the reason for their motivation? To look good in front of their neighbors (Mt 6:1)? Of course, he condemned such reasoning. But, what did he mean by the phrase "blow trumpets in front of you" (Mt 6:2)? There were a few parallels. The pagan rich would announce their civic beneficence with great fanfare when they made gifts of infrastructure improvements. Some scholars speculate trumpets would blast from towers in Jerusalem to mark times for Jews to pray and give charity at the Temple. But, no evidence existed for a charity parade, especially among Jews on the streets or in the synagogue. Was Jesus simply mixing metaphors?
[GTh 62c] In light of the previous image, Jesus set forth his principle. Give charity privately. So quietly should one be that his friends didn't know his activity (Mt 6:3-4). The words "left" and "right" didn't merely refer to hands but to those at the left and the right (best friends). Thus, one's confidants would not know what a believer did, only God knew.
b. Prayer and the Our Father (6:5-15)
[Mt] In this passage, Jesus first addressed his religious opponents. And he used the same principle against them: intent over mere behavior for effect. Instead of praying in public to increase one's reputation, pray in private (Mt 6:5-6). Note the audience of Jesus, the poor. At best, they lived in one room homes; the "inner room" was a pantry cabinet which could not fit an adult. Here, Jesus used hyperbole to make his point.
Next, Jesus turned his attention to pagan piety. Worship of the gods was based upon reciprocity. Say the right incantation or sacrifice the right animal to appease the gods and they would grant the supplicants request. This "quid pro quo" mentality required constant entreating for divine help. Jesus chided the pagans for their mindless repetition to gain the desired result. He insisted his disciples should not follow their example (Mt 6:7-8).
[M 11:25, Q 11:2-4] With the two competing prayer examples out of the way, Jesus could introduce his own prayer (Mt 6:9-13, Mk 11:25, Lk 11:2-4) as an example of his spirituality. Like the Beatitudes (Mt 5:2-12, Lk 6:20-23), Matthew expanded the prayer found in the Q source by adding two petitions:
"your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt 6:10)
"rescue us from (the) Evil (One)" (Mt 6:13)
Like the Q source, the "Lord's Prayer" could speak to present needs but more likely addressed petitions for the end times. At that future event, the Kingdom would arrive, bread would feed the needs of the faithful, transgressions would be pardoned and followers would not face the full force of the Tribulation.
[Mt] If Christian reciprocity existed in prayer, it resided in the petition for mercy. Divine forgiveness depended upon social reconciliation. God would withhold his mercy if a believer did the same with his neighbor (Mt 6:14-15).
c. Fasting (6:16-18)
[Mt] Jesus returned to the competing goals of spiritual practice: intent vs. behavior for effect. Those who fasted for show dressed the part, so they received the attention they craved (Mt 6:16). Christians, however, should wash their face and prepare for the day as usual ("anoint their heads") in order to hide their fasting (Mt 6:17). Pleasing God, not a bragging right, was the goal of the spiritual practice (Mt 6:18).
5. Spiritual Attitudes
a. Possessions (6:19-21)
[Q 12:33-34] Matthew derived this passage from the Q source. It addressed the need for detachment from temporal possessions and attachment to spiritual (heavenly) values (Mt 6:19-20, 12:33). Jesus identified the heart as the focal point of one's priorities (Mt 6:21, Lk 12:34).
b. Sight (6:22-23)
[Q 11:34-36 GTh 24b] Jesus employed two different analogies for the eye, as a lamp (inward) and as a window (outward). The eye allowed light inward, thus "illuminating" the religious and moral way for the believer (Mt 6:22, Lk 11:36). But the eye could also reveal inner thoughts outward through a nasty look that showed evil intent (Mt 6:23, Lk 44:34-35).
c. Anxiety (6:24-34)
[Q 16:13] Jesus used a proverb about split priorities as a preamble for his teaching on anxiety. One could not desire both God and wealth. Here, he implied the servant had the power to choose the master (Mt 6:24, Lk 16:13).
[Q 12:22-31 GTh 36] If the disciples chose God, Jesus said, they should envision the bigger picture. Life was more than food or drink or clothing (Mt 6:25, Lk 12:22-23). He used two images to make his point: birds of the air (food and drink in Mt 6:26, Lk 12:24) and lilies of the fields (clothing in Mt 6:28-30, Lk 12:27-28). In the former case, he added a truism; worry was useless (Mt 6:27, Lk 12:25). He even portrayed anxiety as a pagan vice; believers, unlike the Gentiles, put their trust in divine providence (Mt 6:31-32, Lk 12:29-30). Hence, the priority of the disciple should be the Kingdom first, then the needs of the day (Mt 6:33-34, Lk 12:31).
d. Judgment and Wisdom (7:1-6)
[M 4:24-25, Q 6:37-38] Jesus followed his teaching on the anxiety with the parable of the measure (Mt 7:1-2, Mk 4:24-25, Lk 6:37-38). He compared judgment and mercy with grain distribution. Women of a hamlet would gather up their mantle around the waist to form a pocket. A village elder would pour a grain ration into the mantle pocket for her immediate family. Jesus implied this distribution as an analogy for the reciprocity of mercy (see Mt 6:14-15).
[Mt, GTh 26] Jesus continued his teaching on mercy with the parable of the beam (Mt 7:3-5). Many scholars consider this image an absurd joke on the part of the Nazarene. Critics chastised others for the smallest of faults (sprinter in the eye), yet they were blind to their own shortcomings (beam in the eye). Of course, their lack of self-awareness laid them open to the charge of hypocrisy.
e. Proper Prayer Petitions (7:7-11)
[Mt, GTh 93] Jesus began his brief remarks on prayer with a proverb. Don't mingle the holy with the unholy, the clean with the unclean (Mt 7:6). Obviously this saying ran counter to Jesus's ministry among the outcast and sinners. So, what did it really mean? Don't act two-faced. To invoke an American proverb, "Don't party on Saturday night, then act righteous at church on Sunday morning." The Christian might share fellowship with the sinner but that did not mean he or she should emulate the immoral. In the same light, one shouldn't claim to be a disciple yet abandon prayer.
[Q 11:9-13, GTh 94] To address the latter point, Jesus encouraged the efficacy of prayer ("ask..seek...knock" in Mt 7:7, Lk 11:9). He continued in that vein with the parable of the loving father. Such a man would not try to fool his son when he asked for a barley loaf (that looked like a large river stone) or an egg (a balled up scorpion) or long slender fish (a snake look alike; Mt 4:9-10). Certainly, a pagan father would not treat his offspring in such a manner. Thus, prayer had results especially when it asked for "good things" from the heavenly Father (Mt 7:11). We can only assume a disciple would petition for spiritual gifts (charisms).
6. Temptations of Discipleship
a. Warning (7:12-14)
[Q 6:31] Jesus set forth the so-called "Golden Rule," an ethics based upon reciprocity. Treat others the way the person wanted to be treated. This command summed up the ethics of the Hebrew Scriptures ("the Law and the Prophets"; Mt 7:12, Lk 6:31).
[Q 13:24-27] How hard was it to treat others as equal to the self? Mt 7:13-14 framed the parable of the narrow gate in this light. Lk 13:24 placed in the context of entry into the Kingdom. In Matthew, Jesus equated the ethics of equity with salvation. Implicitly, believers should treat each other and outsides in the same way God addressed all humanity.
b. False Prophets (7:15-20)
[Mt] On the heels of his warning ("narrow gate"), Jesus added the caveat against false prophets. He compared them to "wolves in sheep's' clothing" (Mt 7:15)
[Q 6:43-44, GTh 45] Jesus continued with the analogies with a parable on fruit (Mt 7:16-19, Lk 6:43-44). Just as the quality of the fruit depended upon the quality of the vine or tree that produced it, the implicit quality of human action depended upon the moral compass of the person. Here, Jesus also implied the person prophesying in the community should be judged by his words and deeds. If he was found wanting, the community should condemn him thus foreshadowing his eternal damnation at the end of time ("...cut down and thrown into the fire").
[Mt] In Mt 7:20, Jesus made his point explicit. Prophets within the community will eventually reveal their true intent ("fruit").
c. Lazy Discipleship (7:21-23)
[Q 6:46] Jesus turned to the one who claimed to be a disciple ("Lord, Lord") but didn't live out the message ("will of the Father"). They would not enter the Kingdom (Mt 7:21, Lk 6:46).
[Mt] He extended the discrepancy between claiming and doing to charisms (Mt 7:22-23). Even those who performed might acts in the name of God but did not have a lifestyle consistent with the message would face damnation.
7. Conclusion: Parable of House Builders (7:24-29)
[Q 6:47-49] In the parable of the house builders (Mt 7:24-27, Lk 6:47-49), he described the conditions of the arid deserts to the east of the Mediterranean plane. Rain fall, even in season, was sporadic; downpours, however, could be torrential causing floods. He compared the believer who lived out his faith commitment to the builder who constructed his house on solid bedrock beneath the shifting desert sands. Then, he compared the self proclaimed believer who did not live out the message to the builder who constructed his house on the sand itself; without a firm foundation, his house would collapse under the deluge. The moral? Faith demanded not only assent but commitment.
[M 1:22] Matthew finished the Sermon on the Mount with a comment on the crowd's reaction. Jesus taught based upon "his own authority, not as that of the scribes" (Mt 7:28-29, Mk 1:22, Lk 4:32).
Matthew's chapters eight through nine contained three miracle cycles. They were divided by two commentaries: a passage on questionable disciples (8:18-22) and a controversy over fellowship and fasting (9:9-17). The cycles closed with a summary (9:35-38).
1. First Miracle Cycle
a. Cleansing a Leper (8:1-4)
The Healing of the Leper
by James Tissot
[M 1:40-45] All three Synoptic gospels presented the healing of the leper (Mt 8:1-4, Mk 1:40-45, Lk 5:12-16). Matthew artfully created a transition from the Sermon on the Mount to these miracle cycles ("coming down the mountain, the large crowd followed him"; Mt 8:1). Matthew edited the narrative to the request of the leper, the agreement of Jesus and the Lord's instruction to fulfill the dictates of the Law (Mt 8:2-4). The evangelist ignored the disobedience of the cleansed man found in Mk 1:15 and Lk 5:15.
b. Healing Centurion's Servant (8:5-13)
[Q 7:1, 3, 6b-9, 10] The healing of the centurion's servant was one of the few miracles from the Q source (Mt 8:5-13, Lk 7:2-10). The scene was remarkable for two reasons. First, the social status of the centurion and Jesus was reversed. Instead of the oppressor (represented by the soldier) standing over the oppressed (the Jew), the military officer placed himself in the weaker position of seeking help. Yet, second, the centurion insisted upon a "chain of command" logic to the problem. He did not wish to violate kosher by having the Rabbi visit his home. Instead, he urged Jesus to simply give the word to affect the cure just as a commander gave an order and expected it obeyed (Mt 8:8-9, Lk 7:7-8; the Greek wording in these two verses are almost word-for-word). The centurion's insistence spurred Jesus to declare the man's faith superior to that of his fellow Jews.
c. Healing Simon's Mother-in-Law (8:14-17)
[M 1:29-31] The last miracle of this first cycle involved Simon Peter's mother-in-law (Mt 8:14-15, Mk 1:29-31, Lk 4:38-39). Jesus and his few companions entered Peter's home only to find the older woman sick. In Matthew, he simply touched her hand to affect the cure; in Mark, he raised her up; In Luke, he rebuked the fever as if it were a demon. In every case, she served them.
As a mother-in-law, the woman sat near the bottom of the clan's pecking order. She lived in the home at the favor of the patriarch (presumably Peter) and could be turned out as a moment's notice. Her sole job was to serve others in the clan. Hence, her healing not only restored her physical health but her place in the family and, by extension, in society. Psychologically, it restored her sense of purpose in the greater scheme of things; it made her whole.
[M 1:32-34] After he restored Peter's mother-in-law, Jesus was inundated with requests for healing (Mt 8:16, Mk 1:32-34, Lk 4:40-41). The word of his power spread like wild fire. It seemed the entire city brought their sick to his door. While Matthew did not include the detail where Jesus silenced the demons (Mk 1:34, Lk 4:41), he did quote Isa 53:4 to indicate the Nazarene took the diseases of the afflicted upon himself (Mt 8:17).
2. Questionable Disciples (8:18-22)
[Mt] Mt 8:18 marked a change in location from Capernaum to another shore along the Sea of Galilee.
[Q 9:57-60, GTh 86] After the transition in Matthew, Jesus addressed the divided priorities of potential disciples. A scribe pledged blind following, but the Nazarene replied with saying rooted in nature; animals have their homes, but the Son of Man did not since his ministry was mobile (Mt 8:19-20, Lk 9:57-58). Another man tried to excuse himself based upon family loyalty. He wished fulfill his familial obligation to bury his father (the text did not mention whether his relative was alive or dead). Jesus insisted discipleship trumped any ties to the clan; leave family matters to those who obsess over such things (the spiritually "dead"; Mt 8:21-22, Lk 9:59-60).
Note the two types of disciples Jesus addressed: the overly eager and the reluctant. One might find discipleship disappointing when the initial excitement of new faith wore off. The other might just keep making excuses to put off a faith commitment. In both cases, these potential followers might be unreliable.
3. Second Miracle Cycle
a. Rescue from the Storm (8:23-27)
The Calming of the Storm
[M 4:35-41] All three Synoptic gospels recorded the calming of the storm (Mt 8:23-27, Mk 4:35-41, Lk 8:22-25). All three share the same details. Jesus and his disciples sailed on the Sea of Galilee. The Nazarene fell asleep. A wind storm arose (presumably at night when the warm temperature of the water sucked the cooler from the surrounding canyons which caused the violent winds). It nearly capsized the boat they were in. When the disciples panicked, Jesus awoke and calmed the winds. His followers were awestruck.
On a symbolic level, the boat represented the Church, the storm represented opposition and sleeping Jesus represented a feeling of divine distance, even indifference. But, when the Lord did awake, the storm abated. However, this level ignored a deeper truth. Power over the storm indicated the divine presence. Psa 107:23-32 addressed the God's power even over the waters, the most feared arena of nature in the ancient world. So, Jesus implicitly not only possessed the power of God himself; he was the presence of YHWH.
b. Exorcism of Two Demonics (8:28-34)
[M 5:1-20] Matthew edited the exorcism at Gadarenes (Gerasenes in Mk 5:1-20 and Lk 8:26-39). Jesus and his disciples sailed to the southeast shore of the Sea of Galilee, the Gentile region of the Decapolis or "Ten (Greek) Cities." There, they encountered two demonics (double the number found in Mk 5:2-5, Lk 8:26-28); the doublet verified the account in Jewish Law (see Deu 19:15). The evangelist removed comments about the self-harm and anti-social behavior found in Mark and Luke but preserved the initial challenge of the possessed, recognizing Jesus as the "Son of God" (Mt 8:29, Mk 5:7, Lk 8:28). Matthew removed Jesus' command to the demons (Mk 5:8, Lk 8:29) and the self-given name of the demons ("Legion" in Mk 5:9, Lk 8:30). Instead, the author continued with the demons plead to enter the herd of swine, to which Jesus agreed. Then, the animals committed suicide (Mt 8:31-32, Mk 5:11-13, Lk 8:32-33). Note the swine were unclean (see Deu 14:8) and their actions implicitly broke the Law (see Gen 9:5). Because of the drama, the herdsmen reported the incident to the inhabitants of the city. The urban dwellers, in turn, begged Jesus and his entourage to leave the area (Mt 8:33-34, Mk 5:16-17, Lk 8:34-37). Note Matthew did not report the fate of the demonics, as compared with Mk 5:15-19 and Lk 8:35-39.
Matthew, like Mark and Luke, included this pericope to emphasized the power of Jesus even in heart of Gentile (read "unclean") territory. The demonics, the swine, and the Gentiles stressed the evil arena of Satan. Yet, the Nazarene was in control.
c. Healing of the Paralytic (9:1-8)
[M 2:1-12] Jesus and his disciples returned to his home base (Mt 9:1, "Capernaum" in Mk 2:1). He taught to the crowd in an enclosed space. Meanwhile, several people carried a paralytic to him for a cure. Again, Matthew edited the scene since he eliminated the removal of the roof (Mk 2:4, Lk 5:19). When Jesus saw the cripple, he announced the man was forgiven. Of course, his statement immediately caused controversy with the religious leaders. So, he challenged them. Which was harder to initiate, forgiveness or healing? Or did one imply the other? To prove he had the power to forgive, he declared healing (Mt 9:2-7, Mk 2:5-11, Lk 5:20-25). As a result, the crowd awed at the sight and praised God (Mt 9:8, Mk 2:12, Lk 5:26).
4. Call of Matthew and Fasting Controversy (9:9-17)
The Call of Matthew
[M 2:13-17] In the Synoptic gospels, the call of the tax collector followed the healing of the paralytic. In Mt 9:9, the tax man was named "Matthew," in Lk 5:27 "Levi," and in Mk 2:14 "Levi bar Alphaeus" (note Levi's father had a Greek name; this was not uncommon in partially Helenized Palestine of the first century CE).
The call of Matthew to discipleship led to the controversy over table fellowship. Jesus chose to eat with sinners, traitors and outcasts, in other words, the "unclean." This had two implications. The holy man Jesus made himself unclean by association. And, his audience was worthy of his ministry. He lowered himself to raise up the rejected. The religious leaders were scandalized by his behavior. They equated holiness with purity; those who were holy didn't mix with the unholy (Mt 9:10-11, Mk 2:15-16, Lk 5:29-30). But that was the point of his activity, to call the sinners to repentance and God's mercy. To make his point, Jesus used a medical analogy (Mt 9:12, Mk 2:17, Lk 5:31-32). Then, in Mt 9:13, he closed with a quote from Hos 6:6.
[M 2:18-22] The three Synoptic gospels turned to another controversy, the question of spiritual practice. The disciples of the Baptist and the Pharisees fasted for two reasons: to atone for violations of the Law in the past and to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom. Why didn't the followers of Jesus do the same (Mt 9:14, Mk 2:18, Lk 5:33)? Jesus answered with three images, the bridegroom, patching used clothing and storing wine.
a. The Bridegroom.
[M 2:19-20] The first image implied the Messiah in the Kingdom (Mt 9:15, Mk 2:19, Lk 5:34). In the first century, Jews envisioned the Kingdom as a vast wedding banquet (see Exo 24:11, Isa 25:6, Isa 55:1-2, Joel 2:24-26, Psa 23:5, Lk 14:15, Mt 8:11-12). The Nazarene indirectly referred to himself as the Christ. His presence was the Kingdom, so the sins of the past were forgiven and the future glory of God's people was realized. Hence, there was no need for fasting.
b. Patching Cloth.
[M 2:21, GTh 47] The next image shifted from the Christ to his message. The Good News was simply that, a pronouncement of something new, a radical change. When people tried to integrate it into a mental framework of traditional Judaism, they found a disjointed union. The Pharisees taught a tradition based upon the lineage of their teachers; Jesus taught a message based upon his own authority. Like sewing a new tight patch onto old relaxed cloth (Mt 9:16, Mk 2:21, Lk 5:36), the new message of the Nazarene did not sync up with the rules and regulations of Pharisaical Judaism. The cloth would eventually tear; conflict between disciples and religious leaders would flare up.
c. New Wine into Old Wine Skins.
[M 2:21-22] The parable of the wine skins paralleled that of the patched cloth. New wines and old wine skins were incompatible. Fresh wine would expand and burst the already stretched wine skins. New wine required new skin containers (Mt 9:17, Mk 2:22, Lk 5:37-38). In the same sense, the fresh message of the Good News could not be contained the the stuffy tradition of the Pharisees. The Nazarene's message looked forward to the Kingdom; indeed, it realized the divine presence in the now. The preaching of the religious leaders looked backward to a strict, even blind obedience to the Torah.
Fasting in the context of the Good News made little sense. True, people needed to reform for past sins as they looked forward to the Kingdom. But that outlook didn't take the core of the Good News into account. In and through the words of Jesus, the Kingdom was present. Fasting, while useful as a spiritual discipline, became secondary to the demands of the new evangelion. "Believe in the Good News!"
5. Third Healing Cycle
a. Healing of Leader's Daughter and Woman with Internal Bleeding (9:18-26)
[M 5:22-43] All three Synoptic gospels recorded this unusual miracle juxtaposition. One healing weaved inside the narrative of another.
In Mt 9:18-19, the passage began with the appearance of a generic "ruler" ("Jairus the synagogue leader" in Mk 5:22-23, Lk 8:41-82) who fell to his knees and begged Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus agreed and set off to the man's abode.
Then, a woman who suffered from bleeding for twelve years. We can only speculate about the nature of her ailment. We do know it left her ritually unclean thus socially isolated. In faith, she touched the fringe of Jesus' tunic and received relief. Jesus acknowledged her act with the word "Courage" (Mt 9:20-22, Mk 5:24-35, Lk 8:43-48). When we compare Matthew's edit with Mark's account, we find many details missing (the size of the crowd, the woman's impoverishment, the power flow out of Jesus along with his question, her confession of initiative). She was restored not only to health but to her place in society; she was cleansed.
Finally, we turn to the matter of the sick daughter. The ruler returned along with Jesus and his entourage to suddenly find his house full of mourners (Mt 9:23). Again note Matthew edited out details of the death announcement in Mk 5:35, Lk 8:49; he cut out the Nazarene's encouragement (Mk 5:36, Lk 8:50) but left in Jesus' terse comment to the mourners (Mt 9:24, Mk 5:39, Lk 8:52). After ejecting the crowd, Jesus took the girl by the hand and raised her up, symbolizing resurrection (Mt 9:25). And again, the evangelist left out many details (the names of the few disciples who witnessed the event, Jesus' command to the girl, her age and her hunger, the instruction to keep the incident quiet; Mk 5:37, Lk 8:31, Mk 5:40-43, Lk 8:54-56).
