Category Archives: Matthew

Daily Bible Studies on the Gospel of Matthew

Jesus Ate Because He Was Hungry

Seeing Jesus–>Following Jesus needs specifics.  God has designed us to understand our lives through the senses God has given us–seeing, hearing, smelling, touching tasting. Jesus himself entered the world of human senses and felt human needs.  Throughout the Gospel we find Jesus at tables dining with people.  The Jesus at table showed us a number of things, but Jesus was at the table because he got hungry.

In the story about Jesus’s temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1-13) both Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus experienced hunger.  It was in his state of hunger that the first temptation he experienced–the temptation to turn stones into bread–really was a temptation.  If he were not hungry, it would not have been a temptation.  It would have been a dare.  Jesus lived a real human life.  His sweat glands worked just like yours and mine.  His taste buds sent the same signals to his brain that our taste buds sent to ours.  He needed food and water to live.

One of the earliest challenges the early church faced came from a religious group called Gnostics.  There were various Gnostic groups and their beliefs differed from one another, but among the things they believed most consistently had to do with the problems with human flesh and the physical world.  They didn’t believe that a good God made the physical world.  They didn’t believe that the true God would become human flesh.  An early Christian writer named Irenaeus described the preaching of Saturnus–a Gnostic teacher–in the late Second Century.  “Saturnus presented it as a truth that the Savior was without birth, without body, and without form” (quoted in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, p. 306).  Irenaeus went on to explain that Saturnus had a radically different proclamation of the cross–that Jesus and Simon of Cyrene magically traded places and Simon died in place of Jesus, “while Jesus himself took the form of Simon and stood by and laughed at everyone” (DECB, 306).  True Christian faith resisted the denial of Jesus’s physical incarnation then and must continue to resist it now. 

Jesus was truly human and only a truly human Christ can empathize with us.  Jesus was truly human and only a truly human Christ can reveal to us our ultimate goal and destiny as God’s people.  In 1 John 4:3 we read, “Every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.”  The Jesus we encounter at the table is a physical human being who needed to eat.  Matthew explained that when the devil had departed from Jesus, “angels came and attended him” (Matthew 4:11b).  I hope they remembered to pack a lunch–Jesus needed to eat.

Parables of Jesus

Matthew 13 contains a series of parables by Jesus.  I recently found a handout that I had put together that contained all the parables that I could identify.  I’d gladly accept your help checking the accuracy of the verse numbers or making sure my list is complete.  When we look at parables, it’s important to think about the original first century Palestinian context.  We also want to think about the surprising character of the stories.  Too often Christians reduce parables to stories with moral endings.  “And so, what this story teaches us is . . . .”  Yet, the stories surprise and upend.  Finally, we tend to identify with either the rescued victim or the good guy in the parables.  Yet, the parables do us the greatest good when we consider how we might be similar to the villains or obstacles in the stories.

The Growing Seed   Mark 4:26-29  
The Two Debtors     Luke 7:41-43
Lamp Under a Bushel Matthew 5:14-15 Mark 4:21-25 Luke 8:16-18
Good Samaritan     Luke 10:25-37
Friend at Night     Luke 11:5-8
Rich Fool     Luke 12:16-21
Wise and Foolish Builder Matthew 7:24-27   Luke 6:46-49
New Wine/Old Wineskins Matthew 9:16-17 Mark 2:21-22 Luke 5:37-39
Strong Man Matthew 12:29 Mark 3:27 Luke 11:21-22
Sower Matthew 13:3-9 Mark 4:3-9 Luke 8:5-8
Tares Matthew 13:24-30    
Barren Fig Tree     Luke 13:6-9
Mustard Seed Matthew 13:31-32 Mark 4:30-32 Luke 13:18-19
Leaven Matthew 13:33   Luke 13:20-21
Pearl Matthew 13:45-46    
Drawing in the Net Matthew 13:47-50    
Hidden Treasure Matthew 13:44    
Counting the Cost     Luke 14:28-33
Lost Sheep Matthew 18:10-14   Luke 15:4-6
Unforgiving Servant Matthew 18:23-35    
Lost Coin     Luke 15:8-9
Prodigal Son     Luke 15:11-32
Unjust Steward     Luke 16:1-13
Rich Man and Lazarus     Luke 16:19-31
Master and Servant     Luke 17:7-10
Unjust Judge     Luke 18:1-9
Pharisee and Publican     18:10-14
Workers in the Vineyard Matthew 20:1-16    
Two Sons Matthew 21:28-32    
Wicked Husbandmen Matthew 21:33-41 Mark 12:1-9 Luke 20:9-16
Great Banquet Matthew 22:1-14   Luke 14:15-24
Budding Fig Tree Matthew 24:32-35 Mark 13:28-31 Luke 21:29-33
Faithful servant Matthew 24:42-51 Mark 13:34-37 Luke 12:35-48
Ten Virgins Matthew 25:1-13    
Talents Matthew 25:14-30   Luke 19:12-27
Sheep and Goats Matthew 25:31-46    
Wedding Feast     Luke 14:7-14

