The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 1
St. Matthew begins his story with a genealogy of one side of Jesus’ “family tree”. You may feel inclined to skip over this section, but I urge you not to. Genealogies are more than just “lists of names”; they are a shorthand for human history. Every name represents a lifetime of stories, and many of those in St. Matthew’s list can be found in the Old Testament if one simply follows the cross-references (in a Bible, Concordance or Bible dictionary; some are given, below).
The genealogy is of “Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” Each of these titles conveys something significant about who Jesus is: 1) The Christ - Greek for the Hebrew “Messiah”, literally the “Anointed One”- and the Son of David - a reference to one descended from the great king, inheritor of God’s promises to him - are both titles describing the long-anticipated Saviour of Israel, promised by God through His prophets. 2) Abraham was the father of the Hebrew people, and so the Son of Abraham is one of his descendants, in this case the One through whom God‘s promises to that Patriarch will be fulfilled. It is to these Hebrews - the Jews - that St. Matthew’s Gospel clearly is directed, as we will see in the weeks to come: Jesus is the Promised One.
We would expect the genealogy of so great a figure to be studded with noble ancestors, any “shady” characters being strategically overlooked. Such is not the case here. Jesus is the great Redeemer of the whole of history and sinful humanity, and His “family tree” is peopled by many fallen figures and imperfect circumstances - yet God works through each, reclaiming and redeeming, inexorably working His perfect will.
Jacob was the “deceiver” who cheated his brother and lied to his father, wrestled with the LORD’s angel and became “Israel”, father of the twelve tribes (Genesis 25:21ff; 27, 32:24ff). Perez was the son of Judah by Tamar, his daughter-in-law (Gen.38), while Obed was born of Boaz and Ruth - Ruth was one of the Moabites, pagan descendants of Lot, whom Israel was to avoid (Ruth 4:13ff; Numbers 25, Deuteronomy 23). Solomon’s mother was Bathsheba, whose husband Uriah was, in effect, murdered at King David’s command so that that sovereign might take her as his own (2 Samuel 11 & 12). Then there are two kings in succession, Manasseh and his grandson Josiah, who represent, respectively, one who reintroduced pagan worship and rejection of the Lord’s ways, while the other led the people into righteous reforms and deeper obedience to God’s laws (2 Kings 21-23).
The story of Jesus’ birth follows: a) Mary and Joseph are betrothed. In that time and culture this “engagement” was a legal bond which could not be broken save by a form of divorce, although they were not yet married nor physically intimate with each other. b) Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant, but knows that he is not the father. Concerned not just for his own reputation but for Mary’s as well, he wrestles through the night regarding a decision to break the bethrothal quietly. c) God speaks to him through a dream, revealing the true state of affairs, as well as what he is to do next: Joseph shall take this child as his own, a descendant of David’s line, inheritor of the promises, and name Him JESUS - “The Lord is salvation”- for the promises will be fulfilled in Him. So, the Virgin conceived...
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 2
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem...” It was then that the Magi - “wise men”; “Three Kings” - arrived to see the infant Jesus. St. Matthew relates that they came to the house to see the Child - no longer a Baby in a manger. In fact, King Herod’s focus upon boys two years old or younger(v.16), suggests that as many as twenty-four months may have passed since the Birth.
What about these visitors who arrived: how many were there? who were they? The gifts were threefold, but the persons are not numbered. Later traditions name three, or refer to as many as twelve; St. Matthew is silent. He identifies them as “Magi”-the Greek word is magoi, the same term used of “Simon Magus”(Acts 8:9-24), a practitioner of magic, who had to repent of his art to come to Christ. These may have been “wise men”, i.e. advisors and magicians to royalty; or members of a sect which practised occult arts; but neither was welcome in Israel (Deut.18:9-14). It is significant that these, who had had no part in the promises to Israel, would make so long and hazardous a journey to honour this foreign King. We may recall God’s promise to Abraham, “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”(Gen.12:3).
In stark contrast to the Magi, we see King Herod, the Jewish “king”, who is far more concerned with his own power than with the promises of God. His “wise men” are the chief priests and the scribes, who know the Scriptures and their prophetic words, yet show no desire to seek out their Saviour. Do they share the king’s rage when the Magi fail to report back to him? Do they concur with his orders for the slaughter of the innocents? When the king was troubled, “all Jerusalem [was troubled] with him”(v.3). Was this because he took out his anger and frustration upon his people? Was it because the Magi rode in with a large entourage, looking foreign and dangerous? Was it because some feared that they had failed to recognise the coming of the Messiah?
Once again we read that Scripture was fulfilled: There is the location of the Birth (v.6; Micah 5:2), the return from Egypt (v.15; Hosea 11:1), Rachel’s lamentation (v.18; Jer. 31:15 Rachel was Jacob’s second wife, mother of Joseph and Benjamin), and the reference to the “Nazarene” (v.23; it is unclear where this prophecy is to be found). Also, the magi’s gifts may reflect Isaiah 60:6 - part of a chapter which could supply the background for the legendary three kings upon their camels.
As in Chapter One, dreams play a significant role, this time for the Magi (v.12), as well as for Joseph (vs.13, 20, & 22). They come as divine directives: “an angel of the Lord”, “being warned by God in a dream”. We are not told how God spoke, but the biblical accounts regularly depict the Lord’s angels speaking His words directly. When people respond, they respond to God Himself as the One who has spoken-i.e. the messenger and the message are one; together they are God’s word spoken and delivered.
New Life is born; innocents die. Promises are fulfilled; Herod’s ambitions are frustrated. A long journey ends with the glimpse of the Hope for all nations; a new journey begins with dreams, and fear, and flight, before settling down as the Child grows up in relative obscurity. “...And His own received Him not.”(Jn.1:11)
“…Bethlehem…out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 3
Chapter 2 faded out with the Holy Family coming to dwell in Nazareth. Now, nearly thirty years later, the scene opens upon the “wilderness of Judea” and the strange figure who has appeared there near the Jordan River. John “the Baptist”, “clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist”, fire in his eye and a bold exhortation bursting forth from his lips - “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” - appears as a prophet of old, like Elijah himself (see description of Elijah given at 2 Kings 1:8; cf Malachi 4:5,6). Son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, he is Jesus’ cousin, six months his senior (Luke 1:36) and he too is one in whom Scripture is fulfilled: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness...” (Isaiah 40:3). God is moving; no longer far off, His kingdom is “at hand”.
John has come to the river to cry out God‘s message, to turn hearts from sin, and to plunge willing souls beneath the very waters which Israel had crossed into the Promised Land. His baptism is a sign of repentance: a willingness to acknowledge sin, to turn from it, and to prepare for what - and especially Who - is to come. “Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him.” (perhaps, like “all Jerusalem” being troubled with King Herod in Chapter 2, there is some exaggeration in this sweeping statement, but we may still assume that the crowds were quite large.)
All the true penitents are welcomed to the waters, but the Pharisees (the “rabbis” or “teachers”) and the Sadducees (generally upper class, leaders of the priestly line) -the religious leaders - are challenged, criticized and rebuked. John questions the sincerity of their repentance. It’s not enough to claim one’s status or ancestry; one must live up to it. Fruit trees exist to bear fruit and, whatever their stock, the fruitless will be uprooted and destroyed. He warns that the kingdom comes with judgement, not just deliverance. The One who is coming will baptize, “with the Holy Spirit and fire”. As the “winnowing fan” (fork) was used in those days to lift up the harvested grain from the threshing floor, that the wind might blow away the chaff for burning, while the good kernels dropped again to the ground; so will His coming separate the harvest of souls, by the wind of the Spirit and the fire of His cleansing wrath.
It is not clear what John perceived of Jesus’ identity when first he saw Him coming to the river. Did he recognize the One “whose sandals I am not worthy to carry”? or did he see only his cousin whom he knew to be possessed of a godliness beyond his own? Later, the Baptist would recall for his disciples the testimony given as Jesus emerged from the water (John 1:33,34) “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
Why, given John’s protestations, was the Lord baptized that day? He declares that it is “to fulfil all righteousness”, i.e. it’s the right thing to do. Jesus has no sin of which to repent, but He with His whole heart, and mind, and soul and strength, declares His willingness and readiness for all that the Father wills to do. The Son of God submits His humanity to the rule of the Kingdom. Here is the way of the sons of God - all, male and female, who will follow and be made like Him: little sons as He is the Son of God. Christian baptism is Jesus’ baptism: with water, the Holy Spirit, and the Father’s witness that we are His beloved children in Christ Jesus.
A voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 4
Immediately following His baptism and the affirmation of the Father, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”, Jesus is led “by the Spirit” into the wilderness where He is tempted by the devil. It is not uncommon for Christians to find that, immediately following a time of blessing and spiritual growth, Satan tries to snatch away our confidence in the Lord by a barrage of temptations. Notice that Jesus fortifies Himself by fasting: physically He is hungry and weakened, but spiritually His dedicated fast has placed Him firmly in the Father’s hands. The Spirit has led Him; He is the Father’s Son.
The baptism ended with the Father’s word: “This is My beloved Son...”; the temptations begin, “If You are the Son of God,...” Like Eve in the garden of Eden, Jesus is encouraged to doubt God’s word (“Has God indeed said...?” “You will not surely die.” Genesis 3:1, 4). The first temptation is simple and understandable: to feed His hungry body with bread. There is only one problem: there is no bread, only stones. No problem, “If You are the Son of God”, simply to turn one into the other; but for Jesus there is something higher at stake: He will not do anything which is not the Father’s will, whether for Himself or for others. As George MacDonald put it,
“The Father and the Son are of one mind. The Lord could hunger, could starve, but would not
change into another thing what His Father had made one thing. There was no such change in the
feeding of the multitudes. The fish and the bread were fish and bread before.”