Unlike Luke who preserved much of Mark's account, Matthew streamlined the narrative to keep the literary flow moving along.
b. Healing of Two Blind Men (9:27-31)
[Mt] While this miracle in Matthew had no direct parallel, it did echo the healing of Bartimaeus (Mt 20:29-34, Mk 10:46-52, Lk 18:35-43). The accounts shared the phrase, "Son of David, have mercy on us" (Mt 9:27, Mt 20:30, Mk 10:47-48, Lk 18:38-39). It also echoed the cleansing of the leper when Jesus gave stern instructions not to spread news of the healing, only to be ignored (Mt 9:30-31, Mk 1:43-45).
c. Healing of the Demonic (9:32-34)
[Mt] Matthew recorded the unique passage (Mt 9:32-34), but it too echoed the controversy about the source of Jesus' power (Mt 9:34, Mt 12:22-24, Mk 3:22, Lk 11:14-16). Because the religious leaders saw the effectiveness of Jesus' exorcisms, they claimed his authority came from Beelzebul himself.
6. Transition: Miracle Summary (9:35-38)
The summary of the miracle cycles began with a comment about Jesus' mobile ministry (Mt 9:35). It had two thrusts, proclaiming the Good News and healing the sick. But he witnessed the shear magnitude of people's problems, comparing the crowds to flocks at the mercy of predators (Mt. 9:36; see Isa 53:6, Jer 50:6, Psa 119:176).
[Q 10:2] Jesus then commented on the need for help with an harvest analogy. His followers should pray for missionaries ("workers") for the end time in-gathering ("harvest"; Mt 9:37-38; Lk 10:2). The verses from Matthew and Luke track almost word-for-word.
D. Second Discourse:
Missionary Instructions (10:1-11:1)
1. Call of the Twelve (10:1-4)
[M 6:7, 3:14-18] The call of the Twelve showed Matthew's def touch as an editor. He echoed the call of disciples and the commission to exorcise demonic spirits with Mark (Mk 6:7, Mt 10:1). And both added the injunction to heal the sick with the call of the Apostles (Mk 3:14-18, Mt 10:1-4). Luke simply listed the call of the Twelve without a commission (Lk 6:13-15). Matthew ordered their names in a symmetric fashion: two sets of brothers (Mt 10:2) then four sets of disciples (Mt 10:3-4).
The last pair mentioned were the most controversial: Simon the Canaanite and Judas Iscariot. Mark and Luke called Simon a "Zealot" (Mk 3:18, Lk 6:15) while Matthew simply referred to his place of origin. In the Jewish Antiquities (XVIII), the historian Josephus called the Zealots "the Fourth Philosophy" of Judaism; they were revolutionaries with an obsessive devotion to the Law, the people and the land of Israel. However, most historians hold the movement only appeared in full form at the time of the Jewish War (66-70 CE), not thirty years earlier in Jesus' lifetime. Hence, the designation of "Zealot" most likely meant the man had a deep religious devotion. When Matthew changed the term to "Canaanite," he focused that love on the people and the land. The two terms don't necessarily conflict since Judaism was both a religion and a people with a homeland.
The name "Judas Iscariot" was self explanatory. All three gospels described him as the betrayer.
2. Travel Instructions (10:5-15)
Matthew uniquely limited evangelization to the Jewish communities of Palestine (Mt 10:5-6). Notice the parochial limits on the imperative "Go." In Mt 28:19, the command was "to all nations." Following that, he weaved in Mark's theme, "The Kingdom is near" (Mk 1:14, Mt 10:7, Lk 10:9). Third, he doubled the injunction to heal the sick along with a proverb that undercut any sense of reciprocity: "Freely you received, so freely give" (Mt 10:8).
[Q 10:7] Matthew turned to the travel instructions of Jesus. In all three Synoptics, the Nazarene wanted his missionaries to travel light so they would not attract attention and depend upon the hospitality of others. (Mk 6:8-9, Mt 10:9-10, Lk 10:4). He justified such expectation with the proverb "for worthy is the worker of his wage" (almost word-for-word in Mt 10:10 and Lk 10:7).
[Mark-Q Overlap; Q 10:4, Q 10:5-6, Q 10:8-9 and Q 10:10-12] Next, Jesus detailed guest etiquette for his missionaries. They were to greet their hosts with the blessing "Shalom," eat whatever the family presented them (Mt 10:12-13, Lk 10:5-8) and remain with the host family in the duration (Mt 10:11, Mk 6:10, Lk 10:7). If the potential hosts rejected the missionaries, the disciples were to curse them by scraping (Lk 10:1-11) or shaking (Mt 10:14) off their shoes; here, the dust of the ground mean moral inferiority and the realm of the evil serpent (Gen 3:1-7). Indeed, they measured their judgment on those cursed towns as great than God's condemnation of Sodom (Mt 10:15, Mk 6:11, Lk 10:12).
3. Chiasmus of Opposition (10:16-39)
a. Step A1: Warnings of Persecutions (10:16-23)
[Q 10:3] Jesus warned his followers of the risks they faced. They would enter an environment with evil lurking around every corner ("sheep among wolves"). Note the parallel with the "scattered and harassed sheep in Mt 9:36. He wanted them to think like their evil counterparts yet maintain their high moral standards ("wise as serpents...innocent as doves;" Mt 10:16).
Here Matthew imported verses from Mark's "Little Apocalypse." Missionaries would face prosecution in civil courts and synagogues (Mt. 10:17-18; see Mk 13:9, Lk 21:12). The Good News would split clans (Mt 10:21; see Mk 13:12, Lk 21:16). Yet, disciples should not worry about their testimony in advance; the Spirit will guide them (Mt 10:19-20; see Mk 13:11, Lk 21:14-15). They will face hatred but they will be saved through perseverance (Mt 10:22; see Mk 13:13, Lk 21:17-19). Only Matthew added the injunction to flee persecution because the missionaries would not exhaust the task of evangelization before the Second Coming (Mt 10:23).
Notice how Matthew imported the end time prophecies into the present tense. He fused the persecution of the missionaries, in part, with those of the Tribulation.
b. Step B: Don't be afraid (10:24-33)
At this point, Jesus injected a proverb about the relationship of the student to his teacher. The ancient student would always receive the instruction and, so, inherit the reputation of his teacher. He employed this saying to implicitly highlight the place of the disciple and as a critique of his opponents. The enemies' actions revealed their evil intent and, thus, their teacher and master, Beelzebub (Mt 10:24-25).
[Mark-Q Overlap; Q 12:2-3] Jesus flipped a saying on revelation and used it against his opponents. Just as he revealed the Good News for his followers to openly proclaim, the secrets of his enemies will become publicly apparent (Mk 4:22, Mt 10:26-27, Lk 12:2-3). The saying "nothing is hidden which will not be revealed and the private which will not be known" is almost word-for-word in Mt 10:26 and Lk 12:2. The Gospel would naturally cause deep social fissures, so the disciple should not be afraid.
[Q 12:4-5 and Q 12:6-7] Jesus repeated the command to be fearless in the face of martyrdom (Mt 10:28, Lk 12:4; almost word-for-word between the two). The believer should not fear his opponent but his Maker (Mt 10:28, Lk 12:5) for the disciple had far more value in divine eyes. Here, the Nazarene used two images of little worth, the sparrow and the human hair. The sparrow, a common bird, was an inexpensive offering used by the poor in Temple worship. Hair grew all the time. Both had a place in divine providence. And the disciple had greater worth than even the birds God cared for (Mt 10:29-31, Lk 12:6-7).
[Q 12:8-9] Despite the fact he tried to calm their fears even in the face of death itself, Jesus confronted missionaries with THE existential question. Do you publicly acknowledge me as your Lord? Such would implicitly determine their place in the heavenly Kingdom (Mt 10:32-33; Lk 12:8-9).
Three times, Jesus urged his followers: "Don't be afraid." Once in the face of opponents. Once in the face of martyrdom. Once in needs of daily living.
c. Step A2: Warning of Opposition (10:34-39)
[Q 12:51, 53] Jesus stated his mission would not bring the blessing of peace. Instead, it would bring division, even in one's own household. Faith would split clans (Mt 10:34-36, Lk 12:51-53; see Micah 7:6)
[Mark-Q Overlap; Q 14:26-27, 17:33] As a result of internal family strife, three would be a tension over loyalties. What would win out, allegiance to the clan or the faith commitment? The cost was high for the extended family was the social safety net of the ancient world. Choosing family over faith meant maintaining familial relationships and economic security. Preferring faith meant social isolation, even abuse and persecution. Jesus insisted upon faith first, knowing full well it could lead to martyrdom ("pick up your cross and follow me;" Mt 10:38, Mk 8:34, Lk 14:26-27) Of course the benefit of faith was eternal life (Mt 10:39, Mk 8:35, Lk 17:33).
4. Benefits to Supporters of the Missionary (10:40-42)
[Q 10:16] Jesus turned from the subject of the missionary to that of the intended audience. What benefits do the listeners gain in receiving the Good News? Here, Matthew employed a verse found in Luke but changed the verb from "rejecting" to "receiving." (Mt 10:40, Lk 10:16). Instead of the focus on the enemies of the Jesus movement, the evangelist turned his attention upon possible neophytes. In receiving the missionary, they really received God himself, the one who sent his Son and, by extension, his followers. The first benefit was the divine presence.
In Matthew, Jesus listed the second benefit as a share in the missionary's reward. He expected his traveling disciple to have a prophetic role in proclaiming the Good News. He also insisted his representative have moral and pious life equal to that of a "righteous man." What such a person of faith had to share was his message and his example. Those who openly accepted both shared in the follower's reward. For the Good News and its life-changing message contained a treasure: eternal life. (Mt 10:41). Even the smallest act of charity on behalf of the missionary would not go unrewarded (Mt 10:42).
5. Close of the Discourse,
Continuation of the Narrative (Mt 11:1)
E. Place of the Disciple
in a Hostile World (11:2-12:50)
1. Comparing Believers and Non-believers (11:2-30)
We can divide this section into three parts: 1) discussion on Jesus viz-a-viz the Baptist, 2) condemnation of the towns that rejected Jesus and 3) revelation and openness to potential believers. Notice the subjects grow outward from an internal discussion about the Messiah towards those who haven't absorbed the weight of the Good News.
a. Jesus vs. John (11:2-19)
by EL Greco
[Q 7:18-20,22-23] Matthew shifted from the subject of missionaries and their opponents to the Baptist and his followers. Where did they live in this landscape of disciples vs. enemies? More to the point, where did Jesus and his followers fit viz-a-viz John? So the question arose: was Jesus the Messiah? (Mt 11:2-3, Lk 7:18-19). The Nazarene didn't answer directly but pointed to his ministry as a fulfillment of Isa 31:1-2 (Mt 11:4-5, Lk 7:22); in other words, he allowed Scripture to answer the question. Then, he concluded with a beatitude: Blessed is the person who is not scandalized by me (Mt 11:6, Lk 7:23). Here, he defined his possible pool of disciples as those who did not explicitly reject him. Notice Matthew's and Luke's passages track closely, mostly word-for-word.
[Q 7:24-28] After the discussion between Jesus and the disciples of John, the Nazarene turned to the crowd. John's followers wanted to know where Jesus fit in. Now Jesus would define the place of the Baptist in the scheme of salvation. First, he asked three rhetorical questions concerning the popular fascination about John. Why did people go out to the desert? To see the wind bend reeds in the Jordan River marshes? (Mt 11:7, Lk 7:24) To see a man dressed in luxurious clothing? Don't they live in royal palaces? (Mt 11:8, Lk 7:25) More than a prophet? (Mt 11:9, Lk 7:26) Jesus built up to a crescendo to the fulfillment of Mal 3:1 (Mt 11:10, Lk 7:27). The Baptist was an Elijah figure who would prepare the way for the Messiah.
Note Jesus answered the popular questions about his place and that of the Baptist's by quoting Scripture. Since his place outranked John's based upon the fulfillment of prophecy, the status of his disciples stood above that of the Baptist himself. John was the greatest man who ever lived in this era. But, in the era of the Kingdom, he would sit at the bottom (Mt 11:11, Lk 7:28). Like the Q verses on John's question, these verses from Matthew and Luke track closely, in many parts word-for-word.
[Mt] In Mt 11:12-15, Jesus added an editorial comment. The ministries of John and Jesus were marked with opposition, even violence (Mt 11:12). After all, officials took some offense at their eschatological teachings and executed both men. But, if the people took the long view, they could see prophecy build up to John (Mt 11:13) where he would act as the peak of revelation, an Elijah figure (Mt 11:14). He finished this teaching with an emphatic statement, "He who has ears (to hear), let him hear" (Mt 11:15; see Mt 13:9, 13:43, Mk 4:9, Lk 8:8, Lk 14:35).
[Q 7:31-35] In Matthew, Jesus turned from the place of his ministry viz-a-viz John's to the opinions of their critics. Some opposed both the Jesus movement and that of the Baptist. To those opponents, Jesus proposed a proverb. Children in the marketplace called out to either play (dance) or mourn (at a funeral) but their listeners did neither (Mt 11:16-17, Lk 7:31-32). In other words, critics sat on the sidelines and did nothing besides make derisive comments. They complained John was too ascetic ("he has a demon;" Mt 11:18, Lk 7:33) but Jesus was too indulgent ("glutton and drunk") , even flirting with the libertine ("friend of tax collectors and sinners"). Yet, actions not idle words would justify the wisdom of their individual ministries (Mt 11:19, Lk 7:34-35).
b. Condemnation of Unbelieving Galilean Towns (11:20-24)
In the face of opposition from those who criticized Jesus' and John's ministry, Jesus expanded upon his condemnation of towns he visited (see Mt 10:14-15, Lk 10:10-12). Bethsaida and Capernaum lie on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee; Chorazin was inland somewhat between the other two towns. He healed the sick there but the inhabitants did not repent (Mt 11:20). He condemned Chorazin and Bethsaida ("woe to you…"); he declared they would suffer a judgment worse than two Gentile cities, Tyre and Sidon (Mt 11:21-22). Capernaum was the home base for Jesus. They witnessed many of his miracles ("exalted to heaven") but they still did not change ("go down to hell;" Mt 11:23). They would suffer worse than Sodom on the Day of YHWH (Mt 11:23-24).
c. Praise of God and Inviting Believers (11:25-30)
Here, Jesus turned to his followers and potential disciples. First, he praised God for his revelation to his followers (literally "infants;" Mt 11:25-26). Then he shifted the focus to himself as the conduit of revelation; he based this upon his status as the Son. He had an intimate relationship with his heavenly Father. In part, revelation meant involving his followers in that relationship (Mt 11:27).
What did revelation mean to potential disciples? Rest (Mt 11:28). Compared with the demands of Pharisaical Judaism with its edicts and traditions, following Jesus focused less on legalism and more on relationship. Note, however, the emphasis not the results. Judaism established a relationship with God through the Law. Christianity did the same but through devotion to the Messiah (Mt 11:29-30). Both roads to God could be challenging. But the Christian lifestyle didn't concentrate on the details like the regimented one urban Jewish leadership insisted upon.
2. Controversy Quasi-Chiasmus (12:1-45)
Matthew imported several controversy passages from Mark and fashioned them around Isa 42:1-4. The first set of passages consisted of two Sabbath controversies; the second set focused on the type of signs Jesus would display.
a. Step A1: On the Sabbath (12:1-14)
1) Eating Grain on the Sabbath (12:1-7)
[M 2:23-28] In the first controversy passage, the disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath and rubbed it in their hands to peal away the husks, thus producing a wheat snack (Mt 12:1, Mk 2:23, Lk 6:1). The opponents of Jesus claimed this violated the ban of work on the Sabbath (Mt 12:2, Mk 2:24, Lk 6:2; see Exo 34:21). Jesus replied with an exception from the life of David in Scripture (Mt 12:3-4, Mk 2:25-26, Lk 6:3-4; see 1 Sam 21:3-6). Then he went on the offensive with a two part argument that was exclusive to Matthew. First, the priests themselves violate the Sabbath codes by preparing the animals for sacrifice (hence, work) but were not held to account (Mt 12:5). Second, works of mercy supersede acts of worship (Mt 12:7; see Hos 6:6). Hence, just as the priests were guiltless, so should his followers be. He finished with the assertion: "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" (Mt 12:8, Mk 2:28, Lk 6:5).
2) Healing on the Sabbath (12:9-14)
Jesus heals the blind man
by El Greco
[M 3:1-6] In the second controversy passage, Jesus healed on the Sabbath in a synagogue. Of course, his opponents objected, not to the letter of the Law, but its spirit (Mt 12:9-10, Mk 3:2, Lk 6:7). While no injunction existed in the Torah or in inter-Testamental writings or in subsequent rabbinic writings against healing on the Sabbath, they raised the question as a means to open an attack against him. He responded with a rhetorical question on a practical matter. Who would not rescue a valued commodity like an endangered sheep on the Sabbath? (Mt 12:11; see Lk 14:5). Then, by comparison, isn't a human life more valuable than a farm animal's? (Mt 12:12) To make his point, Jesus instructed the crippled man in question to stretch out his withered hand (Mt 12:13, Mk 3:5, Lk 6:10). This episode added to the anger of his opponents and their resolve to eliminate him (Mt 12:14, Mk 3:6, Lk 6:11).
b. Step B: Fulfillment of Scripture (12:15-21)
[M 3:7, 12] Here, Matthew spliced two of Mark's verses together, one about the mobile ministry of Jesus (Mt 12:15, Mk 3:7) and the other about the silence of his identity (Mt 12:16, Mk 3:12; see the "Messianic Secret"). These verses acted as a prologue to a quote from the Suffering Servant Song (Mt 12:17-21; see Isa 42:1-4). Note Isaiah defined the servant as God's chosen, Spirit-filled and one who proclaimed universal justice (Mt 12:18; Isa 42:1). The servant would deliver the divine message in a gentle way that would give everyone hope (Mt 12:19-21; Isa 42:2-4). Since this quote formed Step B of the chiasmus, Matthew used the previous and subsequent controversies as proof that Jesus was the Christ.
c. Step A2: On Signs (12:22-45)
1) Beelzebub Controversy (12:22-37)
[Q 11:14] The first two verses of this passage set up the Beelzebul controversy. Jesus healed a blind and mute man, symbolizing a lack of faith and witness. After an encounter with the Lord, he had sight and speech; on the spiritual level, the healed man believed and evangelized (Mt 12:22; see Lk 11:14). The crowds reacted with the question, "Could this be David's son?" In other words, did Jesus have God's wisdom which came with divine power, like Solomon? (Mt 12:23).
[Mark-Q Overlap: Q 11:15, 17-20, Q 11:?21-22? and Q 11:23] Matthew used the "son of David" question as a lead-in to the opponent's question: wasn't the source of Jesus' power Satan? (Mt 12:24, Mk 3:20, Lk 11:15). Jesus retorted with three step argument. First he told a proverb about instability caused by political and social division. Then he applied that logic to the realm of the Evil One; how could Satan remain powerful when people were made whole? (Mt 12:25-26, Mk 3:24-26, Lk 11:17-18) Third, he asked a rhetorical question about the power of Pharisaic exorcists; where did their power come from? Finally, he concluded with an implied conditional statement; if these exorcists claimed the power of God (Mt 12:27, Lk 11:19), then Jesus also had the Spirit and the Kingdom was present (Mt 12:28, Lk 11:20). He followed up this logic with the parable of the strong thief (Mt 12:29, Mk 3:27, Lk 11:21-22). Note Matthew couched Jesus' argument between two sayings about weakness, thus forming a quasi-chiamus. As a coda to this part of his monologue, Jesus demanded a decision. Are you with me nor not? Those who join implicitly gather; those who reject him scatter (Mt 12:30, Lk 11:23).
The Q source additions to the Mark's passage track closely, in many cases word-for-word.
[M 3:28-29] Here, Jesus shifted to a veiled attack based upon divine judgment. He implicitly declared he revealed the Spirit. Those who rejected the "Son of Man" ("blasphemed") could receive forgiveness. But those who rejected the movement of the Spirit (exorcisms mentioned in Mt 12:28) would not be acquitted, now or at the Final Judgment (Mt 12:31-32, Mk 3:28-29).
Jesus took the veil off of his attack. In a sub-passage exclusive to Matthew, he began with a proverb about the quality of a fruit tree and its produce (Mt 12:33). Then, he applied that saying to his opponents. Since their hearts had ill-will, their words reflected their malicious intent (Mt 12:34). In typical Matthean style, Jesus divided his audience into the good and the bad; their words revealed their true nature ("treasure;" Mt 12:35). God would call the evil into account on the "Day of Judgment," damning the evil by their own words (Mt 12:36-37).
2) Enemies Demand a Sign (12:38-45)
[Mark-Q Overlap: Q 11:16, 29-30 and Q 11:31-32] After the high point of the controversy quasi-chiasmus, the religious leaders attacked Jesus as an agent of Satan (12:22-37). He flipped the table on them and charged them as "offspring of vipers" (Mt 12:34) for their lack of faith and their malicious intent. Now, they demanded a sign as a reason for believing (Mt 12:38, Mk 8:11-12, Lk 11:16). Here, Matthew and Luke expanded Jesus' response. He continued his critique of his opponents as evil and limited his answer to the sign of Jonah (Mt 12:39, Lk 11:29). Then, Matthew shift the meaning of the sign from Luke. In Mt 12:40, he equated his own time in the tomb with Jonah's three days in the fish (ie, the Pascal Mystery). However, in Lk 11:30, he compared his proclamation of the Good News as the sign in the same way Jonah preached repentance to the Ninevites. After the excursus, both pointed to the results of the sign. The repentant of Nineveh would damn the enemies of Jesus ("this generation") just like the royal witness to the wisdom of Solomon ("Queen of the South" see 1 Kings 10:2, 2 Chron 9:1-9) would. Note the implicit end time reference; both would rise up in the general resurrection to join in the chorus of condemnation. Why? Twice Jesus stated "something greater than...is here," adding "Look!" for emphasis (Mt 12:41-42, Lk 11:31-32 tracking each other word-for-word). In Luke, that "something" was the proclamation of the Good News; in Matthew, it was the presence of Jesus himself.