 

What Kind of Christ?

Matthew 11:3 reports a curious question from John the Baptist, “Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?”

Background
Many Jewish people in the 1st Century had come to expect a deliverer.  They hoped for someone who—like Moses—would release them from their captivity, suffering and oppression.  They came to name this person they were expecting the Messiah—in Aramaic–or the Christ in Greek. Deuteronomy related Moses’s final speech to the people that he had led out of captivity in Egypt.  In Deuteronomy 18:15 he said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you from among your people a prophet like me.  You must listen to him.” In the first century, John and others might have been asking questions like:  When will this prophet show up?  How will we know that he is coming?  What kind of person would this Messiah be? John had been placed in prison by Herod. He was probably remembering the words of Malachi—“See, I will send my messenger who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to the temple; the messenger of the covenant you desire will come” (Malachi 3:1).  John perceived himself as the voice crying in the wilderness.  He was preparing the way but was he preparing the way for this one Jesus of Nazareth?

Responding to the Question
It wasn’t a benign question. Jesus did not come in the way he had expected the Messiah to come.  John came preaching judgment and prophetic challenge to the power structure.  He sang the dirge though people did not mourn.  He came neither eating nor drinking and the people said “He has a demon.”  Jesus contrasted John in many ways.  He came eating and drinking, celebrating and accepting.  But the people didn’t accept him either (see Matthew 11:16-19).  Jesus gently encouraged John to accept that indeed he may just be a different kind of Messiah than the one he had expected.  Jesus said, “Go back and report to John what you see and hear—blind receive sight, lame walk, lepers are cured, deaf hear, dead are raised, good news is preached to the poor.”  In short, Jesus is saying—if you imagined that the Messiah would be someone who had compassion on suffering individuals, if you believe that the Messiah would care for the hurting, impoverished, and injured well then actions speak louder than words.  Wisdom is proved right by her actions

Jesus indicated that he would be the Messiah, the Christ, not by militarily crushing the opposition.  Rather, Jesus would be the Messiah by infusing a suffering world with the healing power of God.  Jesus would be the Messiah by yielding compassion and not a sword.  The Messiah Jesus did not recruit the strongest army, he did not look for the strongest and most powerful or form alliances with the movers and shakers.  Rather he said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  Jesus extended compassion not coercion and comfort not force.

Relevant Sermons

A preacher casts no shadow as he yells about the Bible.
According to a Gallup Survey put out last month, relevant sermons are the number one and number two items that attract people to church.  Here’s the order in which people ranked their “reasons for attending church or other place of worship.”

1. Sermons or talks that teach you more about scripture.
2. Sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life.
3. Spiritual programs geared toward children and teenagers.
4. Lots of community outreach and volunteer opportunities.
5. Dynamic religious leaders who are interesting and inspiring.
6.  Social activities that allow you to get to know people in your community.
7. A good choir, praise band, cantors or other spiritual music.

Hmm.  I wasn’t self-conscious about preaching before (OK, that’s a lie) but now . . . .  There’s a concept in social psychology called “Social Desirability Bias” that says that survey subjects sometimes say what they think they’re supposed to say rather than saying what they truly believe.  However, if we accept the survey as unbiased, the challenge is knowing what “sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life” really are.