(“The Temptation in the Wilderness”; Unspoken Sermons, First Series).
Jesus responds with Scripture (Deut.8:3); the second temptation features Scripture on the devil’s lips (Psalm 91:11,12). The evil one will quote, out of context, often twisting the meaning, but Jesus is steeped in the Word and confident in His Father; He responds with authority, “You shall not tempt the LORD your God.”
Okay, He will not deviate from the Father’s plan; but surely He came to rule the world: to be King. “Have it now!” the Tempter declares, “Follow my plan and you cannot fail! Do it my way; worship me!” We will hear a chilling echo of Christ’s response later, in chapter 16, as Peter tries to dissuade Him from treading the way of suffering and death; it is His response to those who would have Him follow other than the Father’s will: “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’”
John the Baptist had come to prepare the way, now his imprisonment appears to herald the next step for Jesus: He moves to Galilee, settling in Capernaum. Once more, St. Matthew sees this as fulfillment of the Scriptures (vs.15,16). The message is the same as John had proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”, but there’s a difference in what follows. John called people to turn from sin and be baptized in preparation for the One who was to come; Jesus calls people to Himself: He is the Promised One. Fishermen leave their old life to devote their skills to the work of the Kingdom: following Jesus, catching souls instead of fish. Further, in Jesus are manifested not only the words but the works of the kingdom: healing the sick, casting out demons, raising up the paralytics. And “Great multitudes followed Him” from throughout the whole region, for in Him the Kingdom of God is at hand.
“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light…Light has dawned.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 5
Chapter 5 introduces us to what is commonly called “The Sermon on the Mount”. It runs over three chapters, 5, 6 & 7, and you are encouraged to read it as a whole. Perhaps read the three chapters first, then come back and pay particular attention this week to Chapter 5; next week read the three, but focus on Chapter 6; likewise with Chapter 7 the following week. Many commentators assume that these chapters are simply a collection of “sayings of Jesus” gathered from various sources. Dr. John Patrick has argued, I think convincingly, that it is, in fact, one whole: a clear, coherent sermon. Try reading it as such.
St. Matthew informs us that Jesus sat down to teach - the standard rabbinical posture for teaching - and “His disciples came to Him”. This group was not the curious crowds looking for miracles. It was made up of those who were eager to follow and to learn from Jesus, to be His disciples. The teaching that follows is not just wise words: it is the heart of Christian discipleship.
I understand the whole to be a vision of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is not so much a place as it is the state of God’s will being clearly known and willingly done: the “Reign of God”. In its perfected form, that is the reality of heaven. In this sermon, Jesus describes what it means to put that Kingdom into effect here and now in the lives of those who would follow Him. The focus is not simply upon being good people, nor upon finding the way of inner peace or success; it is about being like our Father in heaven. We are to share His heart, His will, His ways - to be transformed inside and out - and to be truly “sons” of the Father. Once again, that “sonship” applies to male and female alike: it entails our likeness to the Son, Jesus Himself. He is the model .
Again and again the standards of the Kingdom turn the world’s standards upon their heads. Disciples of Jesus are called to be different and to make a difference. The “Beatitudes”(vs3-12) set the tone for all that follows. We begin with the poverty of spirit(v.3) whereby we acknowledge our sinfulness and our need of God’s grace. We are to repent of our sins - to mourn for the effect of those sins(v.4; cf The Service of Compline, B.C.P. p.727, the 2nd prayer re: sorrow for our sins “which were the cause of Thy passion…”) - to put off our strength and self-sufficiency - to become meek, i.e. to humble ourselves - and to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. This will result in a change of actions (showing mercy v.7, and making peace v.9), attitude (purity of heart: single-minded focus on God’s righteousness v.8), and the way in which the world responds to Christ’s disciples (persecution vs.10-12).
Followers of Jesus are not simply to blend in with the world; they are to preserve (as salt was used in the ancient world), and to bear light - Christ’s light which helps us to discern His will and His ways and to recognize sin for what it is. They are freed from “legalism” - trying to justify oneself by scrupulous obedience to the letter of the Law - by God’ grace; now they are to live in submission to the heart/spirit of the Law - a deeper obedience to the Father’s righteousness.
Try reading each section, from v.21 to v.48, in the context of the Beatitudes (i.e. read a few verses, say 21 & 22; then re-read vs.3-12; repeat following vs.23-27, etc.). Do we bear the “family resemblance” to our Father?
“…that you may be sons of your Father…you shall be…as your Father in heaven is…”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 6
Chapter 5 had much to say about fulfilment of the Law, not simply following the letter, but in acquiring a righteous attitude of the heart. In fact, the focus is less upon our relationship to the Law and its requirements, and more upon our relationship to the Father. It is not about the rewards and punishments of doing what the Law requires, but about the way that the “sons of God” are to live, following the Father’s heart.
Chapter 6 continues to explore our relationship with the Father, how we honour Him with our almsgiving and disciplines of prayer, and how we trust Him with our daily lives. The words, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”, represent what is to be our focus in all that we do. Our charitable deeds, our fasting and prayers - even the things that we treasure - are to be an offering to God, not a show for others. Our aim is to do what God declares to be right - His righteousness - trusting that He, knowing what we need even before we ask, will supply our most basic daily requirements.
The heart of this chapter is the “Lord’s Prayer”; we do well to read and consider it as if for the first time. It begins by underlining the foundational relationship for every Christian life: God is not just the “Supreme Being”, He is OUR FATHER. He, “is in the secret place” and “sees in secret” vs.4,6&18; “knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” v.8; “will forgive [or not forgive] your trespasses” v.15; “knows that you need all these things” v.32; and it is to Him that prayer is to be addressed. It is not simply a people and their God; it is children with their Father. He is “Our Father in heaven”, but His presence and care are to be experienced by us here on earth as well.
The Father’s Name is to be hallowed: considered holy; honoured. To pray for such, we must be prepared to do so in our lives. We “hallow” His Name when we seek His kingdom and His righteousness; so the prayer continues, asking for that Kingdom’s arrival and the doing of God’s will, which is the substance of His reign. As we seek this end, we look for our daily sustenance to be supplied (cf 25-34). Further, we look for forgiveness, but with the understanding that, according to the ways of the Kingdom, it is incumbent upon us to forgive others as well. Ideally, we would live “debt-free”, yet we struggle with trials, temptations and the assaults of the evil one, and we do fall; and we do need forgiveness; and others need to be forgiven. Much of this chapter deals with temptations that would entice us away from God’s righteousness: making a show of our good works, prayers and fasting vs.1-8 & 16-18; being unforgiving of others vs.14, 15; becoming attached to things of this world and hoarding our treasures vs19-21; filling our eyes with those things which we ought to avoid vs.22,23; trusting in the security that we can buy or construct for ourselves, rather than trusting in God vs.24-34. We all require the Father’s grace.
“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” v.13. Many translations don’t include these closing words, but they are in some of the ancient copies of St. Matthew‘s Gospel, and I expect that they were attached to the prayer from the first days in which it was recited. Certainly here is the focus of our discipleship: The Kingdom of God.
“Seek first the kingdom of God…” “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 7
We come now to the last section of the “Sermon on the Mount”. Jesus deals with judgement: the importance of true and righteous judgement and the danger of that which is not. The opening exhortation, “Judge not” is often understood as forbidding judgement of any kind, but the force of the word “Judge” in this case is pejorative: it implies looking down on the other. We are warned that such judgement will return upon our own heads, even as “if you do not forgive…neither will your Father forgive [you]”6:15.
No, we are not to set up ourselves in judgement over others; but we are called to judge. Jesus goes on to urge His followers, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine...” v.6 We are to be prudent, wise in judgement-not proud, nor arrogant, but discerning. Likewise, in Jesus’ words about “planks”[“logs”, “beams”, etc.] and “specks” vs.3-5, the removal of the “plank” is a prelude to seeing clearly “to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” v.5 A small speck in the eye, depending on what it is (for example metal or glass), may do significant damage. It needs to be removed, an operation which requires a steady hand and clear sight. It is requisite that “speck removers” be dealing humbly with sin (i.e. the “planks”) in their own lives.
We need divine discernment if our judgements are to be righteous and true. We are instructed to ask the Lord for this wisdom, confident that He will give us what is necessary. “Ask”, “Seek”, “Knock”; He will respond. He is our heavenly Father, whose goodness abundantly surpasses that of fathers on earth. We can trust Him.
Trusting in our heavenly Father gives us freedom to live transparently. As we do, the fruit we bear will be good fruit; not simply the outward appearance of goodness, but the natural outgrowth of righteousness within. Conscious of our own sinfulness, walking in humility - “poor in spirit” - we are free to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves (i.e. loving one’s neighbour as oneself), whether or not they are likely to return the favour.
The choice is to enter by the “narrow gate”. It is the way of Life-clearly the life of integrity and transparency: we are the same inside and out, not the “wolves…in sheep's clothing”v.15 - in Jesus. We must put off all the worldly baggage, our pride, our sin, our self-importance, and follow as disciples - the way is narrow, and we can enter only in meekness and poverty of spirit.
Finally Jesus ends with a kind of parable about the wise and foolish house builders. The former builds upon a rock foundation, the latter upon sand. The difference is not simply between one who hears and believes Jesus’ words (i.e. the “Sermon on the Mount” as a whole) and one who neither listens nor believes; but between the one who hears “and does them” and the one who hears “and does not do them”. The whole message is a call to discipleship: not simply “believing” in Jesus but following Him. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Mt.16:24. We cannot do it in our own strength, but if we begin with the Beatitudes (Mt.5:3-12), the poverty of spirit, sorrow for sins and transparency before the Father, He will lead us by the narrow way to life as “sons [daughters] of your Father in heaven.”