[Q 11:24-26] After his end time prophecy concerning the Ninevites and the Queen of the South, Jesus went on the attack again. In his parable about the return of the unclean spirit, he charged his opponents of being spiritual vacuous, thus ripe for demonic possession. His argument had two steps. First, he acknowledged the spirituality of his opponents did indeed attract adherents, even Gentile converts. As such, it was like an "exorcism" ("...unclean spirit departs…;" Mt 12:43, Lk 11:24). Second, but when temptation would return to the religious person as it always does (Mt 12:44, Lk 11:25), it can distort even the purist soul with pride and zealous scrupulosity ("seven other spirits more evil than itself"). Thus, even the adherent could grow morally darker than their condition before their change of heart (Mt 12:45, Lk 11:26).
This Q passage tracks mostly word-for-word between Matthew and Luke.
3. Conclusion: Jesus' True Family (12:48-50)
[Mk 3:31-35] After the controversy quasi-chiasmus, Jesus turned from his opponents to his audience. Members of his clan stood in the crowd, seeking to speak to him (Mt 12:46-47, Mk 3:31-32, Lk 8:16-20). He used this moment to declare his allegiance with his followers over that with his family with two questions: "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" (Mt 12:48, Mk 3:33). He answered his own questions by declaring familial ties with those who obey "the will of my heavenly Father" (Mt 12:49-50, Mk 3:34-35; note Lk 8:21 shift obedience from the divine will to that of the Good News).
F. Third Discourse: Parables
The Parable Discourse in Matthew consisted of two quasi-chiastic structures. The first revolved around the parable of the Sower and the Seeds. The second drew together several parables with an explanation. The high points in both structures were a Scripture quotes. This construction advanced Matthew's thesis that Jesus was the Christ foretold by the sacred writings.
1. Parable of Sowing Chiasmus
Matthew imported this section from Mark chapter four.
a. Step A1: Parable of the Sower and the Seeds (13:1-9)
[M 4:1-9; GTh 9] Matthew opened the discourse with the image of Jesus teaching offshore in a boat (Mt 13:1-2, Mk 4:1; see Lk 5:1-3). Then, the Nazarene addressed the crowd with a parable. He told the story of the Sower and the Seeds to catch the attention of his audience in two ways. At the beginning, he described a way of farming his contemporaries considered wasteful, even obscene. The farmer tossed the seed around without care. In below-subsistence Palestine, many of the poor lived at near starvation levels; some worked the land as tenants under extremely demanding landlords. So, they saved the precious little wheat grain and planted it with care at the beginning of the next season. No one in their right mind would throw grain on the roadside (Mt 13:3-4, Mk 4:2-4, Lk 8:5), on rocky soil (Mt 13:5-6, Mk 4:5-6, Lk 8:6) or among thorn seedlings (Mt 13:7, Mk 4:7, Lk 8:7).
At the end of the parable, Jesus portrayed the yield at absurdly high levels. A good harvest would produce double or triple beyond what the farmer planted. But, one hundred, sixty or thirty times? (Mt 13:8, Mk 4:8, Lk 8:8)
Jesus ended the parable with "Let him who has ears to hear, hear" (Mt 13:9, Mk 4:9, Lk 8:8; see note on Mt 11:15). Since everyone has a set of ears, he addressed his parable to all. While the phrase might seem redundant, he meant it to make an emphatic point. This teaching was important!
b. Step B: Teaching Parables Fulfills Scripture (13:10-17)
[M 4:10-12] The disciples asked Jesus a question about the meaning of the parable (In Mt 13:10, Mk 4:10, Lk 8:9). He responded to differentiate the insiders (disciples) and the outsiders (the crowds). He enlightened his followers with knowledge of the Kingdom, while he left the masses to ponder the meaning of his parables (Mt 13:11, Mk 4:11, Lk 8:10). He followed up with a proverb on abundance and lack; those who received the revelation would have blessing, while those who did not would have the little insight stripped away (Mt 13:12, Mk 4:25, Lk 8:18). Finally, he quoted a paraphrase of Isa 6:9 (Mt 13:13, Mk 4:12, Lk 8:10; note that Matthew and Luke stripped away Mark's call to repentance).
However, to emphasize the point, Mt 13:14-15 quoted Isa 6:9-10 directly (which restored the possibility of repentance); Mt 13:15 quoted Isa 6:10 from the Septuagint. Then Jesus added a beatitude for his followers who had converted ("blessed your eyes...your ears") for they received the revelation that the "prophets and righteous" of the past yearned to realize (Mt 13:16-17).
c. Step A2: Allegory of the Parable (13:18-23)
[M 4:13-20] In Mt 13:18, Jesus did not explain who the sower was (evangelist sowing the word; Mk 4:12-13) or what the seed was (word of God; Lk 8:11). From that point, however, his explanation tracks closely with the other Synoptics. The Evil One robbed the message from those who don't understand, like birds eating seed on the hardened road (Mt 13:19, Mk 4:15, Lk 8:12). The shallow person believed only a short time before he wilted in the face of opposition, like the seed on rocky soil burnt up under the noonday sun (Mt 13:20-21, Mk 4:16-17, Lk 8:13). The anxious found their faith choked by the worries of the day and the allure of riches, like seed planted among thorny bushes (Mt 13:22, Mk 4:18-19, Lk 8:14). But faithful disciples who adsorbed the Word and its import effectively evangelized, like the seed that produced an absurdly bountiful harvest (Mt 13:23, Mk 4:20, Lk 8:15).
2. Other Parables Chiasmus
In Matthew, Jesus told, then explained the parable of the Sower to heighten a prophecy from Isaiah. Now, he grouped other parables and an explanation around a verse from the Psalms.
a. Step A1: Parallel A
1) Parable of the Darnel Weeds (13:24-30)
[GTh 57] In the parable of the Darnel Weeds, Jesus compared the Kingdom to the missionary effort. Like the parable of the Sower and the Seeds, those who spread the Good News would find disappointment in the face of indifference and opposition. With the good (those who received the word) grew along side the bad (those with evil intent; Mt 13:24-25). But no one could clearly tell the difference between them until they matured (Mt 13:26). What should be done? (Mt 13:27-28). This dilemma brought up the problem of evil. Of course, Christians answer that question with the permissive will of God and ultimate justice served at the Final Judgment (Mt 13:29-30).
Notice this kingdom parable described the journey not the destination. In a sense, the kingdom was present in the act of evangelization even if people rebuffed the missionary's efforts.
2) Parables of Mustard Seed and Yeast (13:31-33)
[Mark-Q Overlap: Q 13:18-19 and Q 13:20-21; GTh 96] Jesus continued the agricultural parables with the Mustard Seed. In Mt 13:31, Jesus described a farmer sowing the seed in his field, while in Lk 13:18-19, he simply said someone planted the seed in his garden; Mk 4:30-31 used the passive construction, not indicating who sowed the seed or where it was sown. In all three gospels, however, the small seed grew rapidly into a bush large enough for the birds to nest in (Mt 13:32, Mk 4:31-32, Lk 13:19).
In Mt 13:33 and Lk 13:20-21, Jesus shifted away from agriculture to describe a common sight, a woman preparing dough for the baking of bread. The verses from both gospels track word-for-word.
Note Jesus continued to compare the Kingdom with the present activity of the missionary. This must have surprised his audience since many listeners expected the appearance of the Kingdom in a jolting instance. Instead of any immediate change, the Kingdom revealed itself over time and organically, from within not from without.
b. Step B: Teaching Parables Fulfills Scripture (13:34-35)
[Mt] While not as detailed as Mt 13:10-17, Mt 13:34-35 repeated the theme of the parable. Jesus told stories to the people to fulfill Psa 78:2 (quote not from the Septuagint).
c. Step A2: Parallel B
1) Explanation of the Darnel Parable (13:36-43)
[Mt] Matthew paralleled the structure of the first chiasmus in the Parable Discourse. Like Mt 13:18-23, Mt 13:36-43 would explain the parable of the Darnel Weeds. This time, Jesus identified the farmer as the model missionary, the Son of Man (Mt 13:36-37). The seed, however, were not the Word but believers and the darnel weeds were "children of the Evil One" (Mt 13:38). Then, after a brief reference to Satan's activities, he immediate shifted the end times in-gathering ("harvest") and Final Judgment (Mt 13:39-40). The Son of Man will damn everything evil (Mt 13:41-42) while the saved will live in glory ("shine like the sun"). He ended with the emphatic "let him who has ears, listen" (Mt 13:43).
2) Parables of the Treasure, Pearl and Dragnet (13:44-50)
[Mt; GTh 109, 76] In Matthew, Jesus concluded his second chiasmus with three short parables. The first two (Hidden Treasure in Mt 13:44 and the Pearl in Mt 13:45) addressed the price and priority of the Kingdom in the life of the believer. Note again the presence of the Kingdom as the journey toward realization. In other words, the Kingdom was present when the disciple chose faith over all other priorities.
[Mt; GTh 8] In the last parable of the three, Jesus used an analogy familiar to the fishing culture along the Sea of Galilee. Fishermen would cast their nets then drag them on shore. There, they would store the good and tosh the bad away (Mt 13:47-48]. After this, he made the meaning of the parable explicit. The parable described the end times in-gathering. Angels, like the fishermen on the shore, will separate the evil from the faithful and damn the former (Mt 13:49-50).
3. Conclusion: Wise Scribe (13:51-52)
In Matthew, Jesus concluded his Parable Discourse with a question about understanding and the disciples' positive response (Mt 13:51). Then, he compared the studious believer ("scribe who is a disciple of the Kingdom…") to the wise home owner who knew when to bring out the old or the new items (implicitly to entertain guests; Mt 13:52). Here, he meant both evangelization and apologetics. The disciple interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures ("old") in light of the Christian faith ("new") in order to convert others and defend the Good News against attack.
G. Jesus as the Christ
1. Rejection by Synagogue (13:53-58)
[M 6:1-6] Mt 13:53-58 tracked Mk 6:1-6; Lk 4:14-30 expanded the theme. Jesus arrived at his home country (Mt 13:53-54, Mk 6:1, "Nazareth" in Lk 4:14). There, he taught in the synagogue. At first, his audience was amazed at the depth of his teaching but, then, they questioned his reputation as a traveling holy man (Mt 13:54, Mk 6:2, Lk 4:20-22). Wasn't he the son of a semi-skilled workman? Didn't they know his family? So they rejected him and his ministry (Mt 13:55-56, Mk 6:3, Lk 4:28). So he responded with a proverb about how familiarity bred contempt ("prophet has no honor in his country and his family" in Mt 13:57, Mk 6:4, Lk 4:24). So, he could not minister to their needs because they rejected his message (Mt 13:58, Mk 6:5-6).
2. Death of the Baptist (14:1-12)
Salome and the Head of the Baptist
[M 6:14-29] Matthew condensed Mark's comment on Jesus' mobile ministry. Mk 6:12-13 recorded preaching, exorcisms and healings before he mentioned Herod Antipas; Mt 14:1 simply reported that Herod heard the report of Jesus' activities. Lk 9:6-7 split the difference between Matthew and Mark; he recalled preaching and healings, then reported Herod's reaction.
Matthew and Mark recorded the details of John's beheading; Luke only mentioned it in passing. All three did recount Herod's confusion when he compared Jesus' message to that of John's. After all, in Mk 6:14-16 and Lk 9:7-8 popular opinion gave both men the status of prophet; had John risen from the dead? Mt 14:2 deleted such gossip; it only recorded Herod's belief that John had indeed risen in the person of Jesus.
From this point, Luke dropped the extended narrative of John's beheading (see Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.1-3). In Mt 14:3-4 and Mk 6:17-18, both evangelists reported the marriage of Herod and Herodias; they also mentioned John's strong objection to the couple. Was their union unlawful? Herod Antipas divorced the daughter of the Nabatean king of Petra. Herodias divorced Herod Philip, Antipas' brother (see Josephus. Wars 1.28.4). According to Mk 6:17, both subsequently married each other. This violated the Torah on two levels. First, marrying the spouse of a close relative was prohibited (Lev 18:6, Lev 18:16, Lev 18:21); however, a man could marry the widow of a deceased brother to perpetuate the sibling's lineage (Deu 25:5-9). Second, women did not have the implicit power to divorce under Jewish Law (Deu 24:1-4); Herodias did have the right to divorce under Roman law. So the couple's legitimacy depended upon the lens through which one judged them, Jewish or pagan. John's critique cut deeper, however. He questioned the couple's faithfulness as Jews. In doing so, he challenged their legitimacy as rulers of a Jewish populace. This, of course, cut to the heart of their power. If the people did not believe in them, how could Rome?
So, the stage was set for Herod's birthday. At the insistence of his wife, the king had John arrested (Mt 14:3, Mk 6:17). In Mt 14:5, he hesitated to execute John because he feared a popular uprising; In Mk 6:19-20, he resisted his wife's call for blood based upon the Baptist's reputation as a "holy man." At Herod's party, Herodias played on the king's lust for his stepdaughter Salome. Thus, she trapped him into a oath. To fulfill that promise, she wanted the head of the Baptist on a platter. While he had regrets, he ordered the execution. Herodias had her revenge (Mt 14:6-11, Mk 6:21-28).
Beyond the ancient attitude that cheapened human life, we should not overlook just how scandalous affair was in the first century mind. It weaved incestuous lust with court intrigue. The tradition of John's death compared his goodness with the utter depravity of his executioners.
The scene closed with the burial of John (Mk 6:29); Mt 14:12 added that John's disciples told Jesus about the execution and internment of the body.
3. Kosher Halakhah Chiasmus
Chapters fourteen through fifteen in Matthew formed a three step chiasmus. Two different renditions of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes acted as the end steps. The next steps emphasized the power of Jesus, over nature (Walk on Water) and from a distance (Cure of Gentile Woman's Daughter). The top step was the teaching on kosher dietary rules. In other words, Jesus asserted he interpreted the application of such laws based upon his power.
a. Step A1: First Miracle of Loaves and Fishes (14:13-21)
Bread in a Basket
[M 6:30-44, J 6:1-15] The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes was the one of the few miracle passages shared by all four gospels. The crowds followed Jesus into the wilderness (Mt 14:13, Mk 6:31-33, Lk 9:11, Jn 6:1-3). He expressed compassion for them by healing the sick (Mt 14:14) and teaching them (Mk 6:34, Lk 9:11). Since it was late in the day, his disciples asked him to dismiss the people (Mt 14:15, Mk 6:35-36, Lk 9:12). In response, he challenged his followers to feed the crowds but they objected, pointing out they had only "five loaves and two fish" (Mt 14:16-17, Mk 6:37-38, Lk 9:13). (In Jn 6:5-8, Jesus instructed Philip to purchase the food but he objected; at this point, Andrew commented on a boy that had the bread and fish.) Then, he ordered the food brought to him (Mt 14:18) and instructed the people to sit (Mt 14:19, Mk 6:39, Lk 9:14-15, Jn 6:10).
Reflecting the Eucharistic words of institution (1 Cor 11:23-26, Mt 26:26-28, Mk 14:22-25, Lk 22:19-20), Jesus raised his gaze to heaven, took the food, blessed it, broke the bread and distributed it to the multitudes (Mt 14:19, Mk 6:41, Lk 9:16). (Jn 6:11 only recorded the blessing and distribution of the food.)
After the people ate, twelve baskets of leftovers were collected (Mt 14:20, Mk 6:42-43, Lk 9:17, Jn 6:12-13). In all, the food served 5,000 people (Mt 14:21, Mk 6:44, Lk 9:14, Jn 6:10).
b. Step B1: Jesus Walking on the Water (14:22-36)
In Matthew, Mark and John, the account of Jesus walking on water followed the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish. The scene opened with three activities. Jesus dismissed the crowds. He ordered his disciples to sail across the Sea of Galilee. And he climbed a mountain to pray alone (Mt 14:22-23, Mk 6:45-46). (In Jn 6:14-17, Jesus escaped the crowd when he climbed the mountain and he did not order his followers to sail.) As the night progressed, warm air rose up from the Sea of Galilee, thus sucking cool air through the desert canyons that fed the lake and creating a wind storm (Mt 14:23-24, Mk 6:47-48, Jn 6:17-18).
Jesus walked on the water towards the boat at the fourth watch, between three AM to six AM (Mt 14:25, Mk 6:48). (Jn 6:19 mentioned the distance from the shore but not the time frame.) This detail echoed the power of God in the book of Job:
He alone stretches out the heavens,
and treads on the waves of the sea.
To reinforce the divine presence, Jesus responded to the panic of the disciples with a small chiasmus:
(Step A1) "Tharseo." Take courage.
(Step B) "Ego eimi." I AM.
(Step A2) "Me phobeo." Do not be afraid.
Notice the top step of the chiasmus recalled the name of YHWH from Exo 3:14. "I AM" was shorthand for "I am who am." Despite the fear of the disciples at the sight of Jesus (Mt 14:26, Mk 6:49, Jn 6:19), Jesus revealed his true nature within the command for calm (Mt 14:27, Mk 6:50, Jn 6:20).
Mt 14:28-31 added Peter's request to walk on water like Jesus did. While Jesus accepted, Peter faltered and cried out for rescue. Jesus responded with a challenge, "Why did you doubt?"
We must consider the symbolism of the scene for a moment. The boat represented the Church. Two fishing miracles (Lk 5:1-11, Jn 21:1-14) and a fishing parable (Mt 13:49-50) addressed the allusion. The storm represented persecution where missionaries felt abandoned by the Lord. But, when opposition cooled (" Jesus entered the boat and the storm passed"), they could look back in retrospect to see the activity of the Spirit and praise God (Mt 14:32-33, Mk 6:51). (Jn 6:21 did not mention the storm passing or the resulting acts of faith on the part of the disciples.)
The scene ended when Jesus and his disciples arrived in Gennesaret. There, people recognized him and he healed many of their sick, even with the touch of his garment hem (Mt 14:34-36, Mk 6:53-56).
c. Step C: Kosher Diet Controversy (15:1-20)
[M 7:1-23] In Matthew like Mark, the religious leaders confronted Jesus. They claimed his followers did not follow proper kosher practices ("washing hands" in Mt 15:1-2, Mk 7:1-2). Then, Matthew edited out the Mark's details of washing customs (Mk 7:2-4). Instead, in Matthew, Jesus struck at the heart of the controversy: who really kept the Law, his followers or the religious leaders? He attacked the leaders for their ruling on Korban (Mt 15:5, Mk 7:11), a practice that diverted monetary support away from family toward Temple charity. He claimed such diversion violated the commandment obligation to honor parents (Mt 15:3-4, Mk 7:8-9; see Exo 20:12, Deu 5:16, then Exo 21:17, Lev 20:9). By quoting the Torah twice, he trumped the "traditions" of the leaders, even claiming they "made the word of God void" (Mt 15:6, Mk 7:12). Finally, he placed Isaiah's prophecy front and center (Mt 15:6-7, Mk 7:8-13; see Isa 29:13). Thus he portrayed the "apostasy" of the leaders within salvation history.
Once Jesus undercut the authority of leaders, he asserted his own with a teaching on kosher diets. He addressed the crowds with the principle of morality: intent of the heart, not food, defiled a person (Mt 15:10-11, Mk 7:14-15). Here in Matthew, he added two parables that dismissed the concerns of the leaders (Mt 15:12). First, he made an agricultural allusion about divine judgment (Mt 15:13).
[Q 6:39] Next, he commented on the spiritual blindness of his opponents and their followers (Mt 15:14; Lk 6:39).
Both did not stop the disciples to ask for clarification (Peter in Mt 15:15, unnamed followers in Mk 7:17). So, he unpacked the moral principle. Food simply passed through a body (Mt 15:16-17, Mk 7:18-19) but immorality originated within the character of the person, beginning with one's speech (Mt 15:18, Mk 7:20). By comparing immoral acts to the washing of hands (Mt 15:19-20, Mk 7:21-23), he heightened the absurdity of the leader's argument.
d. Step B2: Gentile Woman Encounter (15:21-28)
[M 7:24-30] Here, Matthew followed Mark's sequence. After his principle on kosher dietary rules, Jesus traveled into the northern Gentile territories of Tyre and Sidon (modern-day Lebanon; Mt 15:21, Mk 7:24). A pagan woman recognized him, then begged him to exorcise her daughter (Mt 15:22, Mk 7:25-26). Matthew added a verse about the silence of the Nazarene and the objection of his disciples to her request (Mt 15:23); he also added a verse that reinforced the limitation of his ministry strictly to Jews (Mt 15:24; see Mt 10:5-6). However, the woman interjected with her desperate request for healing (Mt 15:25, Mk 7:26).
Still, Jesus tried to dissuade the woman with a statement someone could interpret as derogatory (the bread of children shouldn't be thrown to the dogs; Mt 15:26, Mk 7:27). Notice the term "dog" in the context of a woman. Some scholars hold ancient Greeks connected this association in the name "bitch," associating a insistent woman with a female dog in heat. Nonetheless, Greeks did use the general term "dog" as an insult for a shameless, even anti-social and violent person. In this context, however, Jesus used it to refer to Gentiles as second-class citizens - hardly uplifting.