For one person, it might be that sermons help a person make sense of external realities like personal finance, politics, and professionalism.  Another person might say that connecting religion to life means internal peace in the midst of stressful, turbulent, or confusing experiences.  Still others see connecting faith and personal life as sermon references to the familiar popular music, recent books and movies.  If we were to ask for a show of hands with the question, “How many of you want the message this morning to impact your life in a meaningful way?”  My hunch is that everyone’s hands would be raised.

Matthew 10 contains a sermon Jesus preached.  It certainly related the religious content to the personal lives of the congregation.  He said—“have no fear” (Matthew 10:26).  Great!  Encouraging!  Inspirational!  But wait there’s more, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28).  Wait! Hold On!  That’s not what we had in mind.

Ah, but the people asked for a message that connected religion to life.  This is a pretty big connection.  There’s more to the sermon that is troubling.  Jesus said that those who wish to receive him must love him more than they love father or mother or son or daughter.  And he said, “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).  The problem with “Sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life” is that they are really hard to preach when one is committed to a Savior who says, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

Traveling Light

Matthew 10

Today’s airline travel conditions encourage traveling light–security checks that require disrobing in public and disassembling electronics, increased charges for checked luggage.  Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Take no gold or silver, or copper in your belts.  No bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or staff . . .” (Matthew 10:9-10) It will only cause the security people to look at you funny.

Frequently when I talk with people about the future mission of the church, we can’t quite seem to get past all of the programs, personnel, building that we collected on previous trips into the small carry on luggage we need for the future.  We’re like the people who have taken an endless series of slides and organized them in a library of projector wheels only to discover that few people still have their projectors and the lamps needed to illuminate them are really hard to find.  That the pictures have faded and the images dulled does not negate the value of the experiences they reflect.  It is simply an indication that the future will look quite different from the past.  We need new travel clothes to manage the rugged terrain ahead of us.  And this means shedding the old travel clothes and it means leaving behind the souvenirs we’ve stowed away in those pocket.

The Church needs to travel light so that we can offer travel light.

Disciple-Making

Traveling Light means shedding the clothes of management and adopting the clothes of clothes of disciple-making.  The church’s call hasn’t changed.  It remains what it always has been—to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus commissioned the twelve he sent them to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6).  Jesus sent the Disciples to people who were like the Disciples.  Sometimes the hardest people to communicate the gospel to are the people just like yourself.  He said proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of heaven; respond to those things that are not consistent with the kingdom of heaven—cure diseases, cast out demons, strive for meaningful relationships.  This is a prelude to the final commissioning in the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus said, “Go into all nations, make them my disciples” (Matthew 28:16)  Disciple making is the chief end and aim of the church, but it begins with communication to those nearest at hand.

During the Second World War and the economic reconfiguration that followed, Americans perfected the process of mass production.  We discovered that efficient factory work requires division of labor, reduction of waste, and a fluid system design.  The mentality of the age came into the church as we cultivated sophisticated management procedures for dealing with the call of the church.  The church began dividing the work of the church among various committees, a flow of out-put and process was designed, and training programs were developed so that people would be able to function with the institution of the church.

And here’s what we discovered: people who worked in organizations that had compatible management strategies could effectively employ their workplace experience in the church and be productive members of the church.  If you think I’m making this up just consider the old wording of a welcome to new members the church I serve used for decades.  It said, “We welcome you to work and worship . . . of this church.”  What we lost in this process was an awareness that those who are called upon to serve in the church do so not out of professional expertise but out of spiritual empowerment.  We created a church system in which you didn’t need to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as much as you needed to know Total Quality management.