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine and does them…built his house on the rock.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 8
As Jesus descends the mountain following His great sermon, a leper approaches Him desiring to be “made clean”. “Leprosy” can refer to a number of different skin diseases, not just what we would identify as leprosy today, however any of these conditions would have been sufficient under the Law (see Lev.13 & 14) to render one “unclean” and thereby unable to live with others in the community. If the “leprosy” proved to be temporary, the one afflicted would have to go through appropriate channels to have a priest certify him ritually clean and physically healed. Likewise, anyone coming into physical contact with a leper became ritually unclean, unable to participate in various activities until a process of purification had been completed.
The leper who encountered Jesus came “worshipping Him”, begging a healing, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” There followed the most astonishing of developments: rather than Jesus being made unclean by the leper’s touch, the leper was made clean by the touch of Jesus.
This chapter features a variety of types of healing and demonstrations of both the Lord’s authority and people’s responses to Him and His ministry. He touched the leper who worshipped Him, but the centurion’s servant was healed from a distance in response to his master’s faith, i.e. a Gentile’s (non Jew’s) faith, prophetically pointing to a way into the Kingdom for all: faith in Jesus. Peter’s mother-in-law was healed in very matter-of-fact fashion after Jesus, noticing that she was ill, touched her hand. At evening, He is pictured delivering many who were possessed by demons, and healing the sick in fulfilment of the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53:4. Then, as the press of the crowds grows greater, He and His disciples depart to cross over to the other side of the lake.
Verses 19-22 feature two people who desire to follow Jesus, one identified as “a certain scribe” and the other as “another of His disciples”. The first is warned that the way is not easy: a disciple must share the life of His Master. The latter is called to follow without delay or excuse. The scribe will think twice before embarking upon the journey; the “disciple” will recognize that he must “seek first the Kingdom”. [ Note: The responsibility to “bury his father” likely implies waiting until his father has died and, as an heir, he is free to do as he pleases].
Onward press the Lord and His disciples, into a boat and off across the lake. Jesus, surely exhausted after a long day, and confident that He is in the Father’s hands, slumbers even as a storm blows up and rages all around them. The others panic and waken Him (what do they expect Him to do?) He rebukes the wind and the sea and them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Here we find that radical trust in the Father which fuels the “Sermon on the Mount” (esp.6:25-34), not simply spoken, but lived out in Jesus, our Master.
The chapter ends with the healing of two demon-possessed men. The demons acknowledge Him as “Jesus, Son of God”, the One who has power over them. The demons’ fear disarms them and they are driven out; fear in those who observe the deliverance drives them to push Jesus away leaving them bereft of His presence; in contrast, the disciples’ fear drove them to Jesus (v.25) and they were delivered. May we live as disciples of Christ Jesus.
“He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.” …Jesus said…”Follow Me.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 9
Jesus, having once more crossed over the lake, arrives at “His own city”, i.e. Capernaum, where He had settled after leaving Nazareth. A paralysed man is brought to Him and, in response to “their faith” - presumably faith of those who brought the man, not to that of the paralytic alone - He is healed. Yet, while the man’s primary need appears to be a physical healing, what Jesus offers is, “your sins are forgiven you.” It is only when His authority to extend this forgiveness is challenged - “This man blasphemes!” i.e. He is doing what God alone can do - that He heals the bodily ailment as a testimony, “that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins.” We don’t hear how the scribes reacted, but the people both “marvelled” (“were afraid”) and “glorified God”. Praise is directed as it ought to be.
Then comes the calling of St. Matthew from the tax office. We don’t know what he had seen or heard of Jesus before this moment, but at the simple, direct command, “Follow Me.”, his old life is behind him, Jesus is before.
Jewish tax collectors were seen as dishonest and traitors to their own people: i.e. they collected taxes for the Roman government, and became rich by adding arbitrary surcharges on top. Accordingly, they were regularly lumped together with other “sinners” with whom the Pharisees would not deign to break bread; what a scandal to find that Jesus had no such scruples. He answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” and referred His critics to Hosea 6:6 regarding mercy and sacrifice. “Sinners” who know their need will repent and receive Him; the [self] “righteous” will not.
The Pharisees fast; John’s [the “Baptist”] disciples fast; why not the followers of Jesus? The “Bridegroom” , i.e. Jesus, Himself (cf Revelation 19,21,22), is with them, so the time for fasting is not yet at hand; however, it will come (recall Mt. 6:16-18 “When you fast…”). His words regarding the mixing of new and old follow directly, connecting them to the question of fasting. Like the cloth, His disciples must become more “weathered” before they can make proper use of the ancient discipline; but, as the “new wine” matures, the container must be able to grow with its contents - and the Gospel will transform both.
A “ruler” (in a synagogue?) humbles himself before Jesus, asking the Master to come to his home to raise his daughter from the dead. On the way, a woman, likewise confident in Christ’s healing power, touches His robe and is healed from twelve years of internal haemorrhaging. Two blind men follow Jesus - “Son of David, have mercy on us!” see Mt.1:1 - and their sight is restored. Then, a man identified as “mute and demon-possessed”, is healed of his dumbness when the demon is cast out. Different people and circumstances occasion different means of healing, but faith, whether in the afflicted, their friends or family, in demons who acknowledge Christ’s authority, or simply His own faith in the Father, figures in them all.
More and more people come to Jesus; the anxiety level of the Pharisees and other leaders grows. He heals again and again, but they need more than simply physical relief: they need to be shepherded. They are ripe for it, but the “harvest” is so great that many “labourers” are required to gather it all in.
“Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 10
“Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.” (9:38) Having spoken these words, Jesus calls together twelve disciples whom He designates “Apostles” (literally “those who are sent”) and sends them out with, “power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.” They are charged to do what Jesus Himself has been doing: teaching, preaching and healing” (see 9:35). Are they going as “labourers into His harvest”? Certainly they are going out to touch people’s lives, sharing the words and the works of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps those who are “ripe” for harvesting are the ones who receive the apostolic ministry (see vs.13,14; 40-42); thereby receiving both the Son who sends and the Father who sent Him.(v.40)
Lists of the “Twelve” appear three other places in the New Testament as well (Mk.3:16-19; Lk.6:14-16; Acts 1:13), with some minor variations. Simon the “Cananaean” (“Canaanite”) is identified elsewhere as the “Zealot” - both references to members of basically the same group, at different stages in its development - whereas “Thaddaeus” (“Labbaeus”) appears to be another name for Judas “son of James”. The number twelve is generally understood to correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel, such that the Church of Jesus Christ is often pictured as the “new Israel” (cf Josh. 4:1-9 & Rev. 21:14).
They were a strange mixture of backgrounds and personalities, all chosen by Jesus, appointed and sent out in His Name. Where else but in the company of Jesus could Simon the Zealot - of a party that recognized no King but the Lord and was prepared to use violence , if necessary, against the Roman “invaders” - and Matthew the tax collector - who was regarded as a traitor to his own people for his collaboration with the Romans (see reflection on Chapter 9) - stand together as one in Jesus to the point of death? Commitment to Christ is the key. The heart of this chapter is the apostles’ vocation to be like their Lord. They are to share: 1) His ministry (see above re: teaching, preaching, and healing); 2) His trust in the Father (vs.9 & 10; 20; 28-31); 3) His reception or rejection (vs.22-25; 32-42); 4) His approval and life (vs.32; 39). They go out to declare Jesus’ word through their words and works, for He will speak and minister through them. Accordingly, they must be thoroughly committed to Him, ready to speak and do that with which He charges them, prepared to be identified with Him in blessing and in suffering. True disciples live with their Teacher, not simply trying to follow words once spoken, but watching, listening, emulating: sharing their lives with the Master, as He shares His with them.
The Twelve are sent with power for ministry, but are to take no other provisions-putting into practice what Jesus has taught them (6:25ff). Yet their commissioning is not simply for a few days, weeks or even months - although they may be sent out initially for short term missions - it points to years yet to come. There is no record in the Gospels of the apostles having been brought before the authorities, or delivered up to death, before the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, nor prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is not until the martyrdom of St. Stephen (Acts 6-8) that persecution of the believers begins in earnest. Perhaps this is the Church’s commission to apostolic ministry for all generations to come.
“It is enough for a disciple to be like his teacher, and a servant like his master.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 11
At the baptism of Jesus, John beheld the promised sign: the Spirit coming and remaining upon Jesus (see Jn. 1:32); and he was convinced that here was the promised One. Now, imprisoned for his boldness in proclaiming God‘s word, he begins to entertain doubts. His disciples are sent to Jesus, asking, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”v.3. Jesus encourages them to observe His ministry - works of the Kingdom, recalling various prophecies spoken through Isaiah (see 35:5, 61:1) - and to return to John with that testimony.
As John’s disciples head back to their master, Jesus addresses the crowds regarding the “Baptist”. They had gone to see John because they knew that he was a prophet. “Yes,” affirms Jesus, “and more than a prophet.” Scripture is fulfilled in John-not only the voice crying out in the wilderness, preparing the LORD’s way (Isaiah 40:3), but also the “messenger” prophesied in Malachi 3, likewise preparing the way for God’s coming in judgement. Further, John is identified as fulfilling the role of Elijah(Mal.4:5-6), and his ministry of reconciliation (“And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, …children to their fathers”) in preparation for the Day of the LORD.