But the woman flipped the tables on the term. She used it as a title of endearment. As a loyal pet, the family dog was entitled to the scraps from the table (Mt 15:27, Mk 7:28). Employing it in this way, she declared her trust in Jesus. For her faith, he exorcised her daughter (Mt 15: 28, Mk 7:29-30).
Note two details from this passage. First, Jesus healed from a distance by his word alone, which had power over evil. This echoed the power of God's utterance in the first creation story (Gen 1:1-2:2); what YHWH said was "good." This paralleled the passage of Jesus walking on water (see Mt 14:22-36) that inferred his divine nature.
Second, the notion of the "children's bread" had Eucharistic overtones. Was the "breaking of bread" strictly a Jewish-Christian affair or did Gentile believers have a place at the table? This periscope implied non-Jews did have a right to the Eucharist as equals to their Jewish brethren.
e. Step A2: Second Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes (15:29-39)
[M 8:1-9] The matter of "children's bread" and "crumbs" acted as a natural transition to this next passage: the Multiplication for the 4,000. Notice Matthew inserted the account in place of Mk 7:31-37. Thus, Matthew created a solid chiasmus, beginning and ending with variations on the same miracle.
Matthew emphasized the power of Jesus. The Nazarene returned to Jewish territory in Galilee and the people gathered around him on a mountain top (Mt 15:29). There, he healed crippling ailments (Mt 15:30-31; see Mt 14:14). Unlike the first multiplication miracle, he expressed compassion for the hungry (Mt 15:32, Mk 8:2-3). The disciples objected (Mt 15:33, Mk 8:4). He answered their question with one of his own. "How many loaves do you have?" Their response was seven (notice Mt 15:34 added "a few fish" while Mk 8:5 initially did not). He instructed the people to sit, pronounced the blessing over the food and had his disciples distribute it to the crowd (Mt 15:35-36, Mk 8:6-7 where the fish were mentioned; see Mt 14:19). Even though the people ate their fill, the disciples collected seven baskets of leftovers (Mt 15:37, Mk 8:8); from the perspective of ancient Jewish numberology, the number seven, like the number twelve (see Mt 14:20), meant fullness or completion. While Mt 14:21 mentioned five thousand men in attendance, Mt 15:38 and Mk 8:9 stated the number there as four thousand. After Jesus dismissed the people, he and his followers sailed to Magdala on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (Mt 15:39; Mk 8:10 mentioned Dalmanutha, a location in dispute among scholars).
Note that, like the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Mt 14:13-21, this miracle had Eucharistic overtones. In Mt 15:36, Jesus gave thanks and broke the loaves, then gave them to his disciples for distribution. Thus, this passage closed a chiasmus about the "breaking of bread" (Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Steps A1 and A2), who can participate in that fellowship (ruling on kosher dietary rules in Step C) and divine power (walking on water in Step B1 and exorcism of Gentile woman's daughter in Step B2).
4. Warning Against Sign Seekers
and Leadership (16:1-12)
[M 8:11-21] In this passage, Matthew tracked Mark. Jesus warned his followers about the challenges the religious leaders would present. They presupposed their own authority but questioned that of the Nazarene. They asked for a heavenly sign (Mt 16:1, Mk 8:11). Jesus responded with a proverb about the weather. If the wind blew towards the Mediterranean, the dust it kicked up would refract the light of the western sunset and create a reddish hue (Mt 16:2); this indicated good weather. But if the wind blew offshore from an approaching storm, it pushed east towards the desert. At dawn, light refracted off dust particles, thus creating a reddish hue. Such was the common wisdom. Yet, there was a common blindness to the greater picture (Mt 16:3). This lack of insight indicated moral weakness that insisted on a sign in order to legitimate Jesus' ministry. Yet, his mission to spread the Good News justified itself in the same way Jonah's call to repentance needed no reason for being (Mt 16:4, Mk 8:12).
The disciples' lack of bread gave rise to the next warning (Mt 16:5, Mt 16:7, Mk 8:14, Mk 8:16). Jesus used a culinary metaphor: "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees" (Mt 16:6, Mk 8:15). He likened the teachings of the religious leaders to that of an additive that could change, even warp, one's character. Note he implicitly compared bread that rose to unleavened bread of the Passover (see Ex 12:18); the later represented the true spirit of Judaism.
In the same vein, Jesus reminded his followers about the miracle of multiplication. The followers had no bread. Yet, he asked the rhetorical question of leftovers from the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand (Mt 16:8-10, Mk 8:19-21). So, who had the power of God? And, by extension, who was the source of true teaching, Jesus or the Pharisees? Nevertheless, he again warned his followers about the teachings of his opponents, but they did not understand (Mt 16:11-12, Mk 8:21).
5. Revelation Chiasmus
The warning against signs acted as a prelude to the revelation chiasmus. If Jesus expected his disciples to refrain from following the religious leaders, he needed to reveal his sign. He foreshadowed his sign in the two predictions of his Passion (which anchor Steps A1 and A2). He would manifest his glory in the Transfiguration (Step B).
a. Step A1: Identity
The first sub-chiasmus focused on identity. What defined the Christ and his community? Jesus asked his followers to voice their expectations. In doing so, they would define their relationship with their leader. After Peter answered for the group, Jesus could boldly state the true meaning of his identity: the Suffering Servant. He boldly stated his disciples would follow in that mold.
1) Sub-step A1: Identity of the Christ and Community Leadership (16:13-20)
"Who do you say I am?" At Caesarea Philippi, a resort at the base of Mt. Hermon, Jesus asked his famous question about identity (Mt 16:13, Mk 8:27, Lk 9:18). In all three Synoptic gospels, his disciples gave various responses from the spirit of the prophets to that of the Baptist (Mt 16:14, 8:28, Lk 9:19). Then he repeated the question, focusing on the disciples' opinion. Simon Peter replied as the group's spokesman, "You are the Christ" (Mt 16:29, Mk 8:29, Lk 9:20). Clearly, through the words of Peter, they believed Jesus was the Messiah and they were integral members of his movement.
Here, Matthew made that connection explicit. Jesus bestowed a beatitude upon Simon bar Jonah (the disciple's full name) for the revelation the man received from God. As a reward, he renamed him "Peter" for his act of faith would anchor the Church, making it unshakable (Mt 16:17-18). (Of course, no one could miss the irony of Peter's triple denial in Mt 26:69-75.) That same act would give Peter a place of authority (a porter figure with the "keys to the Kingdom") to make judgments within the Messianic community ("bind...loosen" in Mt 16:19).
2) Sub-step B Suffering Servant; First Passion Prediction (16:21-23)
After ordering his followers to remain silent about his status as the Christ, Jesus taught them what his identity entailed: rejection, suffering, death and resurrection (Mt 16:21, Mk 8:31, Lk 9:22).
3) Sub-step A2: Identity of the True Disciple (16:22-28)
In Mt 16:22-23 and Mk 8:32-33, Peter argued with Jesus against the idea of the suffering Christ, but the Nazarene threatened to excommunicate the fisherman (note Luke removed these verses from his gospel).
Then, Jesus defined discipleship in light of his fate as the Suffering Servant. The true follower would exercise self denial even to the point of dying for the faith ("pick up his cross and follow me" in Mt 16:24-25, Mk 8:34-35, Lk 9:23-24). For those who lusted for power or possessions were shortsighted when compared with those who saw reality through heaven's eyes (Mt 16:26, Mk 8:36-37, Lk 16:25). Indeed, all will receive what they deserve at the Final Judgment (Mt 16:27; note Mk 8:38 and Lk 9:26 spoke directly to the shame of the apostate). The monologue ended with a comment about the immanence of the Kingdom (Mt 16:28, Mk 9:1, Lk 9:27 .
b. Step B: The Transfiguration (17:1-13)
[M 9:2-13] The Transfiguration marked a high point in revelation, figuratively and literally. Jesus took three of his earliest disciples up to the top of a mountain for prayer time (Mt 17:1 and Mk 9:2 mentioned six days after Jesus' first prediction; Lk 9:28 estimated eight days). There, he revealed his glory to Peter, James and John. The term "glory" has two meanings: visually (as in light) or orally (as in good reputation). Obviously, the Synoptic writers meant the former, since Jesus and his clothing glowed (Mt 17:2, Mk 9:2-3, Lk 9:29).
Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and conversed with Jesus (Mt 17:3, Mk 9:4, Lk 9:30). Moses represented the Law and Elijah the Prophets. The Hebrew Scriptures were known as "the Law and the Prophets." The appearance of the men with the Nazarene and their conversation symbolized the interaction between the Scriptures and the Good News. This living metaphor set up Peter's response to the sight: "Let's make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah" (Mt 17:4, Mk 9:5-6, Lk 9:33). The tents (or "booths" as in the "Festival of Booths"; see Jn 7:2) referred to the autumn festival called Sukkot. This was a major pilgrimage feast (see Lev 23:34-44) that commemorated the reception of the Law during the Exodus. The faithful would celebrate the week-long festival by spending at least part of their day in a structure with an organic roof (palm branches, for example). So, Peter connected the presence of those who revealed the glory of Israel (Jesus, Moses and Elijah) with the revelation of the Law in Sinai.
The Synoptic authors continued with the Exodus motif. A glowing cloud representing the divine presence overshadowed them (see Exo 13:21-22, Num 14:14, Deu 1:33, Neh 9:19). A voice from the cloud commanded them to hear his beloved Son (Mt 17:5, Mk 9:7, Lk 9:34-35). In other words, God wanted the three disciples to focus on Jesus. He was the arbitrator of the Torah, surpassing both Moses and Elijah. He was the source of the new revelation. So, no tents were necessary.
This scene overwhelmed the disciples who cowered in fear (Mt 17:6, Mk 9:6, Lk 9:34). Then, Jesus calmed them and instructed them not to share their vision until the Resurrection (Mt 17:7-9, Mk 9:8-10). Finally, the question of Elijah arose. According to 2 Kings 2:3-9, the prophet didn't die but was swept into heaven on a fiery chariot. And, Mal 4:5-6 predicted his return just prior to the Day of YHWH. So, Mt 17:10 and Mk 9:11 saw the Transfiguration in terms of the end times. If Peter, James and John would live to witness the Resurrection, THE sign of the end, won't Elijah appear first?
Jesus responded in the past tense. Elijah did appear to restore God's message. But, as it was written about the Son of Man, the prophet would also suffer (Mt 17:11-12, Mk 9:12-13). In Mt 17:13, his followers connected Elijah with John the Baptist.
c. Step A2: Signs of Scandals
Matthew surrounded the second Passion prediction with two miracle stories: an exorcism and finding money in a fish. Besides their placement, only the question of scandal tied the two together. The first occurred in the midst of scandal while the second meant to avoid upsetting others. Faith would cause gossip even opposition among non-believers. The question for the missionaries remained. Which battle should they choose? The answer depended on the good of others.
1) Sub-step A1: Scandals Causing Faith; Exorcism and Power of Belief (17:14-21)
[M 9:14-29] All the Synoptics followed the Transfiguration with the passage of a exorcism. Matthew and Luke shortened Mark's account. The scene opened with the pleas of the father for his epileptic son with self-destructive behaviors. The disciples could not heal him (Mt 17:14-16; Mk 9:17-18 listed the boy as a mute; Lk 9:38-40 merely mentioned the self-destructive acts).
Exasperated at the lack of faith, Jesus exorcised the boy (Mt 17:17-18, Mk 9:19, Lk 9:41). He directed his impatience ("How long will I bear with you?") and anger at the crowd in general ("faithless and perverse generation"). But, his disciples felt frustrated by their lack of effective action (Mt 17:19, Mk 9:28)
[Q 17:6] Here, Matthew inserted the parable of the mustard seed (Mt 17:20, Lk 17:6). Jesus exhorted his followers to face difficulty with sure faith.
But, he also directed his followers to pray and fast before conducting in spiritual warfare (Mt 17:21, Mk 9:29).
2) Sub-step B: Suffering Servant; Second Passion Prediction (17:22-23)
[M 9:30-31] The second prediction of the Passion fell on the heels of the exorcism (Mt 17:22-23, Mk 9:30-31, Lk 9:44-45). Matthew and Mark located the prophecy in Galilee; Luke just made it a general remark. Matthew portrayed the disciples' reaction as sorrow, while Mark and Luke saw confusion.
3) Sub-step A2: Avoiding Unnecessary Scandal; Paying the Temple Tax (17:24-27)
[Mt] This passage was exclusive to Matthew. Jewish officials (from the synagogue?) collected monies (didrachma worth two days wages) for the Temple (see Exo 30:13 and Neh 10:32-34). The obligation was universal to both Palestinian and Diaspora faithful. Naturally, the question arose among Jewish Christians in Matthew's community: should we pay the Temple tax? (Mt 17:24) Jesus added an interesting twist to the discussion? Who should pay, Jews or Gentiles? (Mt 17:25-26) This inferred the superiority of the saved over the pagans. But, to keep scandal to a minimum, he instructed Peter to miraculously find a coin (stater worth two didrachma, equal to one shekel) to pay for both of them (Mt 17:27).
Matthew developed this sub-steps of the revelation chiasmus as a mirror parallel: faith-scandal, scandal-faith. Peter declared Jesus the Christ then, after the first Passion prediction, argued with Jesus over the role of the Messiah. After the Transfiguration, exorcising a demon possessed boy created scandal, then, with the second prediction, Peter implicitly obeyed Jesus' command to pay the Temple tax based on a miracle.
H. Fourth Discourse:
Community Instructions (18:1-19:1)
1. Serving the Weak in the Community
We can divide this section into two parts: the moral character of community leadership and the pastoral care of the local church. What made a good leader? The one who identified with the lowest in the community. How did a good leader act? He or she created connections with those who sinned and left the community, in hopes of their return.
a. Little Children and Temptation (18:1-10)
[M 9:33-37] In Mt 18:1, Mk 9:34 and Lk 9:46, the blessing of the child grew out of the question of end time ambition. Who was the greatest in the Kingdom? Of course, Jesus turned this into a teachable moment by pointing to the least in society, the child (Mt 18:2-3). However, in Mk 9:35-37 and Lk 9:47-48, Jesus shifted the question of greatness to one of service; the one who received the child with hospitality was the least, hence the greatest.
[Mark-Q Overlap; Q 17:1-2] Matthew expanded that theme. To receive the child meant to become the child (Mt 18:3-5). But it also entailed responsibility for the child's good. Hence, the author added the caveat of moral example. The one who led the least astray would be better off executed (Mt 18:5-6, Mk 9:42, Lk 17:2).
[M 9:42-48] Jesus shifted from leadership measured by care of the weak to the subject of personal morality. He divided temptation into those of action and those of visual witness. Action included possible sins committed by the hand (thief, murder, etc) and those where the person traveled on foot. Visual witness included possible experiences beyond areas the limits of social propriety. Of course, the Nazarene spoke in hyperbole. He did not mean to literally cut off a hand or foot, even pluck out an eye. Instead, he led his audience to consider the sins of the hand, the foot and the eye. He urged them to reject those situations that led their extremities to sin. Better to avoid those in order to enter the Kingdom than to fall and suffer eternal punishment (Mt 18:7-9, Mk 9:43-48).
However, Jesus caught the ears of his audience by turning the notion of kosher upside down. The Torah banned "blemished" priests unworthy of offering sacrifice (Deu 32:5, Prov 9:7, Job 11:15). Only the pure could approach the presence of YHWH. Indeed, Lev 19:28 forbade self-mutilation. But, Jesus insisted that those who maimed themselves ("blemished") for moral reasons could enter the Kingdom and implicitly stand before God.
In Matthew, Jesus ended this passage with a warning to community leadership. Make sure their example does not scandalize the lowest, for they too stand in the presence of the Father (Mt 18:10).
b. Saving the Lost (18:10-14)
[Q 15:4-7] In this parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus shifted from the character of the church leader to one of pastoral care. In the story, the shepherd left the flock to seek the single lost sheep (Mt 18:10-13, Lk 15:4-6). In the common mind, no shepherd would abandon his flock to the dangers of predators or thieves. But, the Nazarene insisted upon the utmost care for the individual as the will of God (Mt 18:14, Lk 15:7). Hence, pastoral concerns meant one-on-one relationships.
In this section, Jesus laid out a process for reconciling sinners to the community, emphasized the divine presence in that process despite the few involved and the connection between such reconciliation and divine mercy.
a. Forgiving Others (18:15-20)
[Q 17:3-4] When we compare this passage from Matthew with the Q verses found in Luke, we find Matthew expanded the discussion on forgiveness with a community process for reconciliation. Both gospels urged forgiveness for the individual who repented (Mt 18:15, Lk 17:3). But in Matthew, Jesus addressed the obstinate sinner; two or three church representatives should confront the unrepentant (Mt 17:16; see Deu 19:15). Notice he emphasized privacy, both to protect the reputations of the sinner and the community. If such confrontation did not move the sinner, then the community should bring the situation out into the open and excommunicate the unrepentant offender (Mt 17:17). Also note the rejected treated "like a Gentile or tax collector" placed him or her into the prime audience for evangelization. Jesus reached out to the outcast, foreigner and publican, so should the Church.
In Matthew, Jesus closed the passage on communal reconciliation with a comment on the local church quorum. In Gen 18:16-33, Abraham prayed Sodom be spared for the sake of ten righteous men in the city. In late antiquity, both the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds recognized the need for ten worshippers to form a quorum for worship; with these ten, YHWH would be present. In Mt 18:18, Jesus empowered the community with the same power to "bind and loosen" as he gave to Simon Peter (Mt 16:19), but context limited that power to the reconciliation of the particular sinner. However, he reduced the quorum to "two or three gathered in my name" (Mt 18:16, Mt 18:19); with even these few numbers, he promised he would be present in their pastoral efforts (Mt 18:20).
b. Parable of the Unforgiving Official (18:21-19:1)
[Q 17:3-4] In response to Peter's question about the extent of forgiveness (Mt 18:21), Jesus emphasized not the totality of forgiveness but the ongoing nature of the act (Mt 18:22, Lk 17:3-4).
Jesus followed his teaching with the parable of the Unforgiving Official. "The Kingdom of heaven is like…" an official who owed the king ten thousand talents, an absurd amount that represented the Gross National Product of many ancient nations. Of course, the official stole and squandered the money so he could not repay the debt (Mt 18:24-25). Thus, he grovelled for mercy (Mt 18:26). Yet, the king implicitly surprised the man by forgiving the obligation to repay (Mt 18:27).
But, that same official throttled a fellow official for a debt that represented a small fraction of what the first man owed the king (Mt 18:28-30). When the king heard reports of the unmerciful servant, he angrily imposed the sentence the official first faced with his gargantuan debt (Mt 18:31-34).
Thus in Matthew, Jesus closed the Community Discourse with a teaching on communal forgiveness that remained forever linked to divine mercy (Mt 18:35-19:1). Indeed, mercy defined the faith community. Jesus measured leaders in their relations with the least in community. Did they treat the childlike with care? Did they avoid moral compromise that might scandalize these "little ones?" Did they reach out to and evangelize the unrepentant? DId they treat such sinners with respect? Did they forgive as God had forgiven them? In very practical ways, the Nazarene laid out the evangelical program as a proclamation of mercy, not only in word but in deed.
I. Extended Jerusalem Ministry
1. Problems with Discipleship
After the Community Discourse in chapter 18, Matthew chapters 19 and 20 tracked Mark chapter 10 closely with the exception of 20:1-16 (Parable of the Hirelings).
"Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:20). The following three passages addressed the question of the believer's righteous viz a viz that of the Pharisees. For the words of Jesus did reflect that later life situation of the faithful in the Matthean community.
So, how did the righteousness of the Christian stand out? In Matthew, Jesus gave three answers: lifelong monogamy, care for the child and total devotion to Christ.
1) Halakhah on Divorce and Serving in the Kingdom (19:2-12)
[M 10:2-12] In this passage, the Pharisees confront Jesus about the subject of divorce (Mt 19:3, Mt 5:31-32, Mk 10:2). Deu 24:1-4 implicitly recognized a husband's right to send his wife away by simply writing her a statement of divorce. However, a loose practice of that right led to social injustice. A wife turned out by her husband usually had no means of support and quickly slid into homelessness, even prostitution.
Jesus responded by referencing Gen 1:27 about the creation of men and women (Mt 19:4, Mk 10:6). Then, he quoted Gen 2:24 about the unity of the married couple in creation (Mt 19:5, Mk 10:7-8). Since these verses occurred before the passage from Deuteronomy and because they referred to the pristine beginning of creation, they were held in higher esteem. So, Jesus declared that, from the beginning of time, the divine will intended for the married couple to remain faithful for life (Mt 19:6, Mk 10:9).
In Matthew, the Pharisees repeated the question. If God intended lifelong fidelity, why did he add divorce in the Law? (Mt 19:7). They considered the Mosaic legal codes perfect, so no contradiction was possible. They thought they had trapped the Nazarene into such a position. They could use it to undercut his authority as a teacher of the Law.
Jesus stood his ground. From the beginning, God willed a life of monogamy; he only allowed divorce based upon human moral weakness (Mk 19:8). Then Jesus extended his logic to divorce itself. Any person who did not maintain marital fidelity for a lifetime, even in the case of divorce and remarriage, committed adultery (Mt 19:9, Mk 10:11). We should note that Matthew made a divorce exception for extra-marital affairs,
In Matthew, the disciples realized the difficulty following such a teaching. Wouldn't a man be better off unmarried? (Mt 19:10) Jesus responded with the analogy of the eunuch. Some were born into that condition. Some were castrated by others. Some choose to live like a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom (Mt 19:11-12), Note the Nazarene spoke in hyperbole. To live a celebate life did not mean literal self castration, but to set aside a married life for one that advanced the Kingdom (see 1 Cor 7).