A recent Barna survey compared mainline Protestant churches—like ourselves—to non-mainline churches like evangelicals, charismatics, and Baptists.  They found that 50% of mainliners are personally active in church vs. 66% of non-mainliners; 77% of mainliners reported wanting a close personal relationship with God vs. 88% of non-mainliners.  Among mainline members, 67% said they want to be deeply committed to Christian faith compared to 82% of evangelicals, charismatics, and Baptists.  The Barna study also looked at where the priorities are. Mainliners showed a stronger preference for a higher paying job 42% to 25% and they 77% indicated that they want a comfortable lifestyle in comparison to 65% of non-mainline Christians.  Surveys don’t tell the whole story but what we see in this is a growing trend among main-line Christians—like Methodists, Presbyterians and us Disciples of Christ—toward a shallow hunger for an intimate walk with God and a greater emphasis on material prosperity.

What that means for our present is that we are ill-equipped for the call of Christ.  We have been overly shaped by the market and inattentive to the mission.  Our future traveling clothes must be designed to form the disciple—a person who is committed to the daily walk with God, motivated by a desire to obey God, and capable of taking risks for God.

Micro-Church

Traveling light means shedding the clothes of megachurch and adopting the clothes of micro-church.  Disciple-making is not something that can be done at a distance.  It may involve reading books, but it doesn’t come from a book.  It may involve media but it doesn’t come from media.  The most consistent way for churches to make disciples is by having spiritually new Disciples become intimately involved with spiritually mature Disciples. It takes face to face encounters beyond the level of small-talk.  It involves trusting one another, praying with one another and for one another.  It involves holding one another accountable in those areas of weakness, and challenging one another to expand areas of strength.

In commissioning the twelve, Jesus emphasized using the hospitality of a single home as the basis of operation.  He said, “As you enter the house, greet it.”  This greeting of the house is a more warm and fond expression than simply saying hello. It is a statement of warmth and acceptance of welcome.  By working from home the Disciples got to work up close and personally with a household of individuals.  Those individuals would be the most transformed and would be the lasting influence for Jesus when they left.  Jesus disciple evangelism was creating a sustained long-term relationship with people who would in-turn have sustained and long-term relationships with people and allow that spiritual friendship emerge into the work of God.

From the 1980’s forward, the single most dominant question asked in churches has been that of church growth.  New churches have been formed in the last 30 years on marketing principles that have exceeded anyone’s expectations.  Here in the Metroplex, we are in the center of a Megachurch Mecca.  And it causes many people to equate church size with church faithfulness.  In an effort to keep up, churches of every shape, size and age, started  asking the same question, “How do we attract new members.”  The attraction works in creating new customers.  It does not work as a model for making Disciples.  For several decades we have developed higher and higher expectations on the qualifications of our personnel, more expensive physical plants, and greater dependence on technology but in the end these efforts have not served us in serving God.  Because in the end, they only served to crowd God out.  The travel of the future must be less about attraction and more about authenticity; less about volume more about vulnerability, less megachurch and more of a mirco-church model.

People say that the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior expecting a different result.  Someone suggested that that describes the church we see before us today.  I disagree.  We keep repeating the same behavior expecting the same result.  Our context has changed, the needs of people have changed, and the mechanism we put in place generations ago are no longer adequate to meet those needs.  Specifically, what people need most is a vibrant and growing relationship with God.  That will only occur when we put aside the management and marketing models of the past century’s journey and learn to travel lighter, more relationally and more authentically into the future.  By traveling light, we can be travel light as Christ intends us to be.

Light in Darkness

Several years ago a woman penned these words to a trusted mentor, “I have been thrown away by God.  I call, I cling, I want and there is no one to answer.  The darkness is so dark and I am alone.”  The words resonate with the experience of many who seek to know God’s presence yet find God devastatingly absent.  The feeling doesn’t surprise us but the feeler might.  The words were written by Teresa of Calcutta or Mother Teresa.  These words and many others came to light recently as her personal journals and correspondence revealed a fifty year journey of despair and sorrow and feelings of abandonment by God.  She was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1979 in that same year she wrote, “The silence and emptiness is great.  I look and do not see.  I listen and do not hear.  My lips move in prayer but I do not speak.”  The papers and journals reveal that these moments of despair were not isolated but continued for some 50 years.