Jesus ranks John as the greatest “among those born of women”, yet then proceeds to declare, “but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”(v.11) For all his greatness, John will not witness the Crucifixion or the Resurrection of Jesus; nor, in this life, will he experience that new birth, apart from which one can neither see nor enter the Kingdom.(Jn.3:3ff)
The prophets and the Law pointed ahead to the Kingdom, but John was the first to declare that it was “at hand”. His message contained a certain urgency. Perhaps the “violence” or “force” involving the Kingdom (v.12) has to do with the response to John-his imprisonment-and the subsequent opposition to Jesus and His disciples. Disciples of Jesus are to “strive to enter through the narrow gate” (Lk.13:24; cf Mt.7:13,14), to love Jesus more than their own families, and to take up their crosses to follow Him (Mt.10:34-39); great “forcefulness” is required of those who would so take hold of the Kingdom.
Some “have ears to hear”v.15 and are challenged and changed by Jesus’ words; others childishly expect the words to suit their fancy and are disappointed. John was too dour: “You did not dance”; Jesus is not sober enough: “You did not lament”.v.17. Having shaken His head at the crowds, He turns to rebuke the surrounding communities in which He has been ministering. For all that they have seen of signs and wonders of the Kingdom, they have not recognized God’s call to repentance, and are therefore under harsher judgement than certain other nations who, in ages past, have been marked for God’s righteous wrath: Tyre and Sidon (Is.23; Ez.26:1-7, etc.), and Sodom (Gen.18&19).
Then Jesus lifts His gaze heavenward to praise the Father. It is neither our wisdom nor good works that bring us to knowledge of God: it is His self-revelation in Jesus. The “poor in spirit”, who are prepared to humble themselves and come to Jesus, receive rest: forgiveness of sins; reconciliation with the Father. Here also is granted the “yoke”of new life: “easy” because it is suited to what He knows we are able to bear; “light” because He bears it with us.
“Come to Me…Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 12
The first section of this chapter deals with questions regarding the Sabbath day (see Ex.20:8-11; Deut.5:12-15). This day of rest was to be free of work, but there was an ongoing debate as to what qualified as “work”. The Pharisees allowed some exceptions for responses to emergencies - particularly if a life was threatened - but declared “unnecessary” work - things as small as plucking heads of grain - to be forbidden. Jesus chastens them for being more concerned with rules than righteousness; with their legalistic interpretations, rather than with what is in the Father‘s heart (once again, as at 9:13, He refers them to Hosea 6:6). He reminds them of the actions of King David and his soldiers in a time of need (I Samuel 21:1-6); and then points out that the priests’ regular duties in the temple require them to perform certain work on the Sabbath (e.g. Num. 28:). Beyond that comes the appeal to the authority at work in Himself, to do God’s work and to reveal the Father’s righteous will: He is “Lord of the Sabbath”, and, as He declared at the end of the previous chapter, all who, in their labour, would come to Him, will receive rest, i.e. their Sabbath.
Why was it that Jesus sometimes urged people not to spread the word about His miracles and His movements? (v.16; cf 9:30). We may recall the second temptation (4:5-7) to perform or to count upon miracles; also, St. Matthew sees this as further fulfillment of Scripture (Isaiah 42:1-4): Jesus is the Lord’s Servant, possessing divine authorization, yet walking and working in deep humility.
Jesus’ authority is evident, but whence does it come: from God or from the devil? He is accused of casting out demons by demonic power, but He calls that absurd. They have not so questioned other Jewish exorcists, nor have they explained why Satan would undermine his own kingdom. No, the power is that of the Spirit of God for, as we have been informed already, the Kingdom of God is “at hand”! Therefore, when the Pharisees attack Jesus, they are blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, attributing His work to the evil one. Christ characterizes such as the “unforgiveable sin” - for, if we see the work of Satan to be the work of God, and vice versa, then we won’t be facing the right direction when we repent of evil; in fact we will repent of the good, and exult in the evil; and there can be no forgiveness received where no repentance is offered. His accusers need to look at their own hearts and the fruits produced in their lives.
A sign is demanded, some proof that He is what He claims to be. Jesus offers none but “the sign of Jonah”: i.e. He will be “swallowed” by the grave, before being raised on the third day. Surely they have seen the evidence: the Kingdom is at work in Him(vs.41, 42 cf.v.6; also 11:21-23). He warns them of the dangers of failing to recognize and respond to Him. The “unclean spirit” may be cast out - other gods rejected - but unless the house is filled - hearts given to the LORD; lives submitted to His Kingdom -more evil will come in to dwell. Their hearts need to be filled and transformed, that good fruit may be produced (vs 33-35), and that they may grow into the family likeness (v.50). If the heart is right, the actions will reflect it. When His disciples seek first the Kingdom and the righteousness of God, they will find them. If they put His words into practice, they will do the Father’s will and show that they are His family.
“Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 13
A great crowd has gathered about Jesus, so He, having neither pulpit nor stage to climb, gets into a boat, pushes out a little ways from the shore, and sits down to teach. The water forms a sort of natural conductor for the sound, making it easier for Him to be heard, while being in the boat keeps Him from being swallowed up in the press of people. He then assumes the standard posture for a rabbi teaching a congregation: seated, while listeners stand or sit.
His teaching is presented in parables. “A ‘parable’”, Father John Pearce writes, “is an earthly story with a Heavenly meaning-a split-level illustration. The bottom level shows what is happening in the world; the top level shows what is happening in the spirit.” On one level the parables are easily understood by everyone who is listening. On a deeper level, they reveal far more, but only to those who have “ears to hear” v.9. It appears that those who have responded to Jesus’ call - have become His disciples - meet this qualification. Having learned of Him something of the Father’s heart, they have a context in which to hear and understand “what is happening in the spirit”; this forms the base upon which further comprehension can be built, “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance.” v.12
The prophet Isaiah, on the occasion of his own calling to ministry, received a prophecy regarding a time when God’s people would grow deaf and blind to His Word (Isaiah 6:9,10). Jesus applies this prophecy to His day, explaining why He teaches in parables: not to hide the mysteries of God , but to reveal them to those who not only listen but hear as well. Others will not understand until they are ready to turn; then they will hear and be healed.
The Parables: the “Sower” vs.3-23, is familiar to all of us, but we might try to hear it afresh: “What could we do to help prepare the ground in our own lives and those of others?”. The story of the “Tares” vs.24-30; 36-43 (“weeds” that are quite hard to distinguish from wheat in their early stages; the differences are obvious at harvest time), has often been used to explain why there are good people and bad, side by side, in the visible Church (i.e. the body of baptized believers): God allows us time to repent. The “Mustard Seed” vs.31-32 and the “Leaven” v.33, speak of both the mysterious growth of the Kingdom and its effect upon the wider environment, including other creatures. The “Treasure” v.44 and the “Pearl” vs.45-46 highlight the importance of focussing one‘s life and effort upon the Kingdom (cf 6:33), while the “Dragnet” vs.47-50 brings back the theme of the “Tares”, pointing ahead to eternal consequences of our response to God‘s Word. “Have you understood all these things?”
Verse 52 recalls Jesus’ words about new cloth and old garments, new wine and wineskins 9:16-17: we need both in their time. We need both the Old and the New Testaments; new stories and old; new methods of presenting the Faith and the tried and true: the Gospel of the Kingdom fulfils God’s Old Testament promises rather than doing away with them. The chapter ends with the deafness of those who think they know Jesus. They refuse either to listen to the new words of Gospel spoken or to perceive the fulfilment of the ancient Scriptures. The result? “Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”
“Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 14
When Jesus received word that John was in prison (4:12-17ff) He moved to Capernaum, where He began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”,and, subsequently, to call His first disciples. In Chapter 11, we read of John’s disciples coming to Jesus with their master’s question, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” v.3, followed by Jesus’ testimonial to His cousin (John) who is fulfilling Scripture by preparing the Lord’s way. Now we come to the tragic end of the Baptist’s life: beheaded because of a rash vow made by an immoral king.
Strangely enough, King Herod did not want to kill him; he feared John’s popularity with the people and, at the same time, was entranced by his words. St. Mark (6:14-29) tells us that the king “heard him gladly” v.20, even though John accused him of acting improperly in marrying his brother’s wife. Yet it is because of that illicit union (Herod and Herodias) that John meets his demise. Herodias uses her daughter’s dancing to seduce the King into making a promise that he will not break. Herod’s guilt over his sins stirs him to the irrational assumption that Jesus is John raised from the dead, likely in judgement of him.
At word of His cousin’s death, Jesus draws apart to a deserted place. It is would appear to be a time of mourning, but also a period of prayerful preparation for a new phase of ministry. In any case, He is not left alone for long. A great multitude comes out to Him and He, in compassion, heals the sick until evening when His disciples arrive. They counsel Him to send the crowds away for their supper but, to the disciples’ surprise, Jesus informs them that they themselves have the resources to feed the more than five thousand people gathered there.
Notice: Jesus knows the need, and in His presence His disciples come to perceive it as well. He urges them to respond, but they plead their inadequacy. He commands them to bring their resources to Him, and prepares the scene for what is to come (seats the people). He blesses, breaks, then gives to the disciples to distribute; afterwards they are to gather up the fragments that remain. Perhaps there is a pattern here for our own discipleship.
Jesus sends away both disciples and crowds, then returns to His time of solitary prayer. From His mountain perch, we may imagine that Jesus can feel the storm arising and observe His friends’ boat being tossed by the waves as they struggle against the wind. It is “in the fourth watch of the night” v.25 (i.e. sometime between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.), and Jesus comes to them, “walking on the sea”. They are terrified, thinking that He is “a ghost”, but He speaks, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Still uncertain, but with characteristic impetuosity, Peter proposes a test: “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Jesus answers, “Come.” Peter steps out.