2) Importance of the Child (19:13-15)
[M 10:13-16] In the Synoptics, parents brought their children to Jesus, but the disciples rebuked them (Mt 19:13, Mk 10:13, Lk 18:15). The reaction of the followers reflected the values of an ancient society that honored the elderly but implicitly discounted the place of the young. In a typical counter-cultural fashion, Jesus welcomed the children. He insisted the Kingdom was made for the young. Then, he blessed the children by placing his hands on them (Mt 19:14-15, Mk 10:14, Mk 10:16, Lk 18:16).
Note this passage reflected the instructions for pastoral care in the Community Discourse (see Mt 18:2-5). In this case, Matthew followed the text of Mark.
3) The Rich Young Man; Dependence on God (19:16-30)
[M 10:17-31] Could a model Jew risk joining the faith community? This was the question underlying the passage of the rich young man.
In the Synoptics, a rich young man approached Jesus with a question about eternal life (Mt 19:16, Mk 10:17, Lk 18:18). Note the man assumed the Nazarene had knowledge about the subject since he preached about the Kingdom. But, was the question a ruse? After all, the man addressed Jesus as "Good Teacher." The Nazarene rejected the title but continued with the subject at hand. If the man's original inquiry was cynical, the flow of the conversation quickly turned serious.
DId the young man follow the commandments? (Mt 19:17) In Matthew, the young man wanted the commandments specified. So, Jesus listed the later ordinances of the Ten Commandment (Mt 19:18-19, Mk 10:19, Lk 18:20; see Exo 20:12-16, Deu 5:16-20). Interestingly enough in Matthew, Jesus capped off the list with the command to love one's neighbor as one's self (Mt 19:19; see Lev 19:18).
The young man affirmed his adherence to the Torah (Mt 19:20, Mk 10:20, Lk 18:21). But in Matthew, the young asked a question on the mind of many ancient contemporaries. "What do I lack?" (see Lk 3:10-14, for example)
Jesus responded with a command for and an invitation to the young man. Leave, sell his possessions and give to the poor, then he would have a "treasure in heaven." Then, the Nazarene invited the young man to become a disciple (Mt 19:21, Mk 10:21, Lk 18:22). While Mark and Luke described the young man's spiritual deficit as a "lack," Matthew addressed it as a challenge. "If you want to be perfect…" In Mt 5:48, Jesus instructed his followers "to be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." Jesus did not mean a morally flawless character but a complete devotion to God. Thus, the man could find eternal life if he cut financial and social ties that undergird his wealth and turn his undivided attention to the Nazarene. Life as a disciple would reveal devotion to God.
Of course, this was too much for the young man. He was too attached to the possessions that he and his contemporaries saw as blessings from YHWH. Both his wealth and his adherence to the Mosiac Law reinforced his self image and reputation as a righteous Jew. But, Jesus upset that societal view. To answer the challenge, the young man would have to reject not only his wealth but his reputation. That, he could not do (Mt 19:22, Mk 10:22, Lk 18:23).
Jesus reacted to the common wisdom about riches as God's blessing. Instead of a blessing, he saw wealth as a spiritual burden that impeded one's advancement to the Kingdom (Mt 19:23, Mk 10:23-24, Lk 18:24), The phrase "camel through the eye of a needle" has some controversy attached to it (Mt 19:24, Mk 10:25, Lk 18:24). Most scholars question alternate explanations such as a mistranslation of camel as cable (Cyril of Alexandria in his fragment 219) or posit the "eye of the needle" as small, defensive gate in Jerusalem which required travelers to dismount and unload a camel before the animal could enter the city.
Yet, the common wisdom on wealth as a blessing remained pervasive. The words of Jesus shocked his disciples. If the righteous man of substance could not find salvation, who could? (Mt 19:25, Mk 10:26, Lk 18:26). Jesus answered stating that only the power of God, not of humans, could save (Mt 19:26, Mk 10:27, Lk 18:27). Speaking for the disciples, Peter reminded the Nazarene of the price they paid to become followers; in some cases, they abandoned reputation, family and material comforts to join the community (Mt 19:27, Mt 10:28, Lk 18:28). In Matthew, Jesus recalled the core message about the prime place for the Son of Man in the eschaton (Mt 19:28). This pronouncement set up the promise disciples would receive abundant blessings in this life and eternal life in the next. Believers would realize such if they sacrificed present advantages ("the last") for the future Kingdom ("the first" in Mt 19:29-30, Mk 10:29-31, Lk 18:29-30).
The three passages in 20:1-28 formed a chiasmus or stair step structure. Like those of the first two Passion predictions (Mt 16:21, Mt 17:22), the third Passion prediction was the higher step. The lower steps focused on disciples' ambitions and the moral of leading through service.
1) Step A1: The Parable of the Hirelings (20:1-16)
[Mt] The Parable of the Hirelings was exclusive to Matthew. He placed immediately after the passage of the rich young man. And he paralleled the moral of the previous pericope (Mt 19:30) to the moral of the parable (Mt 20:16): "the last shall be first and the first last." This time, however, Jesus applied it to community leaders, not to all disciples.
Like many other Matthean parables, Jesus compared the Kingdom to a harvest (Mt 20:1). This gathering of grapes represented the end times, while the vineyard implicitly represented Israel (see Isa 5:10, Psa 80:8-10, Jer 2:21, Hos 10:1). The owner (God) sent word for day laborers (leadership) to help with the harvest; both parties agreed to the day's wage of one denarius (Mt 20:2). The crop was so abundant, the owner hired workers throughout the day, promising the same wage (Mt 20:3-7). At sunset, the workers gathered to receive their wages but those hired early grumbled as they received the same denarius as those brought in the late afternoon (Mt 20:8-12). The owner rewarded the workers the same despite their efforts (Mt 20:13-15).
Any community has its infighting. In the case of the Matthean church, some leaders might have claimed authority or privilege based upon seniority. These claims might have caused friction with up-and-coming leaders. In the gospel, Jesus told this story to remind leaders, regardless of age, that the mission, not status, had priority. Evangelization took precedent. Thus, the principle held. "The last shall be first and the first last. Many are called, few are chosen." (Mt 20:16)
2) Step B: Third Prediction of the Passion (20:17-19)
[M 10:32-34] On his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus took the Twelve aside. He announced his Passion and Resurrection for the third time (Mt 20:17-19, Mk 10:32-34, Lk 18:31-33)
3) Step A2: Ambition of John and James (20:20-28)
[M 10:35-45] On a thematic level, the ambition of John and James mirrored that of the missionaries in the Parable of the Hirelings. Leadership assumed a privileged position whether based on seniority or friendship. Of course, Jesus used this scenario for a teachable moment.
Unlike Mk 10:35, the mother of John and James asked the question about power in the Kingdom in Mt 20:20-21. Sitting on the immediate right or left of a monarch designated favored status, hence power. Jesus viewed power in the Kingdom through the lens of his Passion. Were the two apostles able to endure similar suffering? They readily agreed (Mt 20:22, Mt 10:38-39). While he did predict their suffering for the faith, he reminded them that the Father determined places of honor in the Kingdom; he had no say in the matter (Mt 20:23, Mk 10:39-40).
Note the sacramental theme in the question and prediction of Jesus. He described the test of suffering as a fellowship in a Eucharistic cup. In light of the Last Supper (Mt 26:26-29), we can see the close link between suffering and faith reflected in Communion..
Hearing the question about a preferred place, the other disciples objected (Mt 20:24, Mk 10:41). Jesus used this moment to reinforce his teaching on leadership. Unlike the exercise of worldly power that dominated, community power lay in humble service. The Son of Man came to serve and laid down his life for the good of all (Mt 20:25-28, Mk 10:42-45).
c. Conclusion: Curing the Blind Men at Jericho (20:29-34)
[M 10:46-52] All three Synoptic gospels recorded the healing of the blind at Jericho. While Mark identified the blind man as Bartimeaus, Matthew reported two men without sight. Why did he double the number of the healed? (see Mt 8:28-34 compared with Mk 5:1-17) As a Jewish Christian, the evangelist was concerned with the truth value of the gospel. Deu 19:15 required two or three witnesses to prove an assertion true, so doubling the healed helped Matthew evangelize.
Besides this detail, Matthew tracked Mark. On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus passed through Jericho. On the edge of town, two men cried out for mercy (Mt 20:29-30, Mk 10:46-47, Lk 18:35-38). They asserted the phrase "son of David" which didn't necessarily refer to ancestral lineage but to the wise son of the king, Solomon. They challenged the great teacher who preached wisdom to prove himself with a sign of God's power. In other words, they were trying to shame Jesus into healing them. Many in the crowd considered their outburst inappropriate, so they tried to quiet them, but without effect (Mt 20:31, Mk 10:48, Lk 18:39).
Jesus called them forward and asked them what they wanted. They wished to see (Mt 20:32-33, Mk 10:49-51, Lk 18:40-41). In Mk 10:52 and Lk 18:42, Jesus simply pronounced their sight restored but, in Mt 20:34, he touched their eyes to give them sight. In all the Synoptics, the formerly blind men became followers (Mt 20:34, Mk 10:52, Lk 18:43). This last detail played on the meaning of "sight." It had a physical and spiritual meaning. In this periscope, physical sight led to spiritual sight (faith; see John 9:1-7, John 9:35-41).
2. Temple Ministry
In Matthew, Jesus began his ministry in Jerusalem with three events in quick succession: his entry into the city, his cleansing of the Temple and his curse of the fig tree (representing the religious leadership). All three created the controversy that would follow.
a. Entry into Jerusalem (21:1-11)
Entry into Jerusalem
[M 11:1-10] All four gospels (Mt 21:1-11, Mk 11:1-10, Lk 19:28-40, Jn 12:12-19) mentioned the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. The three Synoptics included his instructions to his disciples. At Bethsphage near the Mount of Olives (Mt 21:1, Mk 11:1, Lk 19:29; see Zech 14:4), he told them to fetch a donkey and her young. If anyone should ask, the animals would be returned immediately after their use (Mt 21:2-3, Mk 11:2-3, Lk 19:30-31).
All the gospels quoted Zechariah's prophecy concerning the arrival of its king despite Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King comes to you!
He is righteous, and having salvation;
lowly, and riding on a donkey,
even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.surrounding enemy states:
The disciples obeyed the Nazarene's command and he mounted the animal. Note in Matthew, the followers brought both the donkey and its young for Jesus' use; the other gospels simply mentioned the older animal (Mt 21:6-7, Mk 11:7, Lk 19:35, Jn 12:14). Disciples and the general populace spread their cloaks upon the animals themselves and upon the road which the animals strode (Mt 21:8, Mk 11:8, Lk 19:35-36). The animals and the cloaks represented humility in stark contrast to the pomp that would surround a victorious king entering the city.
Yet, the crowd also celebrated by waving palm branches (Mt 21:8, Mk 11:8, Jn 12:13). Such a response paralleled the ancient festival of Sukkot (Festival of Booths; see Lev 23:33-43) where participants would carry fruit and tree branches in joyful celebration; these branches included palm leaves. Another example was the entrance of Simon Maccabeaus into Jerusalem. The Hasmonean leader relieved a famine in the city. So, in the spring of 141 BCE, he entered it amidst rejoicing, song and palm leaf waving (1 Maccabees 13:51).
All the gospels agreed with the initial greeting of the people. "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Mt 21:9, Mk 11:9, Lk 19:38, Jn 12:13). The line came from Psa 118:26. Psalm 118 was the hymn of the king who relied upon YHWH and received divine help (Psa 118:5-14). Thus, it included praise and thanksgiving (Psa 118:1-4, PSa 118:15-21). In the context of the psalm, the line considered the leader who entered Jerusalem as favored by God ("blessed") because he exercised divine power ("...in the name of the Lord"). Note Matthew included the title "son of David." This didn't necessarily refer to the ancestry of Jesus but to his standing as a wise teacher that displayed divine power, like David's son, Solomon.
All the evangelists except Luke included the shouts "Hosanna!" and/or "Hosanna in the highest!" (Mt 21:9, Mk 11:9 only) One can translate the term "Hosanna" as "honor to the one saving," a reference to Jesus as king. "Hosanna in the highest" referred to God in heaven. So, the praise of "Hosanna" had a dual referent.
So, Jesus entered the city on a donkey, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. The crowds rejoiced by spreading cloaks on the road and by waving palm branches in the air, as if royalty had arrived. But their shouts revealed the true gravity of the event. They proclaimed honor for the one who saved, both YHWH and the Nazarene. But, to make the point explicit, they quoted from a royal psalm that included thanks and praise for victory. For them, the one who came "in the name of the Lord" would prevail.
The entry upset the city. Thus, they recognized the new prophet in town. Jesus of Nazareth became a known quantity (Mt 21:10-11)
b. Cleansing of the Temple (21:12-18)
[M 11:15-17] All four gospels mentioned the Cleansing of the Temple. Mt 11:12-13 placed the incident after the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. Mk 11:15-17 put it after the curse of the fig tree (Mk 11:11-14). Lk 19:45-46 arranged it after the lament over the holy city (Lk 19:41-44). Only John placed it at the beginning of Jesus' ministry (Jn 2:13-16).
After a triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus went to the Temple area and disrupted the trade of money changing and selling animals for sacrifice (Mt 11:12, Mk 11:15-16, Lk 19:45, Jn 2:13-15). The business implied religious tourism was a major part of the city's economy. The money changers exchanged Roman and Greek coins (that contained images considered idolatrous) for Hebrew shekels (without images, thus kosher). In turn, the faithful tourist could use the shekel to purchase an animal for sacrifice. Since no one in Temple proper could engage in such transactions, people did their purchases immediately outside the holy site's gates.
At this point, we must pause and consider the larger picture, beginning with Herod the Great. Despite his ruthless, even sociopathic and paranoid personality, the king fancied himself a great builder. His infrastructure projects transformed Palestine. Herod constructed a deep sea port at Caesarea Maritima (22-9 BCE) that served the area for the next 1200 years. He built several fortresses including Masada and too many other projects to list here.
But Herod's crowning achievement was the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (20 BCE-26 CE). He expanded the area surrounding the Second Temple to over 36 acres, remodeled the holy site itself and constructed a public building or "basilica" at the southern end of the mount for legal affairs. In other words, the king built major agora, a city center based upon the Greek polis that centralized legal, commercial and religious affairs. He consolidated power with all this activity in one area. And, the sheer size of the project became a point of pride for the king and the city. Because the king planned it on such a large scale, he did not live to see it completed. Indeed, it took almost five decades to construct (see Jn 2:20).
Since the Temple Mount grew into an important commercial hub for the region, the site encouraged graft and political corruption. Merchants paid exorbitant "franchise fees" for a favorable place to conduct business. The closer the merchant had a stall to the Temple gates, the higher the fees he paid. And the higher prices he charged to visiting worshipers. Since the Temple priests were part of the ruling elite in the city, no doubt they had their hands out for that graft cash. In the Dead Sea Temple Scroll (11Q19), the Essenes considered the Temple priests corrupt, possibly for this reason.
These factors helped explain Jesus' actions and his declaration. He quoted Isa 56:7 and Jer 7:11 (Mt 21:13, Mk 11:17, Lk 19:46). While he upset commerce at the gates of the Temple, he spoke directly to the priests. They had turned the "house of prayer" into a "den of thieves" who cheated visitors with ridiculously high prices. And made a tidy profit for themselves.
[Mt] Only in Matthew did the people react to the actions of Jesus. Outcasts like the lame and the blind approached him for healing (Mt 21:14) while the children praised him with "Hosanna to the son of David" (Mt 21:15). Notice how Matthew referred back to the healing of the blind men (Mt 20:29-34) and the shouts of the populace on Jesus' entry into Jerusalem (Mt 21:9). The evangelist juxtaposed healing of the sick and praises of the young with the indignity attitude of the Temple leadership (Mt 21:15-16). Then, he took the opportunity to quote Psa 8:2. This way, Jesus justified the reaction of the outcast.
Then he left the city and spent the night in Bethany (Mt 21:17).
c. Power of Faith; Withering of the Fig Tree (21:17-22)
[M 11:12-14, 19-24] Matthew compressed the curse of the fig tree from Mark (Mk 11:12-14, Mk 11:19-24). Then he placed it after the cleansing of the Temple (Mt 21:12-17). In both cases, Jesus saw a barren fig tree and cursed it for its lack of fruit (Mt 21:18-19, Mk 11:12-14). Unlike Mark's account which took a full day for the curse to have an effect (Mk 11:20), Matthew recorded an immediate reaction (Mt 21:19). In both Mark and Matthew, Jesus used the curse and its effect as a teachable moment on the power of faith in prayer (Mt 21:21-22, Mk 11:22-24).
But, why did he curse the tree at all? According to tradition, Jesus entered the city as a pilgrim to celebrate Passover (see Jn 12:1). Jews celebrated the holy day in early spring when fruit trees like the fig would have leaves but no produce. Jesus expected something to eat but cursed the plant when he was disappointed.
Matthew and Mark recalled this incident for its symbolic value. Scripture described God's people as a vineyard, tree or planting (Judges 9:8-15, Isa 3:14, Isa 5:1-7, Jer 12:10, Ezek 17:2-10, Ezek 19:10-14). The Torah commanded farmers to offer the first fruits of the harvest to God (Exo 23:19, Neh 10:35-37). As a metaphor, the faithful should prove their trust by their actions or "fruits" (Psa 1:3, Jer 17:8-10). So, the righteousness of the community members depended upon the good they did as acts of faith.
In line with this logic, the prophets envisioned YHWH inspecting the people (like figs on a tree) for signs of faithfulness (Mic 7:1, Jer 8:13, Hos. 9:10-17) only to be disappointed. Israel was spiritually barren (Hos 9:16); her fruit was rotten (Jer 29:17). Yet, there was hope in God's mercy; he would replant fig tree (Israel) and grow a healthy crop (Joel 2:22, Amos 9:14, Mic. 4:4, Zech. 8:12, Ezek. 36:8).
With this background, we can understand how, in Matthew and Mark, Jesus used the metaphor of the cursed fig tree to represent judgment on the people. In a dramatic fashion, the Messiah entered the city and reset the priorities of the Temple. He set end time events in motion. But, were the citizens of Jerusalem ready? No. Like the tree green with leaves in early spring but lacking fruit, the leadership did not respond with righteousness, only indifference, even hostility. So, Jesus cursed the fig tree, thus foreshadowing the Final Judgment when YHWH would deliver divine justice forever.
Matthew arranged the curse of the fig tree as an exclamation point for his entry into Jerusalem and his cleansing of the Temple. He also employed it as a transition to the Temple controversy in the following passages.
d. Temple Controversy
After Jesus entered Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple, he faced his opponents in a series of controversies. Matthew edited these confrontations in a symmetric pattern. He placed two passages on status as bookends to two triads: three parables that criticized religious leaders and three attacks by these leaders, The first bookend passage questioned the terrestrial status of Jesus (his authority to teach). The other bookend asserted his celestial status (seated at the right hand of the Lord).
1) Question of Authority (21:23-27)
[M 11:27-33] Mt 21:23-27 and Lk 20:1-8 followed the lead of Mk 11:27-33 concerning the question of authority. It followed the cleansing of the Temple. When Jesus returned to the Temple and taught the crowds, the leadership confronted him. "Who gave you the authority to address the people?" (Mt 21:23, Mk 11:27-28, Lk 20:1-2). Having some mastery of rabbinical debate, Jesus shifted the subject by answering a question with a question. What about the authority of the Baptist? Was it from God or men? (Mt 21:24-25, Mk 11:29-30, Lk 20:3). The leaders could not dismiss the challenge out of hand because of John's popularity (Mt 21:25-26, Mk 11:31-32, Lk 20:5-6). This fear revealed the power base of the leadership depended more upon mob politics than principle. So they feigned ignorance. Hence, Jesus refused to answer (Mt 21:27, Mk 11:33, Lk 20:7-8).
This face off summarized the classic argument between institutional vs. prophetic authority. The former depended upon position and pedigree. The priests inherited their position via bloodlines. As members of the elite in Jerusalem, they might have received a proper education from a teacher of high standing who, in turn, received his knowledge from another rabbi of renown. In other words, both position and pedigree depended upon lineage, from father to son and from teacher to student. And institutional authority was baked into the structure of ancient society.
If institutional authority was a "top down" exercise of power, prophetic authority was a "bottom up" assertion. Prophets received their call organically. Amos (active 760-755 BCE) was a shepherd and a nut farmer from the southern kingdom of Judea but felt called to preach in the northern kingdom of Israel; he claimed no allegiance to any school of prophets (Amos 7:13-15). His individual calling became a template for others. God beckoned them directly; their calling didn't depend upon position or birthright or education, although some were elites (Eze 1:4-2:8, Isa 6:1-10, Jer 1:2-10). YHWH called some through visions, others through urges or otherworldly voices. But they all felt moved to deliver a message of change to the people.
So, the ministries of John and Jesus shared the authority of the prophet. They didn't have standing in the political structure. Instead, they preached a message of reform that resonated with the people. And they implicitly opposed those in power.
2) Parable Triad: Jesus Condemned Temple Leadership
In Matthew, Jesus went on offensive against the leadership with a series of three parables. Two employed agricultural themes, one used the theme of a royal court.
i. Parable of the Two Sons (21:28-32)
Exclusive to Matthew, Jesus followed the challenge of the Temple leaders with one of his own. He spun the parable of the two sons, one obstinate but eventually obedient, the other a liar. A father (representing God) ordered his sons to work in his vineyard (representing God's people). The first refused then relented (representing sinners and outcasts). The other agreed but did nothing (representing the religious leaders; Mt 21:28-30).