Teresa left her home in Albania at the age of 18.  She joined a monastic order and taught for 20 years in India.  But on a fateful train ride in 1947, she sensed God calling her to leave the walls of the monastery and  begin serving on the streets of Calcutta where people were dying without care.  She received permission.  As she anticipated this transition, she sensed great joy and great light.  But almost immediately as she stepped into the service, she began experiencing a sense of abandonment and loneliness.

Two confirmed miracles are needed to be canonized a saint.  Early on, the road to Mother Teresa’s sainthood had one confirmed miracle—the healing of a woman with an abdominal tumor.  It took some time to find the second; however, it seemed to me that the other one would have to be that she sustained her faithful, compassionate work for fifty years despite feeling so isolated and distant from God.

I wish that Mother Teresa’s spiritual journey had experienced brighter moments. When the longed for spiritual light and connection remains constantly out of reach it calls everything into question.  Nonetheless, the followers of Christ are called into darkness.  The whole chapter of Matthew 10 is addressed to the twelve-the original core followers of Jesus Christ.  They are named in the first part of the chapter.  Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, James and Thaddeus, Simon and Judas.  To these twelve Jesus gave authority to cast out demons, cure every disease and illness (vs. 1).  Jesus doesn’t give people authority if he doesn’t intend for them to use it.  Which means, as verse 8 indicates, they were meant to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.  You can’t do that by setting up a website.  Jesus intended the Disciples to be with the sick, attend to the dead, touch the lepers, and face the demons.  Jesus called them into the darkness.

Matthew like all four gospels shows evidence of redaction that came much later after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  These redactional statements reflect a period of darkness for the earlier church during a time of persecution.  We have the evidence from the book of Acts that indeed the early Disciples were “dragged before governors, beaten and flogged.”  In that period, the earliest Christians had to decide how to react to the persecutions.  They could let the exclusions, the punishments and the executions do what they were intended to do.  They could let those persecutions push them underground and silence them.  Or they could say as one modern theologian has put it, “You may kill us but you cannot tell us what our deaths mean” (Stanley Hauerwas).  And that’s precisely the direction that the early Church.  They decided to interpret their hardships in light of Jesus Christ.

Jesus offers this proverb “A Disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master.”  It’s not a general principle at work about teachers and students.  It is a specific call for the Disciples of Christ to follow in Christ’s teaching.  The darkness is not introspective.  This is not the suffocating self-reflection.  It is Christocentric—they are called into the darkness the way Christ was sent into the world.  It is in the midst of this that Jesus said, “What I tell you in the dark, proclaim in the light.”  What I whisper to you in the dark, proclaim in the light.  We hear the whisper of Christ in the imitation of Christ.

You don’t have to go looking for suffering. Life is full of suffering. Toddlers playing in the nursery painfully discover that life involves suffering.  Suffering emerges from change.  When patterns are disrupted, we feel like the air is taken from our lungs.  Rhythms that steady our stride is suddenly gone and we struggle to regain our footing.  Suffering emerges from loss—it could be loss of a loved one, a job, or aspects of ourselves once treasured.  Loss causes suffer.  Suffering emerges from repeated patterns of harm.  One of the most common questions I find myself asking lately is, “And how are you contributing to your own misery?”  We sometimes suffer because we repeat the same bad choices over and over.  Suffering emerges from imbalances.  As people we invest much of their time, talent and money trying to avoid suffering.  Much of the time that isn’t invested in avoiding suffering is invested in overcoming it.   Christ had a sense that we could invest our lives less in our own darkness and bring light into the darkness of others.  Disciples experience Christ-likeness in the midst service.

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Jesus Healed

Context

Matthew 9:18-25 begins, While he was saying these things–Jesus had talking to the Disciples of John the Baptist (Matthew 9:14-17).  They had come to Jesus asking about why both John’s Disciples and the Pharisees fast as often as they do but the Disciples of Jesus did not. Jesus compared his movement to the presence of the bridegroom at a wedding banquet.  Jesus spoke of new patches and old garments and new wine and old wine skin.  In Christ something new was breaking into the world, the old categories and forms were falling away.