Another lesson is offered to all of Christ’s disciples as we observe Peter’s folly. He walks upon the water toward Jesus, able to share in this miraculous feat until He becomes distracted by the buffeting winds; and he sinks. Eyes upon Jesus, he walks; eyes turned away from the Lord, he sinks; yet, even then, crying out to His Master, he is saved. Once Jesus is on board, the wind ceases and all eyes are focussed upon Him in worship. They land, and the healing continues.
“It is I; do not be afraid.”… “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 15
Once more scribes and Pharisees arrive to challenge Jesus, this time because He and His disciples fail to wash their hands according to the “tradition of the elders” (cf Mark.7:3 “For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders.”). Jesus declines to respond to their charges, instead accusing them of using such traditions to undermine divine commandment. He cites the practice of dedicating one’s estate to God, i.e. it will go to the Temple upon one’s own death, such that one may refuse to use it to help one’s parents here and now, thus violating the 5th Commandment (cf Exodus 20:12;Mk.7:9-13). It is just as Isaiah prophesied: Isaiah 29:13 God’s lament over His people who are far more concerned with external appearances of observance than they are with heart felt obedience to His will. We may imagine a tone of bitter disappointment in the Lord’s voice.
Jesus explains that, “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (v.11). His disciples are concerned that He is offending the Pharisees; but the Lord does not use words carelessly. The Pharisees have a leadership role to fulfil, and their blindness will lead others astray. Betraying some impatience with His disciples, Jesus stresses that one becomes morally “unclean”, not because of foods and how they are eaten, but by words and actions which demonstrate the true state of the heart, like the fruits which identify the nature of the tree (Mt.7:16-18; 12:33).
It is of the utmost importance that we hold the preceding teaching in mind in order to set the context for the story that follows: Jesus does not “simply reflect the prejudices of His day”. The Lord has deliberately gone into a non-Jewish region (v.21). The Canaanite woman who approaches Him, although regarded by the Pharisees and most of the Jews as being “unclean” - a Gentile “dog” - comes to Him expressing her confidence that this Jewish Messiah, “Son of David”, can deliver her daughter from the demon which possesses her. Yet Jesus does not respond at first, perhaps testing to see if His disciples have truly understood His teaching, i.e. the practical application of His words; they have not: “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”
I imagine the rest of His words being directed at them, accompanied by question marks: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Right?) “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” (Right?)-i.e. “She’s not one of us; you can tell from the outside. Right? She is unclean and not worthy of God’s mercy and My attention. Right?”
They don’t respond, but the woman does. Putting aside any pretence (had she been hoping to convince Him that she was one of the “children” of Israel?) she humbly opens her heart to Jesus; and she receives (cf B.C.P. p.83). “Out of the heart…”
More healings follow, then, to our surprise, another multitude is fed. This time it is 4,000+ rather than 5,000+; 7 loaves and a few fish rather than 5 and 2; 7 baskets gathered up rather than 12. Once again: the disciples seem clueless as to how the need can be met; Jesus calls for the resources, prepares the scene, blesses, breaks and gives to the disciples to distribute. They have seen it all before; have they not learned to trust Him yet? Have we?
“These people draw near to Me with their mouth…But their heart is far from Me.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 16
The Pharisees and Sadducees-two groups which often have little in common in terms of belief and practice, but now are united against a mutual adversary, i.e. Jesus-come to Jesus, demanding a “sign from heaven”. All of His miracles to date count for nothing; they want something produced here and now. St. Matthew informs us that they are “testing” Jesus - which means that they are more interested in tripping Him up than in learning the truth - and His response demonstrates that He has little patience for such behaviour.
The Greek word for “heaven” may also be translated as “sky”, so Jesus’ response to His questioners employs a pun. They seek a sign from heaven; He reminds them that the sky regularly presents signs which they interpret as forecasting weather which is to come. Likewise, God has provided “signs of the times”, yet they fail to discern their message regarding the coming Kingdom. No sign will Christ offer on demand, but, as promised earlier (Mt.12:39, 40), He will present them with “the sign of Jonah”: i.e. His own death and Resurrection. It will be for them, and subsequently for all ages, the ultimate, definitive sign against which all history will be measured. It is the sign which points to the very heart of the Kingdom of God: Love which lays down its life for the world.
In the boat with His disciples, Jesus offers a warning against the “leaven [yeast] of the Pharisees”. They misunderstand Him to be chastising them for forgetting to bring bread, but He, discerning their confusion, invites them to recall the details of the feeding of the multitudes - the four thousand and the five described in the previous two chapters. There is drawn a contrast between the growth which comes of His trust in the Father - the small resources are transformed into an abundance, more than sufficient for the need - and that which is produced by the Pharisees’ human efforts at self-justification, hypocrisy and self righteousness: barrenness in terms of Kingdom life.
At Caesarea Philippi occur two defining moments for Jesus and His disciples. First, following some fishing around for what others are saying about Him, Jesus puts the question to His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” From the mouth of Simon Peter comes the divinely inspired confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Jesus declares Simon to be blessed for having received this revelation, and accords him his nick-name of Peter = Petros = the “Rock” or “Stone”. Here is the “Rock” upon which the Church of Jesus Christ will be built and, “the gates of Hades [Hell] will not prevail against it.”
Secondly, there follows the shocking rebuke of the same “Rock”, who has now become a stumbling block because he opposes the Lord’s way: the Way of the Cross; of suffering and Death. Yet this is what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah: He must humble Himself, let go of worldly power and pride, and lay down His life for the salvation of the world (cf Philippians 2:5-11). This is the way of letting go completely into the Father’s hands. It is the way of the Kingdom, and the Way for those who would be Christ’s disciples.
This lesson is one that we forget to our peril. The Gospel is not simply about living “a quiet and peaceable life”; it is about denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Jesus.
“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 17
Chapter 17 begins with the Transfiguration. Jesus draws aside from the crowds, taking with Him only Peter, James and John - the same three He will select in Gethsemane (Mt 26:37) - as He heads up a mountain. While His disciples look on, Jesus is transfigured - changed before their eyes; His face and garments shine. It is the pulling back of a veil, allowing them to glimpse His divine nature: this is not only the Son of God, but GOD the SON as well! (cf 2 Peter 1:1, 16-19).
As the three look on, Jesus is joined by two other figures, Moses and Elijah - the Law and the Prophets, both of which Jesus came to fulfil - who are conversing with Him. “Lord, it is good for us to be here;” so Peter desires to do something in response. Some suggest that the “tabernacles” or “booths” are his attempt to hang onto the experience, but it may be simple hospitality (notice that he begins, “If You wish”; he seeks Jesus’ direction). It is at that moment that a cloud overshadows them and, as at Jesus’ baptism, the Father speaks, “This is My beloved Son…” The disciples fall upon their faces at the sound of the voice but, at a touch and a word of Jesus, they look up. The Lord stands alone, no visitors nor glorious radiance in sight. The vision was real, but they are to keep it to themselves until after the Resurrection.
Clearly they perceive Jesus to be “the One who is to come”, so they wonder why Elijah has not preceded Him (Malachi 3:1-3; 4:5&6). Once again (cf Mt.11:14) Jesus identifies John the Baptist as having fulfilled the role of Elijah. He has come but not been recognised; rather they “did to him whatever they wished” - imprisoned and executed him - as will be done to the “Son of Man”.
In His absence, Jesus’ other disciples have attempted to continue the ministry. An epileptic boy has been brought to them for healing, but they have met with no success; what’s the problem? Jesus declares it to be a lack of faith; yet it takes but a mustard seed of faith to remove a mountain. The seed need not be large, but it must be planted in the good soil: in the Lord. Jesus heals the boy by casting out a demon - not to say that all epilepsy is demonic in origin, but that this case had such a root; the Devil often “piggy-backs” on top of other ailments. Most modern translations don’t include verse 21, “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” but it is a helpful reminder of the need for disciplined, costly prayer if we are to be focussed upon the Lord. Such leads well into Christ’s words about His betrayal, death and Resurrection. “If anyone would come after Me,…” Mt.16:24
The chapter ends with a question of taxes. At issue is the “double drachma” or “Temple” Tax. Jesus makes it clear that the Son is under no obligation to pay taxes for His Father’s house, yet, in order that a good example may be set and that no one be given cause to stumble (be “offended”), He instructs Peter to obtain the required amount. It will be found in the mouth of a fish. Some scholars suggest that, as the tax was about two days’ wages and Simon Peter was a fisherman, that Jesus is sending him back to work to earn the money “out of the mouth(s) of fish”. However, in the stories of the miraculous catches of fish (Lk.5:4-10; Jn.21:1-6), Jesus clearly sees what others cannot of movements in the deep. Either way, we are challenged to give no unnecessary cause for offence, save the Gospel itself (2 Cor.6:3ff; cf Mt.22:17-21; Rom.13:6-8).
“This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 18
Jesus’ disciples raise the question: “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”; His response astonishes them. Setting a child before them, He declares, “Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
To be childlike - not childish - requires humility: knowing that one is small and still growing (“born again”, infants in the Kingdom cf Jn.3), in need of assistance, hence trusting and relying upon grace; being able to take note of small wonders and to live today, trusting the Father with tomorrow (cf Mt.6:25-34). Jesus Himself models this character, such that how we treat the little ones can be seen as a measure of how we treat Him (cf Mt.25:31-46). In particular, we are not to cause them to sin, nor to co-operate with temptations which will occur. Rather, perhaps with the acknowledgement that we are little ones as well, we ought to remove those snares which entrap us, cutting off those practices or areas of our lives which habitually lead us into sin (cf Mt.5:29,30). Sin matters-everything that leads us astray needs to be dealt with.