Then, Jesus asked the question, "Who did the will of his father?" The leaders answered, "The first." At this point, he pulled the rug out from under them. His audience, tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the Kingdom first (Mt 21:32). Why? Here Jesus weaved his ministry with that of John's. Both called for reform and personal conversion. Sinners changed but the leaders didn't even when they witnessed the effects of the message for righteousness (Mt 21:32). Not only did Jesus condemn the leaders for their inaction, he implicitly damned them for their smug self-righteousness.
ii. Parable of the Absentee Winegrower (21:33-46)
[M 12:1-11] In Matthew, Jesus followed one parable with another, this time with a story found in all three Synoptic gospels. The parable of the Absentee Winegrower laid Scriptural images over an everyday experience for rural Palestinians, tenant laborers who worked for absentee (even foreign) landlords. Like the parable of the Two Sons above, the vineyard represented God's people. But the idea that the landlord represented God injected some controversy into the parable (Mt 21:33, Mk 12:1, Lk 20:9). While Jews might accept the notion of a radically transcendent Deity did not concern himself with their individual lives, they bristled at the thought that compared YHWH with a hated landlord who only appeared to collect his profits.
Yet, that's exactly what happened. But, instead of appearing himself, he sent messengers (representing the Hebrew prophets) several times. In response, the tenants insulted, abused and even murdered them (Mt 21:34-36, Mk 12:2-5, Lk 20:10-12). In the end, the landlord sent his son whom he assumed the tenants would respect (Mt 21:37, Mk 12:6, Lk 20:13). They, however, plotted to kill the son, leaving the landlord without an heir. Thus, reasoning they would gain the land based upon some sort of squatters' rights, they followed through with their plans (Mt 21:38-39, Mk 12:7-8, Lk 20:14-15).
Then, Jesus asked the rhetorical question about consequences. The leadership drew the parable to its logical conclusion. The tenants should be punished (Mt 21:40-41, Mk 12:9, Lk 20:15). He framed the story's moral with a quote from Psa 118:22-23, a verse that emphasized God approved what humans reject (Mt 21:42, Mk 12:10-11, Lk 20:17).
Here, in Matthew, Jesus made the point explicit (Mt 21:43). Then, he added a proverb about the cornerstone from the psalm; if the person fell on the stone or the stone fell upon the person, he would be destroyed (Mt 21:43, Lk 20:18).
Notice Jesus framed the parable on a series of harvests, each one contingent upon the preaching of reform by a prophet. In the story, he inferred the leadership (the workers) did not get God his due (encouraged moral, hence social, renewal) but subdued the efforts of the messengers (maintain the status quo for selfish reasons). So, what they did to the prophets, they would do to God's Son (Mt 21:45-46, Mk 12:12, Lk 20:19).
iii. Parable of the Royal Wedding (22:1-14)
[Q 14:16-23] The parable of the wedding came from the Q source. By placing this story in the parable triad, Matthew shifted away from an agricultural theme to one of a royal court. In the passage, the king (representing God) sent out invitations to his nobles (representing the religious leadership) for the wedding feast of his Son (representing Jesus; Mt 22:1-2, Lk 14:16). The feast itself represented the heavenly banquet of the Kingdom (see Isa 25:6, Isa 55:1-2). Yet, those invited made up excuses not to attend (Mt 21:3-5, Lk 14:18-19). Some even killed the invitation messengers but the king exacted justice (Mt 21:6-7). So the king opened the invitation to the common people, even the sick, the outcast and the foreigner (Mt 21:8-9, Lk 14:21-23). So, the hall filled even with the good and the bad (Mt 21:10).
[Mt] Matthew added a coda about the unrepentant in the Kingdom. A king saw one who did not wear a wedding garment (Mt 22:11). Such garments were made out of pure white linen, like a baptismal robe. Thus, the evangelist introduced a sacramental theme of metanoia and faith. Since entry into the Kingdom depended on personal change, those who refused the Good News must exist outside the heavenly banquet (Mt 22:12-13). So, while the call to salvation was universal ("many are called"), only a few accept that call ("few are chosen"; Mt 22:14).
3) Challenge to Jesus by Leadership
Those who opposed Jesus challenged him on grounds of popularity and principle. The Pharisees and Herodians presented him with a dilemma that could drive a wedge between him and his audience. The Sadducees argued with over a core belief in his movement, claiming that the article of faith contradicted the Jewish Law. Finally, the Pharisees questioned his priorities concerning the Law itself.
i. Paying Taxes to Caesar (22:15-22)
[M 12:13-17] Matthew followed Mark with the leaders' counterattack against Jesus. After the parable triad, an alliance of Pharisees and Herodians tried to split the people from the Nazarene.
The alliance consisted of two philosophically dissimilar groups. The Pharisees were known as "separatists." They sought to separate public life in the midst of the pagans with a private life dedicated to the Torah. They accomplished this by legislating a highly regulated urban life for Jews, especially those in the Diaspora (outside of Palestine). Following their edicts, the faithful had a tendency to isolate themselves in ghettos.
Herodians, however, lived openly among the pagans, even adopting Hellenistic culture wholesale. These people primarily consisted of those within the royal courts of Herod the Great and his sons. Many Jews considered Herodians apostates and, thus, unclean.
This odd combination of groups confronted Jesus with a question: does the payment of Roman taxes violate the Torah? (Mt 22:15-17, Mk 12:13-14, Lk 20:19-22) The Nazarene questioned the motives of the opposition. Then, he demanded a denarius, payment for a day's wage. His enemies obliged (Mt 22:18-19, Mk 12:15-16, Lk 20:23-24). Third, he asked the rhetorical question about the image on the coin: Caesar's (Mt 22:20-21, Mk 12:16, Lk 20:23).
Here, Jesus laid the crux of the problem bare. Since worship of the emperor's divine essence was popular in the eastern Mediterranean basin, the image of Caesar represented a graven likeness. Zealous Jews equated its use with idolatry. However, even the faithful had to live in a world where such coins were legal currency; they could not avoid their use. In addition, they, like their pagan counterparts, had to pay imperial taxes. This meant part of their payment landed in the coffers of the emperor's pockets. In other words, payment implicitly equated to allegiance toward the emperor. So, Roman officials saw public agitation for non-payment as treason.
This was the trap the Pharisees and Herodians laid for Jesus. If he supported payment even on practical terms, he would lose popular support among the pious Jews. If he railed against the use of paying imperial tribute, he would be charged with treason. So, they asked a simple question: whom did the Nazarene place first in the spiritual life, God or Caesar?
Jesus split the difference. "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's but give to God what is God's" (Mt 20:21, Mk 12:17, Lk 20:25). In other words, he recognized the dilemma Jews, especially those in the Diaspora, faced in a Roman world. They did not have the luxury of pure allegiance to YHWH over that of the emperor. They could not live and prosper in the empire without use of its currency and payment of its taxes. Thus, he answered their question with a response that satisfied civic and religious obligations.
At this, the opposition awed at his answer and departed (Mt 22:22, Mk 12:17, Lk 20:26).
ii. Sadducees' Challenge on the Resurrection (22:23-33)
The second challenge in the Temple controversies cut to the heart of the Jesus movement. The Nazarene preached an apocalyptic message. On the Day of YHWH, the dead would rise to face divine justice. Note, however, if belief in the resurrection was taken away, apocalypticism fell apart. A group of Temple priests and Jerusalem elites known as the Sadducees intended to attack the notion of resurrection and thus dismantle the notion of the end times.
The Sadducees reduced Scripture to the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, They rejected the historical books, wisdom literature and, most important, the prophets. In other words, they considered any prophetic critique of Temple cult null and void, including the notion of a Final Judgment. So, they approached Jesus to undercut belief in the resurrection and, by extension, his Good News (Mt 22:23, Mk 12:18, Lk 20:27).
The Sadducees argued belief in the resurrection contradicted the Torah. They couched their thesis in an absurd but possible example. The Law commanded a man to marry his brother's wife if the sibling had no progeny; the man could continue his brother's lineage by impregnating the woman (Deu 25:5-10). So, the Sadducees proposed a family of seven brothers. The first one married a woman, then died. Subsequently, each brother married the woman, then passed away. In the resurrection, the question would arise: whose wife is she? (Mt 22:24-28, Mk 12:24-28, Lk 20:28-33) Of course, they meant this rhetorically. This situation presented a contradiction. And since the Law was perfect and could not support such an illogical conclusion, belief in the resurrection opposed adherence to the Torah. Thus, it must be rejected.
Jesus responded with a two prong attack. First, the resurrection transformed the faithful, both personally and socially. The raised would each become "like angels." This view echoed St. Paul's thesis about the spiritual body in 1 Cor 15:42-44. But, he also contended marriage would cease in the Kingdom (Mt 22:29-30, Mt 12:24-25, Lk 20:34-35). In other words, everything would change in the afterlife.
However, the second prong served as the final blow to the Sadducees' argument. Jesus appealed directly to the primary revelation of Judaism. On the mountain, Moses encountered God in the burning bush. And the Lord identified himself as "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" (Exo 3:6). This was the Living God (Psa 42:2, Psa 84:2, Hos 1:10, Dan 6:20, Dan 6:26). Jews did not worship a deity that one could not reduce to an image; he lived and asserted himself in their history. And, as YHWH lived, so must those who worshiped him including Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If the great patriarchs lived to praise the Lord, there must be an afterlife, not just in spirit, but in body. Hence, belief in the resurrection lay at the very heart of Judaism (Mt 22:31-32, Mk 12:26-27, Lk 20:37-38).
By arguing this way, Jesus did more than defend the notion of the resurrection. He implicitly upheld apocalypticism as the true Jewish faith and undercut any legitimacy to the views of the Sadducees.
iii. Pharisees' Challenge: The Great Commandment (22:34-40)
The third challenge Jesus faced was a question of spirituality. How did the Nazarene fulfill Torah duty? Pharisees created a highly regulated lifestyle based upon a myriad of rules. They strove to "build a fence around the Torah" so that Jews would not break the Law. That system worked in the city. How did it work in a rural setting like Galilee? By asking a simple question of priorities, those outside the Jesus movement hoped to gain insight.
So, what is the most important commandment in the Law? While the Great Commandment passage exists in all the Synoptic gospels, each gospel presented this question differently. In Mark, a scribe asked Jesus in a non-confrontational way (Mk 12:28). In Luke, a Pharisee tested the Nazarene with a question about eternal life. Jesus responded with the question about the most important commandment (Lk 20:25-26). In Matthew, however, a lawyer tested him directly (Mt 22:34-36).
Jesus responded with the command to love in two passages. First, he asserted divine primacy with the Shema (Deu 6:5). "Love the Lord your God…" meant devotion. This verse grew to prominence in the Mishnah, the late antiquity commentary on the Torah (200 CE) but scholars dispute its importance in the first century. Certainly, it held some sway for it commanded primary allegiance to the nation's God.
Second, Jesus quoted Lev 19:18. In this context, love meant deference and respect for a co-religionist. It placed the interests of one's neighbor on the same plane as the self. Christians see this command as a communal virtue (see Jn 15:12, Jn 15:17).
Why did opponents ask the question? They wanted to know the lens through which Jesus viewed the Law. The answer to the question defined his set of values and how they differed with those of the Pharisees. Christians strove to live by a devotion to God and deference to others. Pharisees that sought adherence to the Torah as the primary communal value.
e. Conclusion: Question on the Messiah's Origin (22:41-46)
After defending his position, Jesus went on the offensive. He asked his opponents about the lineage of the Christ. How could he be the son of David? (Mt 22:41-42, Mk 12:35, Lk 20:41) Certainly, opponents criticized early followers over the origin of the Messiah. How could a backwater Galilean claim the title? Especially a man who died a shameful death on a cross?
More to the point, wasn't the Christ a descendant of David, the greatest monarch in Israel's history? Notice the person asking the question assumed the Messiah had a lesser status when compared with David. How could early Christians place Jesus above the great king?
Jesus and his disciples answered with Psa 110:1 (Mt 22:43-44, Mk 12:26, Lk 20:41-43, see Acts 2:34). In this hymn, the psalmist (assumed to be David) overheard a conversation between two "Lords." One Lord invited another to sit in the place of honor until victory was achieved. Early Christians interpreted the verse as an invitation of God the Father for his Son to enter heavenly glory. Since Christians held David wrote the song, they reasoned, the king recognized a figure greater than he enjoyed divine favor. Thus, Jesus the Christ even outranked David. Implicitly, the question of origin did not matter (Mt 22:45, Mk 12:37, Lk 20:44). The status of the Christ transcended any earthly concerns.
Thus, Matthew drew the Temple controversy to a close. Jesus defended his prophetic authority to proclaim the Good News. He told three parables that chided the leadership for its self-absorbed intransigence. He swatted away the attacks of the leaders concerning the payment of Roman tribute and the place of the resurrection in the Torah; he also laid out his vision for fulfilling Torah duty in the Great Commandment. Finally, he asserted the heavenly place of the Messiah transcended the religious or social pecking order.
J. Fifth Discourse: On the Eschaton
We can divide Matthew's final discourse into three parts: condemnation of Jesus' opponents (chapter 23), his monologue on the end times (chapter 24) and his three great parables (chapter 25). Jesus began his oratory on the end times with the conditions he and his followers faced, verbal, even physical, attacks by his enemies. The seeds for the Day of YHWH were sown in the opposition to his message. Thus, Jesus condemned the leaders in Jerusalem for the obstinate blindness.
Jesus moved from contemporary events to the future. Matthew's gospel tracked the "Little Apocalypse" found in Mark thirteen.
Finally, he addressed two attitudes necessary to anticipate the end times: spiritual anticipation (Parables of the Ten Girls and the Three Servants) and communal charity (Parable of the Final Judgment).
1. Condemnation of Leadership (23:1-39)
a. False Example by Leadership (23:1-12)
In Mt 23:1-3, Jesus instructed his Jewish followers to follow the rulings of the Pharisees. They were community leaders who sat on the teaching seat of the synagogue ("seat of Moses"). But, the Nazarene criticized their style and legalism. Why did he insist on adherence? He not only wanted his followers to live as righteous Jews, he desired to give him and his disciples legitimacy when they called out their opponents. Do as they say, not as they do. Jesus made this the floor of morality for the Matthean community.
Jesus, then, turned his indignation against the Pharisees. First, they didn't use their office to relieve burdens of the poor or widows. Instead, they added to the pain of the underclass (Mt 23:4).
[M 12:38-39] Second, Matthew loosely followed Mark's or Luke's critique about leadership style (Mt 22:5, Mk 12:38-39, Lk 20:46-47). In these two verses, Jesus denounced the Pharisees for their clothing and their perceived popularity. They reveled in greetings on the street, insisted on the best seats at feasts or in the synagogues, and gloried in salutations of "Rabbi."
Note Jesus didn't object to the clothing, the privileges or titles of the Pharisees, per se. After all, he insisted his Jewish disciples adhere to their rulings. Like many other Jews throughout the Empire, urban followers of the Nazarene lived in self-imposed ghettos. Such neighborhoods required leaders to maintain social coherence within the community and to communicate with imperial officials from without. Distinctive clothing, seats of authority and titles distinguished the Pharisees from typical Jews, thus facilitating the role of community leaders.
With typical hyperbole found in Matthew, Jesus painted Pharisees as caricatures, not in substance, but in style. His opponents could succumb to the temptation every leader faced. They exercised power to advance their own interests and agenda. Their office was necessary; their self-seeking ways were not. Jesus painted his opponents in such a negative light to act as a counterpoint to his vision of Christian leadership.
To make his point, Jesus forbade his followers to refer to themselves as "Rabbi," "Father" or "Lord" (Mt 23:8-10). Of course, this was another example of hyperbole in Matthew. Jewish Christians in the Matthean community lived in accord with the Torah; therefore, they relied on scribes for legal rulings and teachers to instruct the faithful, especially neophytes. Jesus downplayed the title of "Rabbi" to stress equality within the local church and to heighten the authority of the gospel in disputes.
The same applied to the term "Father." The title did not necessarily refer exclusively to one's biological male parent. It referred to any man within one's circle who played a significant role in life, especially the clan patriarch. It also referred to one's ancestors even those of the community (see Lk 16:24). In ancient Semitic culture, one could not avoid the term "Father." It recognized one's relationship with, hence allegiance to, a male elder. But, by restricting the term "Father" as a referent to God in heaven, Jesus emphasized the priority of faith over that of family or communal allegiance.
Finally, Jesus addressed titles used within the community of disciples. As a sign of respect, a believer might call a leader "Lord." An ancient Christian could use the Greek term "Kyrios" in two ways, to recognize an elder's role (in English, "Sir") or to exalt the place of Jesus (in English, "Lord"). (Many modern languages use one word for those two referents; for example, we can translate the Spanish "Senor" as "Lord" or "Sir" depending upon the context.) In the case of Kyrios for Sir, a small local church might have an informal leadership structure that replicated a clan. The use of "Kyrios" merely recognized the place and status of the male elder who oversaw the community. So, the Greek word had an elastic usage. Obviously, Jesus recognized that fact in his hyperbole. He emphasized Christ was the only true Lord.
Jesus summed up the comparison between leadership styles by affirming qualities he expected in his followers. Great leaders served. They sought humility over pride (Mt 23:11-12)
b. Eight Woes
After Jesus compared the Pharisees to Christian leadership unfavorably, he condemned his opponents with eight woes. Seven of these woes included the term "hypocrite," a Greek word for actor. In other words, he charged them with insincerity, merely "putting on a good show."
1) Disingenuous Character (Mt 23:13 with "hypocrite") Jesus returned to his critique. He accused the scribes and Pharisees of bankrupting the widow while practicing false spirituality.
2) Deny Entrance into the Kingdom (Mt 23:14 with "hypocrite") Jesus charged his opponents with preaching diversion. They insisted upon adherence to the Law while they ignored the call to metanoia ("entrance into the Kingdom").
3) Excessive Zealousness in Converts (Mt 23:15 with "hypocrite") Jesus saw nothing gained in converts to Pharisaic Judaism. Any neophytes they gained merely became rabid adherents; they, too, ignored the message of repentance.
4) False Ruling on Oaths (Mt 23:16-22) Jesus criticized his opponents. They ruled limitations on blasphemy. One could not take an oath based upon the Temple, but they could on its treasury? Not on its altar, but on the sacrificial offering it bore? Would not an oath swore on the Temple or on heaven insult God who, according to Jewish popular belief, dwelt in those places?
Again, in Matthew, Jesus spoke in hyperbole. He criticized his enemies for their legalism. As they nitpicked exceptions for oaths, they missed the larger picture of God's presence in all things.
5) Myopic View of the Law (Mt 23:23-24 with "hypocrite") Jesus chided the scribes and the Pharisees for their rulings on tithes. They imposed religious fees even on spices and herbs yet ignored the economic costs these fees cost the poor. Again, he spoke in extremes to make a larger point. His opponents focused on keeping the details of the Law ("strain the gnat") while overlooking the Torah value of mercy ("swallow the camel").
6) Myopic View on Kosher Practices (23:25-26 with "hypocrite") Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for their insistence to absolute dietary kosher. "To build a fence around the Torah," they instituted the ritual washing of dishes so they could insulate themselves from breaking the Law. Reference to these practices only occur in the gospels (see Mk 7:1-5). Yet, reducing spirituality to such practices could act as a distraction from righteousness.
7) Hypocrisy of Leadership (Mt 23:27-28 with "hypocrite") Jesus accused the scribes and the Pharisees, not only of hypocrisy, but of spiritual morbidity. They were like tombs, well kept on the outside, but rotting on the inside. In other words, they put on a good front of holiness but they did not personally grow nor could they lead others in personal growth.
8) Guilt of Prophets' Murders (Mt 23:29-36 with "hypocrite") In probably his worst critique, Jesus called his opponents "children" of those who murdered the prophets. While the scribes and Pharisees honored the sages of Israel, according to the Nazarene, they evoked the spirit of the murderers when they opposed repentance (Mt 23:29-30). In their hypocrisy, they damned themselves (Mt 23:31-33) for they ignored the message of the prophets. They persecuted those calling for change (Mt 23:34). Then, he compared those bloodied by the leadership for their message with the prophets who died (Abel in Gen 4:8, Zechariah in 2 Chron 24:20-21).
c. Conclusion: Prophecy of Desolation until Conversion (23:37-39)
[Q 13:34-35] In Matthew, Jesus ended his condemnation of the religious leaders with a lament over Jerusalem. This passage had its origin in the Q source. Despite the city's rejection of the prophets (representing the religious leaders), he still hoped for conversion but realized its obstinate spirit (Mt 23:37, Lk 13:34). Hence, the city would suffer desolation until the Second Coming ("Blessed he who comes in the name of the Lord;" Mt 23:38-39, Lk 13:35).
2. Prediction of the End Times
Matthew introduced the question of the end times with Jesus' prediction of the Temple's destruction. Then, he arranged this section of the discourse around three chiastic structures. The first two warned against false leaders who would lead the faithful astray; the "abomination of desolation" verse and the command to flee divided these chiastic caveats. The evangelist completed this section with a short "Son of Man" chiasmus which briefly described the final events.
a. Prediction of the Temple's Fall (24:1-3)
[M 13:1-3] Matthew and Luke followed Mark's "Little Apocalypse." In all three Synoptic gospels, the disciples admired the decorated Temple (Mt 24:1, Mk 13:1, Lk 21:5). Jesus responded with his destruction prophecy (Mt 24:2, Mk 13:2, Lk 21:6). In all three gospels, the disciples responded with questions about the end times (Mt 24:3, Mk 13:3, Lk 21:7).