Following and Leading

Suddenly a leader [of the synagogue] came in–The NRSV adds “of the synagogue.”  However, while the story is clearly taken over from Mark 5, the language used is not the same.  Matthew uses a rather simple archōn.   Whereas Mark gives his name, Jairus, and calls him the leader of the synagogue archisynagōgosKnelt before him–The man assumes a posture of respect. saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live”–Another change from Mark’s telling of the story.  In Mark’s telling  of the story, the girl was dying.  In Matthew’s version, the man had come to Jesus saying that his daughter had already died.  And Jesus got up and followed him–the man was “the leader” and Jesus was “the follower.”  Move of chapters 8-9 focus on Jesus as the leaders and the Disciples as the followers.   In some ways, Jesus is modeling the teaching he will give in Matthew 23:11-12, the greatest among you will be the one who serves.

Necessary Interruption

Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years–Mark has a much more elaborate description of her.  She had spent her money, for example, on physicians who made her no better and some made her worse.   The twelve years of her hemorrhage corresponded to the age of the girl healed (Mark 5:42).  There is no crowd present in Matthew’s version.  There’s not description of her background.  Matthew’s storytelling is terse.  Came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak—this probably represents Jesus wearing a prayer shawl and depicts a more Orthopraxic (attending to the correct practice of one’s religion) Jesus than we normally ascribe to Jesus.  Amy-Jill Levine points out that while people often point to the problems of touching a person who has menstrual bleeding (Leviticus 15:25), Jesus does not deliberately touch her.  Jesus did, however, take the girl by the hand—touching the corpse of someone (supposedly dead), though Jesus made it clear that she was not dead only asleep (Matthew 9:24).  For she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.”–It is not clear how Matthew—the narrator—knew what she was thinking.  In other parts of the gospel, Jesus has been the one to perceive people’s thoughts.  However, Matthew like the other gospel writers who tell this story, display a narrational omniscience.

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said–Matthew eliminated the crowd and the conversation with the Disciples.  The woman touched, Jesus turned and saw her immediately.  “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.”–The synoptic gospels all emphasize the important role people’s faith plays in their healing.  And instantly the woman was made well.  The instantaneous healing provided by Jesus also corresponds to the healing situations that take place in these chapters.

When Jesus came to the leader’s house–unlike the healing of the Centurion’s servant—when Jesus was willing to go but was dissuaded from visiting the leader’s house—Jesus entered this leader’s home.  And saw the flute players and the crowd make a commotion.  While Matthew has significantly whittled down the details of these two stories from the version in Mark, this is the one detail he adds that does not appear in Mark.  This suggests the presence of professional mourners.

The presence of flute players may also link this story with Matthew 11:16-19.  Jesus described the generation’s response to both him and John the Baptist by relating the children’s song in the marketplace, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” Here the flute player is associated with wedding while the dirge with the funeral.  In response to John’s inquiry into his own behavior–the story immediately preceding this one, Jesus compared himself to the bridegroom (Matthew 9:15).  So it’s possible that Matthew is reinforcing the newness of his work by evoking a set of symbols.  However, he sends them away along with the ones bringing the dirge.

He said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping,”– This statement by Jesus is present in every telling of this story.  And they laughed at him.–  The forces of death and those who deal in death/prophet from death, scoff that resurrection.  Amy-Jill Levine, wrote, “Matthew 9 is comparable to 14:1-12, the account of the daughter of Heoridas and the tetrarch Herod Antipas.  In the first, a ‘young girl’ (korasion) motivates a ruler to humility and obtains life; her resurrection anticipates Jeus’s resurrection.  The second korasion reveals a ruler’s abuse of power and motifates a death that anticipates both Jesus’s death and the persecution of his followers” (Women in Scripture, p. 408).

But when the crowd had been put outside—Jesus would also cleanse the temple—he went in and took her by the hands, and the girl got up.  And the report spread throughout that district. 