“For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” (vs 11 is not in most new translations because it is not in certain significant ancient copies of St. Matthew). Every “little one” matters to our heavenly Father: 99% is not good enough; every lost sheep will be sought. Accordingly, we who follow Jesus are to be deeply concerned about reconciliation within the Church, with the restoration of those who have wandered into sin. We are to deal prudently with the offenders: one-on-one at first, then, if necessary, with one or two others, before finally coming before the whole Church community. Only then is the offender to be dealt with as a “heathen and a tax collector”-which Jesus has shown us does not mean rejection, for He welcomed and even ate with the “sinners”, while calling them to repentance and new life. It does mean no longer assuming that the offender will live by the ways of the Kingdom, therefore being more careful and patient with him, while not “casting your pearls before swine” (Mt.7:6).
The Church has been given authority and responsibility to deal with sin-to be a reconciled fellowship gathering in Jesus’ name with power to “bind and to loose”. Reconciled in Jesus, His disciples may enjoy the unity of gathering in His Name and being guided by His presence into a prayerful consensus; and prayer will be answered : “If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.”
Forgiveness is essential to the life of the Kingdom, and it must be extended wherever there is repentance, whether 70 or 490+ times. Jesus illustrates this using a powerful story, the point of which becomes far more poignant following the Resurrection, when the magnitude of God’s forgiveness is made manifest. We need to forgive others, both because we have been forgiven and in order that we may be forgiven by our heavenly Father (Mt.6:[9-]14, 15).
“If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better…to enter life…”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 19
Jesus continues to teach and to heal, but not everyone comes to receive such at His hands. The Pharisees return to “test” Him (cf Mt.16:1), “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” In Deuteronomy (24:1ff) Moses had made provision for a man to divorce his wife if he found in her some “indecency” [“uncleanness”] . There were two schools of thought as to what this meant: One (Shammai) held that nothing short of adultery qualified, whereas the other (Hillel) argued that anything which caused displeasure (e.g. burning the toast) was sufficient. Where does Jesus stand?
He recalls God’s intention in Creation (Gen. 1:27 & 2:24), then adds “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” They snap back with the question of why then Moses “commanded” divorce in certain circumstances - i.e. “Are You disagreeing with the Law?” Jesus’ answer is blunt: “Moses…permitted” - it was neither Law nor commandment - “because of the hardness of your hearts.” Further, apart from the situation where the union has already been broken through “sexual immorality” (“fornication”), a man who “divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”(cf 5:31,32)
Jesus is clear, as has been the traditional teaching of His Church, that marriage is a union for life, “As long as you both shall live.” Yet He is not promulgating a new, harsher Law; He is calling us to share the Father’s heart. We do well to keep before us the Sermon on the Mount (Mt.5:28), where He places the same burden of marital purity upon those who lust in the heart without physically consummating their desire. A burden? His disciples think so, “If such is the case…it is better not to marry.” Jesus allows that not all are able to handle this, but not all are called to marriage. Others are called to celibacy, either because of their physical state - from birth, accident or human design - or because of a higher spiritual vocation, “for the Kingdom’s sake”.
Children are the primary fruit of the holy ‘one flesh’ union of marriage; perhaps that is why they appear at this moment (v.13). They are brought, “that [Jesus] might put His hands on them and pray”, but the disciples oppose this interruption-how swiftly they have forgotten His words (18:1-10). They are signs of God‘s blessing and trust in the Father: “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Scripturally, the marriage union also serves as a parable of God’s relationship with His people, Christ with His Church (e.g. Hosea; Eph. 5:22-33). The last portion of this chapter deals with faithfulness in our commitment to following Jesus. There is to be no “adultery”, but a letting go of all other possessions and allegiences. The rich man cannot enter the Kingdom unless he can part with his riches - or, by God’s grace, make them available to the Lord’s service. Likewise the disciples have had to let go of all other security in order to trust in their Lord’s direction. As, “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife”, so the disciple is to leave, “houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for [Jesus’] name’s sake”. Husband and wife shall form a new family of their one flesh union; Christ’s disciples, “shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.”
“But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 20
Chapter 20 opens with a familiar parable: the “Workers in the Vineyard”. This follows on Jesus’ words at the end of chapter 19, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” How you feel about this story likely depends upon which group you identify with: those who worked the entire day in the hot sun for the accepted wage; those who worked a portion of the day, yet received the same money; those who did not begin until the shadows were lengthening, but who still were granted equal pay. It is not a parable about fairness or “just rewards”; it is all about grace. The landowner supplies work and the necessary day’s pay to the workers, not because they deserve it, but because he desires to give what they need. So God, of His grace would give to us. Unfortunately, it is here that we who are called to be “childlike” slip into “childishness”. We measure the treats given to our siblings, adamant that they have been given more than we have, and forget that it is only by God’s grace that we have both work in His vineyard and pay - eternal life - at the end of the day. None of us can work his or her own way into God’s Kingdom, no matter how long we serve; we all need grace. “The last will be first, and the first last.”
Jesus does not simply speak words, He lives them. He prophesies that He - at whose Name every knee shall bow (Phil.2:10) - will be betrayed and condemned - the First becoming as the last - suffer and die; then rise again.
Then the mother of James and John comes to Jesus (on their behalf?) with the request that her sons be seated, one on His right, the other on His left, in the Kingdom (cf Mt.19:28 re: the thrones they are to sit upon). Are they after the positions of honour? Have they paid no attention to what He has been teaching regarding first and last and who is the greatest in the Kingdom? Or is it in light of His words about His coming Passion that they desire to be with Him, in the ‘front lines’ of suffering as well as glory? Certainly Jesus does not rebuke them; but He does test their willingness to share the “cup” and “baptism”, i.e. suffering and death, which await Him. They express their willingness, and He declares that they will share in these, but they are to leave “rewards” in the Father’s hands.
The other ten apostles are angry with the “sons of Zebedee”; but is it righteous anger, or something like that of those hired first in the vineyard, “Why should they get something that we don’t?!” Is Jesus’ response, then, a rebuke of the brothers’ request, or of the ten for the offence which they have taken? He sets out simply the contrast: the way of the “Gentiles” - we might read “the world” - is that those who have power exercise it as power over others, to make them do the rulers’ will; the disciples, following the ways of the Kingdom, are to use power to serve - to humble themselves. Once again, the model is Jesus.
The chapter ends with the healing of two blind men. As with those encountered earlier (Mt.9:27-30), they cry after Jesus using the messianic title, “Son of David”. The disciples had tried to hinder the children coming to Him, now the crowds try to discourage these men. However, they shout even louder, and the Lord hears their cry. He knows their need - their blindness would have been evident - but He invites them to voice their request. Then He, in His compassion, heals them; and they, in turn, follow Him.
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, & to give His life a ransom for many.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 21
Jesus heads into Jerusalem. This is more than just a physical direction; it is a spiritual one as well. Jerusalem is the centre of the Jewish world. It is here where we find the Temple: God’s “dwelling place” on earth, to which every Jew who is able comes on pilgrimage for the major festivals (Passover, Tabernacles, etc.). Here minister the priests and Levites, and here meets the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jewish nation. Where else but Jerusalem ought the ultimate confrontation with the powers of darkness to occur?
As He prepares to enter the city, Jesus instructs His disciples to go to a certain place where they will find a donkey and her colt. In fulfilment of Zechariah 9:9, Jesus rides into the city upon the animal provided - whether donkey or colt is unclear (in fact, St. Matthew writes that He rode upon “them”). This is a sign of humility. The conquering King who comes in battle, does so upon a great horse; He who arrives upon a donkey, comes in peace. The crowds herald Him as the Messiah King: “Son of David”, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD.”, once again echoing words of Scripture (Psalm 118:26).
Into the Temple strides the Lord and, much to everyone’s amazement, begins to overturn the tables of the money changers, and to drive out those who sell doves. Worshippers come from all over the known world to the Temple in Jerusalem, and the various currencies have to be exchanged in order to purchase sacrificial animals. The money changers offer their services, and those selling animals offer merchandise “certified clean” (acceptable for sacrifice), all for a price, so that the businessmen’s pockets are well-lined. Doves in particular are mentioned here, perhaps because they are the offering of the poorest members of the community, those especially vulnerable to the unscrupulous entrepreneurs. All of this gave the Lord cause to be displeased, but His ire was raised further by the fact that this “market place” was set up in the “Court of the Gentiles”, the only part of the Temple into which a non-Jew was permitted entry to pray. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Mk.11:17)
Jesus heals those in need, but the self-sufficient chief priests and scribes are indignant. Israel is often depicted in Scripture as a tree or vine planted by God. Perhaps the fruitless fig tree, withered up by a word from Jesus (vs.18-20), is to be understood as a parable against the faithlessness embodied in the leaders of His people. Certainly the parables told thereafter (vs.28-40) are an indictment against those who, having received God’s messengers and commandments, have proved unfaithful in their response. (I wonder how they understood the sending of the “son”, who was killed “outside the vineyard” vs.37-39 then and after the Resurrection). In contrast, Jesus tells His disciples that simple faithfulness and confidence in God - trusting, not in your own faith, but in the Father who can accomplish these things - can remove even mountains into the sea. To turn from unfaithfulness to faithfulness requires repentance. John preached that message, and Jesus likewise. Those who turn, repent and believe will receive the Kingdom; those who do not will find that even what they have is taken away (cf Mt.25:29). “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” Do we bear these Kingdom fruits?