Why did the disciples assume Jesus tied the destruction of the Temple to the Day of YHWH? I covered that question at length HERE. But, the evangelists did use this short dialogue as a jump off point for Jesus' eschatological predictions. Matthew formed them in a series of three chiastic structures.
b. Persecution Chiasmus
In the first chiasmus, Matthew highlighted personal suffering (Step B) between two steps consisting of false Christ (Step A1) and false prophets (Step A2).
1) Step A1: False Christ and International Disruptions (24:4-8)
[M 13:5-7, 13:21] Jesus began his predictions with a warning: Do not be led astray (Mt 14:4, Mk 13:5, Lk 21:8). He continued with the prophecy of false Christs who would lead many to apostasy (Mt 14:5, Mk 13:7, Mt 13:21, Lk 21:8). Then, he shifted from the parochial to the international scene. Rumors of conflict would run rampant. Both civil and cross border wars would arise. Famines, caused either by natural means or by disruptions in trade, would occur. Earthquakes would destroy areas. Plagues would break out. But these events did not mark the end. They were merely "birth pangs" (Mt 24:6-8, Mk 13:7-8, Lk 21:9-11).
False Christ. Who was this figure? In the context of the verse, he implied some divine power over cosmic events (famines, plagues, earthquakes) and the affairs of people (wars). And he pointed to their existence as the immanence of the End.
Wars, famines, plagues, earthquakes. In the later part of the first century, the Roman Empire prosecuted a major military operation against a rebellion in Palestine (Jewish War, 66-70 CE). However, it suffered a series of civil wars that interrupted the Judean campaign (the Year of Four Caesars, 69 CE). As a result, the general Vespasian (ruled 69-79 CE) rose to the imperial throne.
The Roman campaign in Palestine led to disruption of food supplies not only in the area but in neighboring Egypt, the breadbasket of the empire. Grain shortages led to death among parts of the population that lived at a below subsistence level.
The empire also endured almost constant friction along its borders. It fought the Parthians to the east in 53 CE; it battled Germanic tribes across the Rhine and the Danube rivers without reprise. The praised "pax Romana" seemed to exist more in name than in reality.
While no major plagues occurred in the first century, earthquakes did shake the region on a regular basis. The Mediterrean lie on a convergence of active fault lines. So, news of an earthquake was not uncommon. On February 5, 62 CE, a major earthquake destroyed large portions of Pompeii. Ancient writers and modern excavations of the city attest to the damage caused by that tremor.
In Matthew, Jesus listed both natural and man-made evils as signs for the Tribulation. Yet, many in the Matthean community knew of these events in their lived experience. Hence, they were convinced they lived in the end times. But Jesus urged caution. Wars, famines, plagues and earthquakes were mere "birth pangs" to coming events.
2) Step B: Personal Persecution (24:9-10)
[M 13:9] Matthew edited Mark's verses. In Matthew, Jesus noted the warning of persecution (Mt 24:9, Mk 13:9, Lk 21:12) but in a more general form. Then he added the threat of apostasy and infighting as a result of suffering for the faith (Mt 24:10, Mk 13:12, Lk 21:16).
3) Step A2: False Prophets and Endurance (24:11-13)
[M 13:10-11, 13:22] The image of the false prophet (Mt 24:11, Mk 13:22) acted as the bookend to the false Christ (Mt 24:5); both led people astray. In Matthew, Jesus implied the activity of the false prophet would lead to scandal which, in turn, would harden hearts to the message. But those who endured would find salvation (Mt 24:12-13, Mk 13:13, Lk 21:17-19).
Notice the false Christ appealed to issues on a universal level (wars, famines, plagues, earthquakes) while the false prophet addressed one on an individual level (apostasy and scandal). The false Christ asserted some sort of control over events. The false prophet pointed to himself as the source of knowledge.
4) Conclusion: Preaching the Good News till the End (24:15)
[M 13:10] Matthew shifted the necessity for preaching the Good News. Mark placed it after the verse on personal persecution (Mk 13:9-10). Matthew, however, put it after the persecution chiasmus (Mt 24:15).
c. Fleeing the "Abomination of Desolation" (24:15-22)
[M 13:14-22] The "Abomination of Desolation" passage bridged the persecution chiasmus to the rejection of false leaders. The "abomination" referred to passages in Daniel (Dan 9:27, Dan 11:31, Dan 12:11). The prophet's image was veiled language that pointed to the activity of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215-164 BCE), the Greek Syrian king who ruled Palestine in the second century BCE. He sent troops into the area to force conversion to paganism. He rededicated the temple on Mt. Gerazim to Zeus. Under his patronage, Gentiles violated the Temple in Jerusalem with pagan rituals (2 Macc 6:1-6). This "pollution" was the "abomination of desolation."
What image did the Synoptic writers point to? (Mt 24:15, Mk 13:14, Lk 21:20) In 70 CE, Jerusalem fell to Roman forces under Titus (39-81 CE). Before flames engulfed the Temple, the imperial general entered to survey his potential plunder. His presence and the destruction of the holy site was identified as the "abomination."
How should Christians respond to the possibility of such a sacrilege? Flee immediately to the wilderness. Don't turn back for anything (Mt 24:16-18, Mk 13:14-16, Lk 21:21). Pity the pregnant and nursing (Mt 24:19, Mk 13:17, Lk 21:23). Pray the flight will not take place in the winter when the cold would take its toll (Mt 24:20, Mk 13:18). Ask the Lord it will not occur on the Sabbath; the Law would limit the length of travel (Mt 24:20). Beg the Lord to shorten the Tribulation as an act of mercy on the faithful (Mt 24:21-22, Mk 13:19-20).
d. "Look!" Chiasmus
In Matthew, Jesus followed the "abomination" transition with another, smaller chiastic structure, highlighted by the emphatic "Look!"
1) Step A1: False Wonder Workers (24:23-24)
[M 13:21-22] "Look! Here is the Christ" or "There." Jesus again warned his followers of spiritual charlatans but, this time, he pointed out their trickery ("signs and powers") which deceived some (Mt 24:23-24, Mk 13:21-22). Note he indicated the "Look!" pointed to a specific figure.
2) Step B: Forewarning (Mt 24:25, Mk 13:23)
3) Step A2: False Prophets (24:26)
"Look! He is in the wilderness" or "He is in the inner rooms." Jesus dissuaded his followers from pursuing false Christs into environments. While he could refer to a specific individual, he could also describe the environments in symbolic terms: spiritual thirst (desert) and interiority (inner rooms; Mt 24:26).
e. "Son of Man" Chiasmus
The term "Son of Man" marked the final chiasmus of Matthew's end times series. It described the sudden nature of the eschaton, its Tribulation and the Second Coming. The term acted as bookends to the calamity found on the Day of the Lord.
1) Step A1: Coming Like Lightning (24:27)
[Q 17:24] Unlike the slow, imperceptible rise of the Kingdom Jesus preached (parable of the Mustard Seed; Mt 13:31-32), here he announced the sudden nature of the Second Coming. The appearance of the "Son of Man" would occur as dramatically, even violently as lightning striking across the sky, in the same direction as the sunrise (Mt 24:27, Lk 17:24).
2) Step B: Roman Tribulation and Cosmic Signs (24:28-29)
[Q 17:37, M 13:24-26] Matthew juxtaposed Roman military conquest ("where the eagles gather" in Mt 24:28, Lk 17:37) with the collapse of cosmic power (Mt 24:29, Mk 13:24-26, Lk 21:25-27).
Why did "eagles gather" equal Roman conquest? Eagles represented the Roman might since they were the images on imperial military standards. Eagles are also scavengers who gather to pick the carcass of a dead animal clean. Hence, Mt 24:27 was a metaphor for the plunder after a Roman victory. The fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE to Titus immediately came to mind.
If Matthew followed that logic, he connected the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple to the fall of cosmic powers on the Day of YHWH (see Isa 13:10, Isa 34:4, Joel 2:10). Distress in heaven mirrored troubles on the earth.
3) Step A2: Coming Caused Mourning (24:30)
[M 13:26] In Matthew, Jesus finished the chiasmus with two references to the "Son of Man" for emphasis. This heavenly figure would appear in the sky with great power (See Dan 7:13-14). His presence would cause panic among the nations (Mt 24:30, Mk 13:26, Lk 21:27).
4) Conclusion: The In-gathering (24:31)
[M 13:27] Jesus predicted that, after the Second Coming, heavenly messengers would gather the faithful together from the Diaspora (Mt 24:30, Mk 13:27).
3. End Time Parables (24:32-25:46)
Matthew shifted from three chiastic structures to a series of short parables. He divided them into two camps. First, the parable of the fig tree laid out signs of the end times; the present age (spring leaves) foreshadowed the coming end (summer fruit). The tale stressed foreknowledge.
The parables which followed, however, flipped the theme to surprise. No one but God knew the timing of the eschaton. Hence, the end would take people by surprise (parable of Noah). As a corollary, the faithful needed to be prepared for its sudden arrival (parables of the Left Behind, the Night Thief and the Servants).
a. Awareness Parable: Sign of the Fig Tree (24:32-35)
[M 13:28-31] All three Synoptic gospels recorded this parable. The fig tree sprouted green leaves in the spring before bearing its summer fruit (Mt 24:32, Mk 13:28, Lk 21:29-30). We discussed the symbolism of the fig tree in Mt 21:17-22. The tree represented the people of Israel; the spring season was the contemporary age for Jesus while the summer signaled the end times, the era when the "fruit" of the people would appear.
With this background in place, the following verses made sense. Just as the green leaves foretold summer would arrive soon, Jesus insisted, so the contemporary conditions in Palestine foretold the coming Day of YHWH (Mt 24:33, Mk 13:29, Lk 21:31). Indeed, the end was so imminent that those alive would witness the event (Mt 24:34, Mk 13:30, Lk 21:32). In conclusion, Jesus assured his audience that, unlike present conditions ("heaven and earth"), his word would stand forever (Mt 24:35, Mk 13:31, Lk 21:33).
Mt 24:34 has garnered some controversy. What generation would live to witness the end times? The short answer is a paradox. We will only know the answer in hindsight. Hence, speculation is pointless.
b. Preparation Parables
1) Parable of Noah (24:36-39)
[M 13:32] As a counterpoint to the fig tree parable, Jesus asserted the sudden nature of the eschaton. No one knew the exact time except God (Mt 21:36, Mk 13:32, Lk 21:34).
[Q 17:26-27, 30] In Matthew, Jesus shifted to the Flood image from Gen 7:17-23. Like the flash deluge, the coming of the "Son of Man" would take the populace by surprise (Mt 24:37-39, Lk 17:26-27, Lk 17:30). Notice the term "coming of the Son of Man" acted as bookends for the Noah image, creating a minor chiastic structure.
2) Parable of the Left Behind (24:40-42)
[Q 17:34-35, Mk 13:35-37] Jesus proposed other images, this time of agriculture origin. Of two field hands, one would be taken while the was left behind. Two women grinding wheat would suffer the same fate (Mt 24:40-41, Lk 17:34-35). So, he stressed a watchful preparation when a believer faced the sudden, unexpected nature of the end times (Mt 24:32, Mk 13:35-37, Lk 21:36).
Some interpret the fate of the taken as the saved, while the ones left behind would suffer. Is that the case? After all, Matthew recorded the beatitude of the meek (Mt 5:5). Hence, Jesus didn't necessarily stress who would be saved. Instead, he merely focused on the instantaneous nature of the end times.
3) Parable of the Night Thief (24:43-44)
[Q 12:39-40] Again, Jesus stressed the unknowable nature of the Second Coming. If the believer ("the household") knew the time when the Son of Man returned ("the thief"?), he would be ready. And, again, the Nazarene emphasized the need for preparation (Mt 24:43-44, Lk 12:39-40).
4) Parable of the Servants (24:45-51)
[Q 12:42-46] In this parable, Jesus turned his attention to community leadership, contrasting the virtuous elder with the vain. The faithful and wise leader addressed the needs of his people (especially the poor whom they fed "at the right time"). He would receive greater honor and responsibility (Mt 24:45-47, Lk 12:42-44). However, the vain, glutinous leader who abused community members would receive harsh condemnation, both physical ("cut in half") and in reputation ("measure with the hypocrites;" Mt 24:48-51, Lk 12:45-46). Again, we find the key to the parable in the sudden arrival of the eschaton.
5) Parable of the Ten Girls (25:1-13)
Parable of the Ten Virgins
by James Blake
[Mt] In the parable of the Ten Girls, Jesus used a common experience to highlight the theme of preparation. Ten pre-teen girls waited for the bridegroom to escort his fiance to his clan's compound; when the couple stepped across the threshold, they were married.
What necessitated the wait? In ancient culture, clans arranged marriages between their members. The arrangement included the payment to the bride's father for the loss of his daughter's labor. However, usually the bride's father would object to the payment at the last minute; hence, the groom and his prospective father-in-law would renegotiate terms. Sometimes, the haggling would last past midnight (Mt 25:5). When they finished the negotiations, the groom would accompany his betrothed through the streets to his clan's compound. A town crier would announce the trip which took on a festive, even parade-like atmosphere (Mt 25:6).
At this point, the focus shifted from the wedding party to the acumen of the girls. The wise prepared with extra oil, the foolish did not (Mt 25:1-4). An ancient lamp had a long wick. Its user could lengthen or shorten it to adjust the size of the flame and, so, the consumption of the oil. The shorter the length, the larger the flame and the more oil consumed. Implicitly, the girls trimmed their wicks long while they slept to conserve fuel. Some placed extra fuel in their lamps; others did not.
When the town crier announced the arrival of the couple, the foolish girls realized they didn't have enough oil to maintain their lamp's flame. They couldn't light their path to follow the couple to the wedding reception at the groom's abode. So, they had to purchase their oil (Mt 25:8-10). In the meantime, the couple led the guests to the groom's compound. With everyone gathered, the clan locked the gates for security reasons (Mt 25:10). When the foolish girls finally arrived, they begged for entrance but the Lord of the house denied he knew them (Mt 25:11-12).
The parable was memorable because it worked on the literal and the allegorical levels. The groom represented Christ; the bride symbolized his Church (Eph 5:22-32). The wedding reception represented the Kingdom (Mt 22:1-14). The preteen girls were images of believers (see Zeph 3:14). The fire in the lamps represent spiritual power (see Exo 3:2, Num 9:15-16, Eze 1:4, Jud 13:20, Lev 6:13, Acts 2:1-4). The oil symbolized those activities which deepened that power. The wise Christian spent time in prayer, study and activities for the good of others. The foolish Christian simply assumed their place without expending energy in those areas. In the end, Jesus implicitly asked: Which believer was truly preparing for the Second Coming? (Mt 25:13)
c. "How to prepare" parables
Matthew followed up the preparation parables with stories whose meaning spelled out the ways to look ahead. In the gospel, Jesus emphasized evangelization and charity as the means to anticipate the coming of the Lord.
1) Parable of the Talents (25:14-30)
[Q 19:12-13, 15-24, 26] Adapted from the Q source, Matthew's version of this parable retained the Lucan tendency to flip social expectations. The absentee landowner and his three servants were hated figures among the rural inhabitants of Palestine (Lk 19:14). Pompey conquered the region in 63 BCE; following the campaign, imperial officials redistributed some lands to their cronies. Thus, foriegn owners would develop it for agricultural use and hire tenant farmers to harvest crops, but at the cost of steep rents. Other rich foreigners arrived to loan money at exorbitant rates. In either case, they hired middle men to enforce rents and repayments made by local people; at the same time, these servants inflated financial charges and used the excess to "line their own pockets" (Mt 25:14-15; Lk 19:12-13). Basically, the economic system was legalized extortion.
In the parable, the rich man entrusted money to three assistants for "investment." two of the servants doubled their money (Mt 25:15-17, Lk 19:13) while a third buried his money (Mt 25:18). Why did he do so? Without a developed banking system or government regulation of financial services, protecting wealth had many risks. To shield riches from grifters or theft, some advocated burying treasure as the most prudent measure. So, the third man took the safe way out. When the rich man returned he praised the two who took risks but condemned the third for his lack of action (Mt 25:19-28, Lk 19:15-25).
Jesus ended the parable with the moral: the one with abundance will receive more, but the one with a lack will be deprived (Mt 25:29, Lk 19:26, see Mt 13:12, Lk 8:18).
Why did Jesus tell this parable? Obviously, he caught the attention of his audience. But, what was the deeper meaning of the story? For the faithful, God was the absentee rich man. His three servants represented missionaries. Money investment and return symbolized evangelization. Two preachers gained a bounty of converts while a third "buried" his faith and did not share the Good News; thus, he produced no new believers. Hence, the two increased in reputation within the community ("receiving more") while the third lost what reputation he had. In fact, his lack of activity would lead to his excommunication (Mt 25:30).
When Matthew placed this story after the preparation parables, he emphasized the need to evangelize even in the face of persecution. And, he stressed sharing the Good News was necessary even during the Tribulation.
2) Parable of the Final Judgment (25:31-46)
In the last parable of Matthew's end times discourse, Jesus described the final judgment. Like the scene in Dan 7:9-14, the Son of Man appeared in glory, this time with a multitude of spiritual beings (Mt 25:31). Before him stood humanity. He summoned the faithful to his right, like "a shepherd called sheep from the goats" (Mt 25:32-33); notice the gathering of the righteous depended upon the divine call. After the separation, the Son of Man pronounced his judgment. Those on the right would enter the Kingdom based upon their acts of charity (Mt 25:34). They provided food, drink and clothing for the needy, hospitality for the stranger, company for the sick and imprisoned (Mt 25:35-39). Why did these acts gain the faithful entry into the Kingdom? The Son of Man identified himself with the weakest, those who received the benefits of charity (Mt 25:40). But, then, the Son of Man condemned those whose indifference and self-centered focus ignored those in need (Mt 25:41-45).
Notice the mix of the good and evil at the beginning of the parable, not unlike the parable of the wheat and darnels (see Mt 13:24-30). But, also note the utter void of evangelization. The parable did not mention faith in the Good News. The key to understanding this discrepancy lay in identity. Who were the "least of my brothers" (Mt 25:40)? They were either the recipients of the message (Mt 11:4-5) or missionaries spreading the Good News (Mt 10:9-10, Mt 10:42). In other words, Jesus implicitly identified these charitable acts as evangelization, directly to the needy or indirectly by supporting the missionary.
In light of the discourse parables, the place of charity made sense. The righteous prepared for the end times through prayer and study (parable of the Ten Girls), evangelization (parable of the Three Servants) and care for the needy (parable of the Final Judgment). Preparation meant spiritual growth and sharing the message, both in word and deed.
K. Passion and Resurrection
Like my commentary on Luke, I will keep my comments brief. Word-sunday.com has a complete commentary on Matthew's Passion. I also have a hypothetical reconstruction that compares the narrative from all four Passion-Resurrection accounts.
Unlike the bulk of his gospel, Matthew's Passion tacked closely to Mark's account with the exception of additions. Matthew began with a repetition of the Passion prediction (Mt 26:1-2). Then he added details on two figures: Judas and Pilate. He portrayed Judas as a coward with blood on his hands.
Mt 26:15 Judas asked for and received payment for betrayal (thirty pieces of silver).
Mt 26:25 Jesus told Judas about his betrayal.
Mt 26:49 Judas kissed Jesus and said “Rejoice, Rabbi.”
Mt 27:3-10 Judas’ suicide and the purchase of the Gentile cemetery (“Field of Blood”).
Matthew painted Pilate as one who tried to excuse himself from "blood" guilt.
Mt 27:19 Pilate’s wife warned him to steer clear of Jesus based upon a dream she had.
Mt 27:24-25 Pilate washed hands and declared his innocence while the crowd claimed responsibility for the life of Jesus (his “blood”).
The evangelist added details to smooth the narrative flow. In Mt 27:27-29, he added stripping Jesus of his clothes, dressing him in a red (not purple) cloak and the placing of the reed in the hand by the guards. In Mt 27:40, 43, he noted the crowd and the leaders turned the title "Son of God" into a mocking insult.
In Mt 27:52-53, Matthew acknowledged the Crucifixion as the starting point for the end times. Some of the saints rose from the dead and appeared in the city.
The evangelist painted even non-believers as witnesses to the Resurrection. And he raised that witness to a heavenly level.
Mt 27:62-66 Request for and posting of Roman guards over Jesus’ tomb.
Mt 28:2-4 The appearance of a heavenly agent to open the tomb.
Mt 28:8-9 Appearence of Risen Jesus to the women (see Jn 20:14-18)
Mt 28:11-15 Report of dereliction of duty by the guards and thief of Jesus’ body.
Mt 28:16-20 ended the gospel with the Great Commission.
1. The Last Supper (26:1-30)
a. The Plot
[Mt] Matthew began his Passion narrative with the prediction of Jesus' death (Mt 26:1-2). This echoed the three predictions Jesus made on his journey to Jerusalem (Mt 16:21, Mt 17:22-23, Mt 21:18-19, Mk 8:31, Mk 9:31, Mk 10:33-34, Lk 9:22, Lk 9:43-44, Lk 18:31-33).
[M 14:1-2, M 26:3-5, L 22:1-2, J 11:47, 53, 13:1] All the gospels reported the plans of the Temple priests against Jesus just before the Passover celebration (Mk 14:1-2, Mt 26:3-5, Lk 22:1-2, Jn 11:47, 53, Jn 13:1).
b. Washing of Jesus's Feet
[M 14:3-9, M 26:6-13, L 7:36-40a, J 12:1-8] Every gospel included the story of a woman washing the feet of Jesus. Matthew, Mark and John included it within the Passion narrative (Mk 14:3-9, Mt 26:6-13, Jn 12:1-8) while Luke placed it in the context of Jesus' Galilee ministry (Lk 7:36-40). Matthew's account followed Mark's closely.
c. Judas' Betrayal
[M 14:10-11, M 26:14-16, L 22:3-6, J 13:2, 26-27] All four gospels named Judas as the man who betrayed Jesus to the Temple leaders (Mk 14:10-11, Mt 26:14, Mt 26:16, Lk 22:3-6, Jn 13:2, Jn 13:26-27).