Matthew like Mark, Luke and John all retell the story of Jesus Christ from the other side of Jesus’s resurrection.  They are witnesses to God’s power to repair and redeem and renew all that the systems of injustice, disease, physical destruction and deprivation can destroy.  They believed in the promise of God that brings life from death.  And they wrote in a way that affirms that resurrection was at work in Jesus Christ even before his own resurrection.  They were not just telling the historical story of Jesus Christ as though some sort of biography could be offered in service of the world.  Rather, they wrote affirmations of faith.  They tried to affirm this basic truth through their retelling of Christ’s story:  Where Christ is present there is resurrection.

NOTE:  This format–writing the biblical text in bold and making comments along the way–is a common way for me to prepare scripture for a sermon.  I don’t usually preach this way, but I find it helps to gather my thoughts on the text.  Let me know how you feel about this format.  If you don’t find it readable; if you like the attention to detail.  Either way.

 

Meals with Jesus

A  polite person is not supposed to discuss two topics at the dinner table:  politics and religion.  Yet, Jesus himself managed to make meals both political and religious.  Matthew 9:10-13 provides a story about Jesus at a meal.  After Matthew’s call story (Matthew 9:9), Jesus had dinner at “the house.”  The New International Version brings this text in line with the way the story is told in Mark 2:13-17 and Luke 5:27-32.  The other two synoptic writers say that the meal was at Matthew’s (Levi’s) house–that the tax collector was throwing a banquet for him.  The Greek text of Matthew does not specify whose house it was.  The NRSV and NASB translate it in the less specific reflecting the Greek text.  Jesus reclined at the table in the house.

Tax collectors were especially despised in Jesus’s day.  They were seen as collaborators with the invading Roman government.  As well, they could be dishonest and take a portion of the tax revenue.  Needless to say, the Jews did not have a high opinion of tax collectors.  Jesus had other similarly counter-cultural meals.  Jesus had a conflict with the Pharisees over the lawfulness of eating grain gleanings picked on the sabbath day (Matthew 12:1-13).  Jesus, of course, fed the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21) and the four thousand (Matthew 16:29-39).  The feeding of the four thousand is understood to have taken place in a more gentile context.  Then in one of the last described meals before Matthew narrates the institution of the Lord’s Supper Jesus explains that a woman who entered and interrupted a meal to anoint Jesus had done a good thing for her.  Wherever the Gospel is preached, he said, what she has done will be shared in her memory (Matthew 26:13).  Shared meals with people others judged harshly was a hallmark of Jesus’s ministry.  Leading up to, of course, the final meal Matthew 26:17-30.  It is in Matthew’s telling of the story, Jesus announces that the blood represents the cup of forgiveness poured out for many (Matthew 26:28).

The politics implied in this text is found in Jesus’s willingness to eat with whomever was willing to eat with him.  The current political climate that seeks to secure people’s freedom to exclude others on the basis of some aspect of their lives may make sense politically.  However, it is completely unChrist-like to exercise such a right.  At the same time, Jesus did not regard acceptance of people as the good destination in and of itself. We sometimes treat acceptance to be today–“We accept everyone” becomes an end rather than a means.  Jesus wanted people to abandon sin and join in Christ’s agenda to redeem all of those who are lost.  The politics of his meal served the religion of his meal.

Scripture’s Message to the Individual, Personal Relationship with Jesus, Part 2

David Buttrick had a tremendous influence on the field of preaching or homiletics.  Buttrick passed away last week.  With respect to a faithful servant of Christ and helpful guide in the practice of ministry, I tread lightly into things that he said about the personalization of faith.  He wrote, “Virtually everything in scripture is written to a faith-community, usually in the style of communal address” (Homiletics, p. 276).  Buttrick was a critical of a style of preaching that became overly personalized and therapeutic.   He rather famously discouraged (maybe “forbid” is a better word) preachers from using personal illustrations because they tended to elevate the individual and de-emphasize the communal.

Buttrick’s corrective is an important corrective.  American Christians tend to read scripture with highly individualized and personalized lenses.  A good example is our popular use of Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”  Our tendency to use this verse as a band-aid for the individual soul has been commented on here and here  and a few other places.  Most will emphasize that Jeremiah was addressing a nation not a person.