“The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 22
The chief priests and Pharisees want to arrest Jesus, but they fear public opinion which holds Him to be a prophet (Mt.21:46). His response to them is to tell another parable, this time about a king who sends out invitations to the wedding of his son, only to find that the guests are not willing to come. He sends word that the feast is ready to go, but still they refuse to attend, in fact they mistreat his messengers, even to the point of putting some of them to death!(cfMt.21:33ff). Finally, he, in his wrath, sends out servants to destroy them, burn their city, and then to gather in anyone else they can find, “both good and bad”, that the hall may be filled. These new guests are compelled to come, yet still they are expected to know whither they are called and to be prepared - the one found not properly attired for the wedding is cast out (consider Mt.5:1-12 with 7:21-23).
The Pharisees feel once more the sting of Jesus’ words and form an alliance with the Herodians against their common “enemy”. These two groups have little in common, the latter supporting King Herod, the “King of the Jews”, and the Roman government which had put him in place; the former resenting the Roman “occupation“ of their land. Together, in front of the multitudes, they challenge Jesus: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,…?” If He says “Yes”, He slights the Pharisees’ position-a “traitor“ to His people-if “No”, the Herodians will condemn Him as seditious. However, Jesus recognizes their deviousness, and puts them to the test in return. “Show Me the tax money… Whose image and inscription is this?…Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” We bear the image and inscription of God. Give both the emperor and the Father what belongs to them.
Now a third group, the Sadducees, arrive to test Jesus. Although part of the Jewish ruling council, the “Sanhedrin”, with the Pharisees, they represent what we might call the “fundamentalist” party. They accept no Scripture but the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), and consider many teachings of the Pharisees and of Jesus to be merely human “innovations”. They try to demonstrate the “foolishness” of Jesus’ teaching regarding a future resurrection to judgement, by pursuing an exaggerated example of Deuteronomy 25:5ff (regarding a man’s responsibility to his brother’s widow ) involving seven brothers, one wife, and no children. The Lord’s response is one to which we all would do well to attend: “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (cf Isaiah 55:8,9; Job 42:1-3). There is a resurrection to come - no one who has died has ceased to exist in the sight of God [“…for all live to Him.” Lk.20:38]; they sleep and will be raised to judgement - but the life which follows is of an heavenly, no longer earthly nature.
One more test is put to Jesus, this time by a lawyer, “Which is the great [“greatest”] commandment…?” Jesus responds with the “Summary of the Law”, drawing upon Deuteronomy 6:5 - but adding the word “mind” - and Leviticus 19:18. Then, as the Pharisees gather, He fires back a question of His own: if the Christ is the “son” of - i.e. descendant, therefore lesser than - King David - how can He be his “Lord” - greater than - as well? They do not know how to respond, so they are silenced. They should have listened to John the Baptist. Jn.1:30
“After me comes a Man who ranks higher than I, for He was before me.” Jn.1:30
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 23
Addressing both His disciples and the crowds, Jesus exhorts them to attend to the words of the scribes and Pharisees - they have teaching authority by virtue of their offices - but not to follow their actions, because they do not “practise what they preach”. There follows a scathing denouncement of the hypocrisy of these teachers of Israel-and yet it is not simply an outpouring of wrath; there is a deep lament behind it. It grieves the heart of God to see His people led astray by unfaithful leaders.
The criticism begins with the way in which they, who are quick to set high demands upon the people, are slow, to the point of inactivity, to offer any assistance in shouldering those heavy burdens (compare Mt.11:28-30). At the same time, they delight in making a show of their holiness, and garnering respect and special privilege in public. Jesus does not say that they are not to be respected, neither does He declare certain outward signs of their faith - wearing of phylacteries (boxes containing Scripture verses that were bound to the arm or forehead to remind one of the Lord’s commandments (see Deut.6:8)), or the fringes [“tassels”] on their garments (see Num.15:38ff) - to be inappropriate. Holiness is to be pursued, but the visible sings ought to be modest reminders, primarily between the individual and the Lord, not a means of drawing attention to oneself. “Greatness” in the Kingdom is not acquired through self-exaltation, but through humility. “But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” [Roman Catholics may point out that it is for this reason that the Pope bears the title, “The servant of the servants of God.”]
The wrath of Jesus is not comfortable. We are used to encountering His compassion; yet surely it is His compassion for those being ill-served by their “shepherds” (cf Ez.34:1ff) that stirs His anger against those leaders. It is their hypocrisy that merits His most severe criticism, “You are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”(v.27) They lack integrity. They take advantage of those in poverty, yet give the pretence of righteousness by “rich” [lengthy] prayers (v.14)[note: v.14 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.”, is not in some manuscripts.]. Intensely scrupulous about small details, they ignore the fundamental Kingdom principles behind them. Forgetting Whom they worship, yet holding onto the golden vessels and fixtures used in worshipping Him, they, “Strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.” (vs.16-24).
Sadly, because of their leadership role, the one who follows them is shaped by their example, and made “twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” Their ancestors set the tone by murdering the prophets and they will follow in those footsteps. In hindsight, they laud the righteousness of the Lord’s messengers, but Jesus declares that they, in their turn, will do likewise to those whom He will send, “Prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify,…scourge…and persecute from city to city…”. The devil, whose presence was manifested in the Garden of Eden through a serpent, is the “father” of such evil (v.33).
Jesus’ wrath gives way to a heart-broken lament: He does not long to punish, but to bless; not to destroy but to save (cf. John 3:17; 10:10).
“I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 24
In the year 70 A.D. the Temple in Jerusalem was razed to the ground. Many saw that as the fulfillment of Jesus’ words, “Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”(v.2)
-“See, I have told you beforehand.” (v.25). These words, regarding the Temple’s destruction, begin the chapter, and Christ’s response to His disciples’ question ,“Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and the end of the age?” forms the substance of what follows.
He warns them that “false christs and false prophets will appear”, who will “show great signs and wonders” (vs.4,5,11,23-26; & cf Mt.7:22): they are not to be trusted or followed. They will deceive, but the coming of the “Son of Man” (i.e. Jesus) will be “as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west” (v.27) and “The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, …and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (v.30; cf Daniel 7:13,14). The coming of the Son of Man in the final judgement will not be a secret event, yet its timing will be unexpected, no one knowing the “the day and hour…not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” (note: certain manuscripts include the words “nor the Son”). “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.”
There are signs to be observed - wars, rumours of wars, uprisings, famines, earthquakes - as evidence of the earth’s disease, but they do not indicate the immanent arrival of “the end”. The persecution of the disciples, betrayal within their ranks, the appearance of false prophets, the growth of lawlessness, and “the love of many” growing cold; these things are to follow as well, but Jesus exhorts His followers to persevere in the face of these challenges: “But he who endures to the end will be saved.” for “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
There follows a reference to the “‘abomination of desolation’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet”(v.15; cf Daniel 11:31. 12:11). This may refer to a particular time, place and pagan desecration of the Temple - such as is related in 1 Maccabees 1:54 (one of the books of the “Apocrypha”, i.e. “Old Testament” books not included in the 66 books which comprise most Bibles) during the reign of the Seleucid [Greek] ruler Antiochus IV; or as took place under the Romans in 70 A.D. - or it may be a warning regarding any time when true worship of God is being supplanted or infiltrated by pagan practices. The disciples are warned both to flee and to be prepared for further tribulation.
Set against the fear which may be occasioned by His warnings, Jesus offers words of assurance and fortification: “His angels…will gather together His elect [chosen ones]”; “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”; “Blessed is that servant whose master, when he comes, will find him [faithfully doing what he’s been left in charge to do].” All of the warnings point to this one end: since they do not know precisely when the Lord will come in judgement, His disciples are to get on with doing what He has given them to do, thereby being ready at all times.
“Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 25
Chapter 25 divides neatly into three sections, all parables: 1. The Wise and Foolish Virgins (vs.1-13); 2. The Talents (vs.14-30); 3. The Sheep and the Goats (vs.31-45). Following on where the previous chapter ended, all three convey the same message: “Use what you’re given to be ready for the coming of the Lord”.
1. As soon as he had finished preparing their new home, the bridegroom would come for his bride, literally at any hour of night or day. The “virgins” in this story are young women - "bridesmaids" - who bear the responsibility of providing the welcome when he comes. They have oil lamps with them as evening falls, but only five of the ten have brought extra fuel should the wait be long. All of them fall asleep, but are awakened by the cry of the man sent ahead to announce the bridegroom’s coming. They trim their lamps, but those who have brought no extra fuel find that theirs begin to fail - the night is far spent - and no oil can be borrowed, yet time expires while they run in search of more. The doors are shut; they are left outside.
Jesus is pictured as the Bridegroom, the Church as His Bride. Christians are called, male and female, to the readiness of the wise “virgins” in this story. Our “oil” is drawn from our relationship with Him, i.e. we cannot “borrow” that from anyone else. Even the wise ones fell asleep and were in need of keeping their lamps trimmed (i.e. a ragged wick will not burn cleanly, so it needs to be trimmed off to give a steady flame), but they knew where to turn when the call came: to the Lord and His grace.
2. In modern English, “talents” means “abilities”. In the 1st Century, a “talent” was a significant weight of currency, hence a large sum of money, the amount depending upon the material: silver, gold, copper, etc.. Fr. John Pearce, commenting upon this passage, suggests that we might understand the “talents” as “opportunities” granted to each man according to his abilities. The servant who had received 10 talents doubled them, as did the one entrusted with 5, while the third hid what he had been given, fearful of losing it. Muscles grow with use but atrophy without; likewise, money grows with investment, or decreases in value through inflation. God gives us opportunities to serve Him and we mature in Christ’s service when we use them.