[Mt] Only Mt 26:15 mentioned the thirty pieces of silver as the price for betrayal.
d. Last Supper
1) Preparation for the Meal
[M 14:12-16, M 26:17-19, L 22:7-13] All three Synoptic gospel recorded the instructions of Jesus (Mk 14:12-16, Mt 26:17-19, Lk 22:7-13). Matthew dropped out the unusual sign of the man who carried a water jar on the crowded streets of Jerusalem.
2) Prophecy of Judas' Betrayal
[M 14:17-20, M 26:20-24, L 22:21-23, J 13:21-22, J 13:26-27] All the gospels recorded the prophecy and the means Jesus used to identify his betrayer (Mk 14:17-20, Mt 26:21-23, Lk 22:21-23, Jn 13:21-22, Jn 13:26-27). Matthew's account again followed Mark's closely.
[Mt] Only Mt 26:25 mentioned the exchange between Jesus and Judas over the subject.
3) Words of Institution
The Last Supper
[M 14:22-24, M 26:26-28, L 22:19-20] All three Synoptic gospels and Paul's first letter to Corinth recorded the Words of Institution (Mk 14:22-24, Mt 26:26-28, Lk 22:19-20, 1 Cor 11:23-25). In form, Matthew followed Mark.
[M 14:25, M 26:29, L 22:16] Jesus declared he would not drink wine until the Kingdom arrived (Mk 14:25, Mt 26:29, Lk 22:16).
[M 14:26, M 26:30, L 22:39] Jesus and his companions sang the Hallel psalms (113-118) while they made their way out of the city to the Mount of Olives (Mk 14:26, Mt 26:30, Lk 22:39).
2. Mount of Olives (26:31-56)
a. Prediction of Peter's Failure
[M 14:27-31, M 26:31-34, L 22:31-34, J 13:36-38] Every gospel writer penned Jesus' words. Peter would fall despite his protestations (Mk 14:27-31, Mt 26:31-34, Lk 22:31-34, Jn 13:36-38).
[M 14:32, M 26:35] In Mk 14:32 and Mt 26:35, Peter vehemently defended his promise to support Jesus, even to death.
b. Jesus' Prayer in the Garden
[M14:32-36, M 26:36-39, L 22:36-42] All three Synoptic gospels noted the deliverance prayer of Jesus at Gethsemane (Mk14:32-36, Mt 26:36-39, Lk 22:36-42). They all included a Eucharistic allusion ("...this cup…").
[M 14:37, M 26:40, L 22:45] In the Synoptics, Jesus returned from prayer to find his followers asleep (Mk 14:37, Mt 26:40, Lk 22:45).
[M 14:39-41, M 26:42-46] In Mk 14:39-41 and Mt 26:42-46, Jesus returned twice more to find his groggy disciples. He admonished them. Then, he pointed to the arrival of Judas, his betrayer.
c. Arrest of Jesus
1) Arrival of Judas
[M 14:43, M 26:47, L 22:47, J 18:2-3] Judas entered the scene along with a mob armed for the arrest (Mk 14:43, Mt 26:47, Lk 22:47, Jn 18:2-3).
[M 14:44, M 26:48] Mk 14:44 and Mt 26:48 mentioned the kiss as the sign of identification.
[M 14:45, M 26:49, L 22:47] Judas kissed Jesus (M 14:45, Mt 26:49, Lk 22:47).
2) The Arrest of Jesus
[Mt] Jesus responded to Judas' greeting with the question: "Why are you here?" The mob grabbed Jesus (Mt 26:50).
[M 14:47, M 26:51, L 22:50, J 18:10] Someone drew a sword and cut off the right ear of the high priest's servant (Mk 14:47, Mt 26:51, Lk 22:50, Jn 18:10).
[Mt, J 18:11] Jesus spoke to his disciples. First, he ordered the sword returned to its sheaf (Mt 26:52, Jn 18:11). Then he admonished them about the fulfillment of Scripture (Mt 26:53-54).
[M 14:48-49, M 26:55-56, L 22:52-53] Jesus turned to address the arrest party. They came to arrest him like a common thief. But, they didn't have the courage to take him as he taught openly in the Temple. In other words, he accused them of cowardice. Yet, even this act fulfilled Scripture (Mk 14:48-49, Mt 26:55-56, Lk 22:52-53).
[M 14:50, M 26:56] The disciples fled the scene (Mk 14:50, Mt 26:56).
3. Trial before Caiaphas and Peter's Denials (26:57-75)
a. Jesus is brought to the Home of Caiaphas; Peter follows.
[M 14:53-54, M 26:57-58, L 22:54] The crowd brought Jesus before a small group of religious leaders; Peter followed from a distance (Mk 14:53-54, Mt 26:57-58, Lk 22:54).
b. False Testimony
[M 14:55-60, M 26:59-62, see GTh 71] The leaders gathered before Caiaphas to accuse Jesus of blasphemy (Mk 14:55-56, Mt 26:59). Witnesses falsely quoted Jesus saying he would destroy then restore the Temple in three days (Mk 14:57-59, Mt 26:60-62).
c. The Question and the Prophecy
[M 14:61, M 26:63, L 22:67] Caiaphas asked Jesus directly: "Are you the Christ?" (Mk 14:61, Mt 26:63, Lk 22:67).
[M 14:62, M 26:64, L 22:69] In Mt 26:64, Jesus responded in the same way he did with Pilate (Mt 27:11). In all Synoptic gospels, Jesus referred to Daniel 7:13-14 (Mk 14: 62, Mt 26:64, Lk 22:69). The leadership would witness the Son of Man vision.
d. Sentence and Abuse
[M 14:63, M 26:65, L 22:71] At the prediction of Jesus, the high priest posed a rhetorical question that implied the Nazarene's guilt (Mk 14:63, Mt 26:65, Lk 22:71).
[M 14:64-65, M 26:66-67] Those gathered answered the high priest's question with the sentence of death. Then, they abused Jesus with blows. They demanded he "prophesy!" (Mk 14:64-65, Mt 26:66-67)
e. Peter's Denials
1) Three Denials
The Denial of Peter
[M 14:66-72, M 26:69-74, L 22:54-60, J 18:17-27] Inside the courtyard of Caiaphas, Peter warmed himself by the common fire (Mk 14:66, Mt 26:69, Lk 22:55, Jn 18:25). A slave girl approached him and identified him as a disciple of Jesus; Peter denied the accusation (First Denial; Mk 14:66-68, Mt 26:69-70, Lk 56-57, Jn 18:17). In Mt 26:71, another girl announced the accusation to the crowd; Peter again denied it (Second Denial; Mk 14:69-70, Mt 26:71-72, Lk 22:58, Jn 18:25). Finally, the accusation spread among the bystanders; Peter again denied it (Third Denial; Mk 14:70-71, Mt 26:73-74, Lk 22:59-60, Jn 18:26). The rooster crowed which signified the fulfillment of Jesus' prediction (Mk 14:72, Mt 26:74, Lk 22:60, Jn 18:27).
2) Peter's Repentance
[M 14:72, M 26:75, L 22:61-62] At the sound of the rooster crowing, Peter departed in shame and tears (Mk 14:72, Mt 26:75, Lk 22:61-62).
4. Trial before Pilate (27:1-26)
a. Transition to Pilate
[M 15:1, M 27:1-2, L 23:1, J 18:28] Every gospel recorded the transition from the house of Caiaphas to the presence of Pilate for judgment (Mk 15:1, Mt 27:1-2, Lk 23:1, Jn 18:28).
b. Death of Judas (27:3-10)
[Mt] The passage of Mt 27:3-10 as exclusive to this gospel (but, see Acts 1:18-19). It was a coda to Mt 26:14-16 when Judas received the payment for betrayal. Here, Judas tried to return the money as a means of repentance, but the leaders rebuffed him. Thus, he committed suicide. Realizing they had blood money in their possession (which made them not only guilty but unclean), they used the money to purchase land for a "strangers'" (i.e., Gentile) cemetery. The author commented on the ironic name of the cemetery, "Field of Blood" (Mt 27:8). Of course, Matthew connected this event to Scripture (Mt 27:9-10; Zec 11:23-13, Jer 19:1-13. Jer 32:6-9).
c. Trial before Pilate (27:11-26)
1) Pilate's Question
[M 15:2, M 27: 11, L 23:2-3, J 18:37] In all four gospels, Pilate asked Jesus directly about his kingship. In the Synoptics, the governor inquired, "Are you the king of the Jews?" The Roman senate bestowed this title on Herod the Great in 37 BCE after retaking Jerusalem from rebels. Since Pilate replaced a Herodian figure in Judea, he really posed the question of intent: "Are you going to challenge my authority?" Jesus flipped the question back on Pilate with the enigmatic "You say" (Mk 15:2, Mt 27: 11, Lk 23:2-3, Jn 18:37). In other words, he answered the question both through the expectations of Pilate and those of the gospel's audience.
2) Silence to the Charges
[M 15:3-5, M 27:12-14, L 23:4-5] While Jesus did answer Pilate's question, he did not addressed the accusations of the religious leaders (Mk 15:3, Mt 27:12, Lk 23:2, Lk 23:5). This left Pilate speechless (Mk 15:4-5, Mt 27:13-14).
3) Custom of Clemency
[M15:6, M 27:15, J 18:39] Mk 15:6, Mt 27:15 and Jn 18:39 mentioned a custom to release a prison at Passover. This ritual was only mentioned in the gospels; no other source cited it.
[M 15:7-10, M 27:16-18] In Mk 15:7-10 and Mt 15:7-10, Pilate asked the crowd whom he should release, Barabbas the revolutionary or Jesus the Christ? He turned to people to shift the blame for the Nazarene's probable release.
[Mt] In Mt 27:19, Pilate's wife sent him word to warn him about Jesus. She had a nightmare over the situation. Ancient people considered dreams as conduits for divine messages. Hence, she felt the gods revealed some ill for her husband.
[M 15:11-14, M 27:20-23, L 23:17-23, J 19:6, 15-16] Pilate thought he could shift blame to the crowd but the religious leaders knew how to play mob politics. The tilted the crowd's sentiments away from Jesus towards Barabbas.
[Mt] In Mt 27:24, Pilate absolved himself of Jesus' fate by washing his hands. Mt 27:25 contained the infamous quote that justified anti-Semitism and pogroms; only those who Matthew cited bore any guilt for the death of Jesus.
[M 15:15, M 27:26, L 23:24-25, J 19:16] In the end, Pilate caved into the will of the people, had Jesus whipped and sent him to his death (Mk 15:15, Mt 27:26, Lk 23:24-25, Jn 19:16).
5. Crucifixion (27:27-66)
a. Mocking by the Soldiers
[M 15:16-18, M 27:27-29, J 19:1-3] Pilate ordered the soldiers to whip Jesus (Mk 15:16, Mt 27:27, Jn 19:1).
Only Matthew mentioned the soldiers stripping Jesus of his clothes; Matthew noted dressing the Nazarene in a red robe while Mark and John identified the color as purple (Mk 15:17, Mt 27:28, Jn 19:2). Roman soldiers had red outer robes for warmth. Purple was the color of royalty because of its scarcity. Its production was limited by the availability of a particular sea snail (Bolinus brandaris) and was labor intensive, hence its high cost.
Again, only Matthew added the detail of the soldiers placing the reed in the hand of Jesus (M 27:29). Mark, Matthew and John included the crowning with thorns and the mockery of the soldiers. All three gospels presented the scene as a perverse coronation (Mk 15:17-18, Mt 27:27-28, Jn 19:2-3).
[M 15:19-20, M 27:30-31] Both Mark and Matthew mentioned the aftermath of the mock coronation. The soldiers abused Jesus. They beat him on the head with the reed and spat on him (Mk 15:19, Mt 27:30). Then they removed the robe, redressed him and led him out to crucify him (Mk 15:20, Mt 27:31).
by Francisco Goya
[M 15:21, M 27:32, L 23:26] The Synoptic gospels recorded the figure of Simon the Cyrene. He carried the cross for Jesus (Mk 15:21, Mt 27:32, Lk 23:26).
[M 15:22, M 27:33, L 23:33, J 19:17] All four gospels mentioned the place of the Crucifixion ("Golgotha" in Mk 15:22, Mt 27:33, Jn 19:17; "Calvary" in Lk 23:33).
[M 15:23, M 27:34, L 23:36] The Synoptic gospels noted the offer of sour wine to Jesus by the soldiers. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus refused the drink (Mk 15:23, Mt 27:34, Lk 23:33).
[M 15:24-25, M 27:35-36] In Mark and Matthew, the soldiers gambled for Jesus' possessions as the spoils of the execution (Mk 15:24, Mt 27:35; see allusion in Psa 22:18). Then they sat down to wait for his inevitable death (Mk 15:25, Mt 27:36).
[M 15:26, M 27:37, L 23:38, J 19:19] All four gospel noted the inscription of the charge posted above Jesus ("King of the Jews"; Mk 15:26, Mt 27:37, Lk 23:38, Jn 19:19).
[M 15:27, M 27:38, L 23:32] Two thieves were crucified, one on either side of Jesus (Mk 15:27, Mt 27:38, Lk 23:32).
[M 15:29-32, M 27:39-44, L 23:39] The crowd and the leaders mocked crucified Jesus for his impotence (Mk 15:29-32, Mt 27:39-43]; Matthew added the claim "Son of God" in Mt 27:40 and Mt 27:43. Even the criminals crucified with Jesus mocked him (Mk 15:32, Mt 27:44, Lk 23:39).
[M 15:33, M 27:45, L 23:44] All three Synoptic gospels recorded "darkness over the earth" from noon (sixth hour) until three PM (ninth hour; Mk 15:33, Mt 27:45, Lk 23:44).
[M 15:34-36, M 27:46-49] Both Mark and Matthew noted Jesus cried out Psa 22:1. Some claimed he called on Elijah, the advance man for the Christ (see Mal 4:5). Someone offered him a wine soaked sponge on a pole, but others tried to dissuade the man, hoping to see the appearance of the ancient prophet.
[M 15:37, M 27:50, L 23:46, J 19:30] Jesus died (Mk 15:37, Mt 27:50, Lk 23:46, Jn 19:30).
[M 15:38, M 27:51] The Temple curtain tore apart (Mk 15:38, Mt 27:51). The identity of the "curtain" is uncertain. It could be an inner curtain that separated the the Holy of Holies from the rest of the structure. Or it could refer to a Temple gate. In either case, nothing separated the presence of God from his people. This was an eschatological sign.
[Mt] The signs of the end times continued in Matthew. The "saints" rose from the dead and appeared to many people (Mt 27:52-53).
[M 15:39, M 27:54, L 23:47] In the Synoptic gospels, a centurion made a declaration of faith when Jesus died. In Mk 15:39 and Mt 27:54, he stated the Nazarene was "the Son of God." In Lk 23:47, he said Jesus was an "innocent man."
[M 15:40-41, M 27:55-56, L 23:49] All three Synoptic gospels mentioned female disciples who witnessed the Crucifixion (Mk 15:40-41, Mt 27:55-56, Lk 23:49). However only Mark and Matthew listed the names of those gathered and their service to Jesus.
c. Burial and the Guards
[M 15:43-45, M 27:57-58, L 23:50-52, J 19:38] In all four gospels, Joseph of Arimathaea appeared to claim the body of Jesus from Pilate (Mk 15:43-45, Mt 27:57-58, Lk 23:50-52, Jn 19:38). Mark and Luke noted the eschatological outlook of the Jewish noble man. But Matthew and John stated plainly he was a disciple (Mt 27:57, Jn 19:38). In Mark, Matthew and John, Pilate granted his request (Mk 15:45, Mt 27:58, Jn 19:38).
[M 15:46-47, M 27:59-61, L 23:53-55, J 19:40-42] All four gospels recorded the burial of Jesus. His body was wrapped in linen (Mk 15:46, Mt 27:59, Lk 23:53, Jn 19:40). The three Synoptic gospels mentioned a stone hewn tomb, most likely a clan burial cave popular in first century Jerusalem (Mk 15:46, Mt 27:60, Lk 23:53). The Synoptics also noted the presence of women at the tomb. Mk 15:47 and Mt 27:61 identified them as Mary Magdalene and another Mary.
[M] Mt 27:62-66 detailed the request for and posting of Roman guards at the tomb of Jesus. Like the trial of Jesus, the religious leaders pressed Pilate for action; he relented to their demands.
6. The Resurrection (28:1-20)
by della Francesca
a. At the Tomb (28:1-10)
[M 16:1, M 28:1, L 24:1, J 20:1] In all the gospels, women approached the tomb (Mk 16:1, Mt 28:1, Lk 24:1, Jn 20:1). Mark, Matthew and John mentioned Mary Magdalene by name.
[Mt] Mt 28:2-4 recorded a glorious angel in white as the agent who opened the tomb. His presence caused fear among the Roman guards.
[M 16:6-8, M 27:5-8, L 24:5-9, J 20:13] In all four gospels, the Good News of the Resurrection is proclaimed to the women. Then, the speaker (the angel in Mt 27:5) gave them the responsibility to share the message with the other disciples. In Mk 16:6 and Mt 28:5, the speaker began with the command, "Don't be afraid." He followed with a statement of the Resurrection (Mk 16:6, Mt 28:6, Lk 24:6). In Mk 16:7 and Mt 28:7, he urged the women to tell the others, specifically about meeting place in Galilee (Mk 16:7, Mt 28:7). In all the Synoptic gospels, they leave to tell the others about the message (Mk 16:8, Mt 28:8, Lk 24:9).
[Mt, see J 20:14-18] In Matthew and John, Jesus appeared to a woman before the men. In Mt 28:9-10, he showed himself to the women. He greeted them ("Rejoice!"), accepted their adulation, comforted them ("Be not afraid") and reiterated the command to tell the other disciples. In Jn 20:14-18, Jesus revealed himself to Mary Magdalene and gave the command specifically to her.
b. Return of the Guards
[Mt] The soldiers reported their experiences to the religious leaders. The latter bribed the soldiers to spread a lie. They slept during night watch (a dereliction of duty, a capital offense) while disciples of Jesus stole his body. In return for their shameful reputation, the leaders promised the soldiers protection from Roman justice. So, this story became the party line among non-Christian Jews (Mt 28:11-15).
c. The Great Commission (28:16-20)
[Mt] The scene turned to Galilee. When the Eleven met with the Risen Jesus, they felt unsure yet still paid him homage. The Lord responded with a three part proclamation: a claim of divine power, the command to evangelize and an assurance of his continual presence. Evangelization had three sub-parts: travel to the Gentiles ("go to all nations"), initiate them into the Christian community ("baptize them" in the name of the Trinity) and continually catechize them ("teach them" the Christian tradition and lifestyle). Note the claim of power and presence acted as bookends to the commission. Christ would be with them and work with them as they spread the Good News (Mt 28:16-20).
The gospel of Matthew presented the Good News to a Jewish-Christian community. Like the Pentateuch, five sections made up the body of the text; each part had a narrative passage and a discourse. The body began with a genealogy to prove Jesus' pedigree as faithful Jew ("son of Abraham, son of David"); it ended with a description of the end times and the coming of the Son of Man. The middle section included instructions to the missionary and the Christian community. The high point of the chiastic sections implied the rough road the disciples would have to travel; it also gave a glimpse into the Kingdom based upon parables. In all, the body of the gospel was a manual for the Christian faith and lifestyle. Matthew rearranged his source material (Mark, the "Q" and his own "M" tradition) to achieve that end.
Unlike the body of the gospel, the Passion-Resurrection narrative remained close to Mark's with the addition of the "M" tradition. His own material smoothed out the narrative flow, added details about prominent characters in the passage and heightened his own theological themes. Body and Passion taken together, the gospel of Matthew answered the "what?" of faith and the "how to?" of discipleship for the Jewish believer.
Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew, Law and Love. IV. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. Print.
Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew, Probing the Authenticity of the Parables. V. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. Print.
Newman, Barclay Moon. A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. United Bible Societies, 1992.
Stergiou, Costas. TheWord.net. Computer software. Vers. 5.0. TheWord.net. 2015. 2015 (http://theword.net/).
NET Bible. theWord.net module. The NET Bible. 2015 (https://netbible.com/).
Novum Testamentum Graece. theWord.net module. Vers. NA27. (theWord.net).
Matthew the Evangelist. [Public domain]
The Magi. Jan Joest [Public domain]
The Flight to Egypt. Bartolome Esteban Murillo [Public domain]
The Baptism of Jesus. Anonymous [Public domain]
The Sermon on the Mount. Carl Boch [Public domain]
Healing the Leper at Capernaum. James Tissot [Public domain]
Calming of the Storm. Raphael [Public domain]
Call of Matthew. Hendrick Terbrugghen [Public domain]
John the Baptist. El Greco [Public domain]
Healing of the Blind Man. El Greco [Public domain]
The Sower. Jean-Francois Millet [Public domain]
Salome and the Head of the Baptist. Caravaggio [Public domain]
The Transfiguration. Bellini [Public domain]
Entry into Jerusalem. Duccio [Public domain]
Denarius. Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]
Parable of the Ten Virgins. James Blake [Public domain]
The Last Supper. Tintoretto [Public domain]
Denial of Peter. Caravaggio [Public domain]
Crucifixion. Francisco Goya [Public domain]
Resurrection. Piero della Francesca [Public domain]