Yet, it may be falling off the other side of the donkey to claim, as Chad Bird has recently, that, “The phrase is never found in the Bible. And the whole biblical witness runs contrary to it.”  True:  The phrase never appears in the Bible.  We often say that about the Trinity.  It doesn’t mean that Trinitarian theology isn’t soundly biblical.  The claim the whole biblical witness runs contrary to it is a far stretch.  Consider some ways that scripture does affirm our individuality.

Jesus saw individual persons as distinct from the crowd.  Jesus saw the man with leprosy in the midst of the crowd (Matthew 8:1-4); Jesus stopped to acknowledge the faith and healing of the woman with the hemorrhage in the midst of the crowd (Mark 5:24-34); Jesus praised the faith of the one out of ten lepers who returned to thank him (Luke 17:11-17). Jesus’s healing ministry often drew crowds, but the individual did not lose Jesus in the crowd.

Jesus not only acknowledged the individual in the midst of the crowd through healing ministry, Jesus also acknowledged individual contributions.  When Jesus was anointed at Bethany he said of the women who did the anointing, “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached through the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her (singular)” (Matthew 26:6-13).  And Jesus praised the gift of the widow who gave her two small coins saying, “she gave her whole life” (Mark 12:41-44).  Jesus did pay attention to individual people.

Jesus also modeled a solitary prayer life. Jesus withdrew by himself to pray (Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42; 5:15-16; 6:12).  And Jesus taught people to pray in solitude (Matthew 6:6).  Peter was praying by himself when he experienced the preparatory vision about including Gentiles within the church in the form of a portrayal of all food as clean (Acts 9:9-23).  Jesus also spoke of God as one who might go and look for one lost–sheep, coin, child.  He said, “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents  (Luke 15:10).

Philip shared the good news to the Ethiopian Eunuch who was baptized immediately and outside the context of communal worship (Acts 8:26-40).  The risen Lord called “Saul” by name when he confronted him on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-19).  The Apostle Paul wrote about the body of Christ–a text emphasizing our unity and the essential community of the faith by saying, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).   Within the community of faith our individuality is not erased.  Rather, our individuality finds its rightful place within the context of community.

American Christians need to hear the important challenge to over-active individualism, the tendency to prize personal autonomy above everything else, our emotionalism with regard to God’s personal love for us as individual persons, and our tendency to convert everything into therapy.  However, scripture bears witness to the unfolding of the self turned in on itself not the erasure of the self completely.

 

 

 

 

Authority to Proclaim Forgiveness 

Matthew 9:2-8

The story begins and friends are bringing a paralyzed man to Jesus. In Mark’s (Mark 2:1-12) and Luke’s (Luke 5:17-26) versions of the story, Jesus is in a house and the friends have to lower the man through the roof. In Matthew’s version there’s no house nor destruction of property. Yet, Matthew does stress the friend’s faith. “When Jesus saw their faith.  

Jesus does not immediately heal the man. Instead he pronounces forgiveness. Following Jesus’s words, the scribes present think to themselves, or within themselves, that Jesus is blaspheming. Blasphemy is a sin of drawing attention away from the glory of God. The specific way in which pronouncing sins forgiven is blasphemy is not clear. The scribes believed that God alone forgives. Certainly biblical witness is that God forgives sins, but I did not find a place where it says that God alone forgives sins. If it does somewhere, someone let me know.  

Jesus demonstrates his authority by perceiving their thoughts. Jesus calls out their sins. So, while he pronounces the paralyzed man forgiven; he accuses the scribes of being evil.  

Jesus poses a question to them. His healing of the paralytic is offered as proof that Jesus had the power to forgive sins. The man got up and walked home. The crowd glorified God.  The “blasphemy” did not detract from God’s glory it magnified it.   And then comes the surprising conclusion.  

The whole story felt like it was a statement about Jesus’s authority and power. Power to heal. Power to forgive. Yet, their take away –God had given such authority to people. The word used in Greek there is anthropoi; it means humanity in general not one gender or the other. People have authority. We have the right to tell people they are forgiven. We can proclaim good news to people. How often do we used this authority?