3.St. John (I John 3:17, 4:20, 21) and St. James (James 2:14-17) both state that there is a clear connection between our practical love - not just a “feeling” of love - for others and our love of God; between what we claim to believe and how we live. Jesus paints the picture of a Judgement wherein how we treat “the least of these My brethren” will be a measure of how we treat Him. Elsewhere He declared that the mark of His disciples would be their love for one another (John 13:35) - understood first as love for brothers and sisters in the Lord; yet, keeping Luke 10:29-37 in mind, surely whoever is in need of our care is to be ministered to as brother or sister. The final test of our relationship with Jesus is not our ability to recite the creeds, attend church, or even to do wonders in His Name (cf 7:21-23), good as those things may be in their context, but rather our willingness to share His heart, and to live with Him as true sons and daughters of our Father in heaven. That is to be and to behave like Jesus.
“Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 26
“After two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” The Word of God - the Scripture - is fulfilled in Jesus. All that He has spoken about His suffering and death will unfold over this chapter and the next, and in that is the fulfilment of the Prophets as well. It is a good idea to go back to re-read the story of the first Passover (Exodus 12), and to understand that Jesus comes to be the Passover Lamb, whose Blood is shed to save His people from death and to set them free from their slavery to sin. An outline of this chapter might include:
1) PREPARATION (for the Lord‘s Passion): a) Jesus declares that the time is at hand; b) the chief priests, scribes & elders plot together; c) He is anointed “for My burial” by a woman at Bethany - which actually takes the place of the anointing of the body after death, because He is already raised before the women arrive at the tomb; d) Judas arranges the betrayal, offering a time when no crowds will be around Jesus.
2) The LAST SUPPER : a) The location is arranged; b) Jesus prophesies His betrayal; c) He shares Bread and Wine: His Body and Blood; d) He foretells the apostles’ “stumbling” and desertion, including Peter’s denial. It is a Passover meal, but Jesus demonstrates that the full spiritual meaning of the Passover will be fulfilled through His own Passion:the deliverance from death and slavery which will be accomplished through the shedding of his own Blood, that of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.
3) The GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE: a) Jesus draws aside with the three: Peter, James and John; b) He becomes deeply troubled and moves on a little farther, falls upon His face and pours out agonized prayers before the Father. “O My Father,…not as I will, but as You will…Your will be done.” Here is the heart of “sonship” and discipleship; c) the betrayer arrives, but one of the disciples tries to defend Jesus; d) Jesus declares that events must proceed that “the Scriptures be fulfilled”; e) all the disciples flee.
4) RELIGIOUS CONDEMNATION: a) Jesus is brought before the “Sanhedrin” - the Jewish Ruling Council - where false witnesses are sought to bring the case against Him; b) finally testimony is produced, and Jesus is invited to respond; yet He remains silent; c) when charged under oath to answer the accusations, “Are you the Christ, the Son of God![?]”, Jesus declares, “It is as you said.” then goes on to prophesy His coming, “sitting at the right hand of the Power [God],…on the clouds of heaven.” d) the high priest decrees His words to be blasphemy, and the Council condemns Him as deserving death; e) He is spat upon, stricken, and mocked. Again and again, throughout this section, Scriptures are echoed in the treatment of the Lord and in His responses [see Ps.35:11; Is.53:7; Lev.24:16; Dan.7:13; Is.50:6 & 53:3]; how ironic that they should follow their condemnation of Him by striking Him and jeering at Him, “Prophesy to us Christ!”
5) PETER’S DENIAL: Three times Simon Peter denies Jesus-even as Jesus had prophesied he would. When we do not acknowledge our Lord before others; when we are complicit in allowing evil to be done; when we compromise our faith: we deny, desert, betray, condemn, crucify our Lord. Recall the exhortations of chapter 25: be ready; be faithful; be His “sheep”.
“All this was done that the Scripture of the prophets might be fulfilled.”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 27
The “morning after” is often a painful time. Condemned by the Sanhedrin, Jesus is handed over to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Judas looks on in growing distress. Clearly he expected a different outcome. Yes, he is the betrayer, but there is reason to believe that he thought that he was simply forcing Jesus’ hand, setting the scene for a display of divine power. Instead, Jesus has been condemned. Horrified, Judas tries to return the money given him, perhaps hoping that he might thereby undo what he has done; but the priests scornfully turn away. Despair seizes him - he is sorry, but has not repented; abandoned by the Tempter, he fails to turn to the One who would save him - and he goes out to hang himself. [Note: the fate of his “blood money” is cited as fulfilling words “spoken by Jeremiah”, yet verses 9 & 10 cover more Zechariah (11:12,13) than Jeremiah (32:6-9). Fr. John Pearce comments, “Jeremiah begins the Book of the Prophets in the Hebrew Canon, and indicates the whole of that Book - including Zechariah.”]
Jesus stands before Pilate. He has been condemned for “blasphemy” by the Jewish authorities, but this verdict carries no weight before the governor. He is concerned with Roman authority: “Are you the King of the Jews?” - Herod was the “King” set in place by the Romans. “It is as you say.” - literally “You say.” carrying the implication of “You said it!”, i.e. “Yes.”; yet, as St. John (18:36) records it, Jesus refers to a Kingdom “not of this world”. Beyond these words Jesus gives no further response, leaving Pilate to marvel.
What all goes on in Pilate’s mind, we do not know. On the one hand, spurred on by his wife’s dream about “that just [innocent] Man”, he finds no fault in Jesus and argues for His release. On the other hand, the small body of historical evidence available to us depicts Pontius Pilate as an immensely cruel man, far more concerned with satisfying himself than the demands of justice. In fact, some commentators see his hand washing as a deliberate mockery of Jewish ceremonial washings, especially offensive at this time of Passover. Perhaps he delights in inciting the crowds to take Christ’s blood upon themselves (v.25), while having a condemned criminal, Barabbas, released in His place. Certainly no remorse was shown by his soldiers as they scourged, mocked, humiliated and crucified Jesus thereafter. Likewise, it would have been more out of impatience with Jesus’ struggle than compassion for Him that Simon of Cyrene was compelled to shoulder the Cross on the way to Golgotha (“Calvary” in Latin).
There is an echo of the temptations in the wilderness (esp.4:5-7) in the taunts shouted at the Crucified One, “If You are the Son of God…” He does not reply; but, as darkness falls, Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” - the words of anguish with which Psalm 22 opens before giving way to a bold declaration of trust in God’s faithfulness - and He dies. At that moment, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”. This was the curtain which stood before the “Holy of holies”, that most sacred centre of God’s Presence. Only the High Priest - and only one day of the year - could enter into that most holy place. By His crucifixion the veil was torn that, through the death and Resurrection of Jesus, every one of us might enter with Him into the Father’s Presence. And the earth was shaken.
The centurion and those with him…feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
The Gospel According to ST. MATTHEW, Chapter 28
Chapter 27 ended with the body of Jesus being placed in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea - a rich man who had become one of His disciples - while Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (“mother of James and Joses [Joseph]”? v.56) looked on. This is followed by a request of the chief priests and Pharisees that the tomb be made secure, lest the body be stolen and a resurrection story fabricated. Pilate grants them permission to post guard and to seal the tomb.
Chapter 28 opens on the day following the Jewish Sabbath, the first day of the week, i.e. Sunday, as the two Marys arrive at the tomb. It would appear that these women were present for the earthquake accompanying the descent of the angel who, “rolled back the stone…and sat on it.” Jesus is not there: “He is risen, as He said.” He did not require the rolling away of the stone; He has been raised from the dead; the stone’s removal simply demonstrates the fact.
The angel sends the women to share the good news with His disciples: that He has been raised and that He is going ahead to Galilee to meet them. The guards, “shook for fear of him [the angel] and became like dead men.”; they are terrified. On the other hand, the women run off, “with fear and great joy”, filled with awe and wonder, their hearts lifted up. Along the way, these faithful women who had kept watch at the Crucifixion and the burial, become the first witnesses to the Risen Lord, who greets them with the words, “Do not be afraid.” - as He had spoken to the boat full of terrified disciples when He came to them, walking upon the sea (14:27); as an angel spoke in a dream to Joseph (1:20); as another angel spoke at the tomb (28:5) - the divine assurance of a loving Presence which drives out all fear. Then Jesus repeats the angel’s commission and the assurance that He will meet His disciples in Galilee.
Meanwhile, the chief priests and elders, having received the guards’ report of events at the tomb, discuss the matter and decide to do two things: 1) spread the word that the disciples stole the body during the night, while the guards slept; 2) pay the soldiers a large sum to corroborate the story.
St. Mark (16:12-14) and St. Luke (24:13ff) both relate that the Risen Lord appeared to some of His disciples on the road and, along with St. John (20:19-31), that He met the Eleven as they gathered together in a room. In contrast, St. Matthew chooses to take us to Galilee - not specifying the day - and the appointed mountain top meeting place, where Jesus greets and commissions His Apostles - the Eleven. They respond by “worshipping” Him, “but some doubted”! - perhaps feeling, “It’s too good to be true.” I am confident that, following the coming of the Spirit (Acts 2), they no longer doubted, but knew.
“All authority…in heaven and on earth” is His - none belongs to the devil - so He sends them to: “make disciples” - real followers (see 16:24); “of all nations” - not just the Jews; “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” - the sacramental entry into the Church and the life of the Holy Trinity; “teaching them to obey all things that I have commanded you” - to grow up in the Faith, learning the teaching of Jesus and the importance of obedience to His words; “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”- we minister in the power of His Presence, not simply “in memory” of Him.
“All authority has been given to Me…Go therefore & make disciples…I am with you always.”