In the gospels, every once-in-a-while Jesus will make a comment… or respond in a way that seems out of character. At first glance, instances like these might seem rather confusing. You might ask, “Why did He say that?” or “That seemed a little rude… didn’t it?”
As a reader, you can assume that unusual behavior from an otherwise consistent character usually means that there is something else going on that you might be missing. Whenever you read of Jesus acting out of character you can assume there is an important lesson right around the corner. The story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Matthew 15:21-28 is a good example of this.
This story follows up on the previous section (Matthew 15:1-14) that discusses the topic of “defilement”. That section concludes with Jesus explaining to the disciples that the source of human defilement, from God’s perspective, is not instigated from something outside the body… but originates in a person’s heart.
The woman cries out and begs for the healing of her daughter… but Jesus does not answer her a word. This is one of the behaviors that seems a little strange. Jesus normally responds to people seeking his assistance. In this case, Jesus’ silence gives space for the mouths of the disciples to disclose something about the condition of their hearts.
Continue reading “That was so rude… wasn’t it? – Comments on Matthew 15:21-28”
Have you ever been wading in a river, or a lake, and one moment you are doing just fine, walking along and able to touch bottom. Then, for whatever reason, the next step takes you into a deep underwater hole. One step earlier you felt like you were some sort of “Aqua Superhero”… and the next you feel like you might drown.
Theologically, that’s what some people experience when they step into Matthew 24. You might feel pretty confident of your footing in the chapters leading up to this one… then all of a sudden you are treading in deep theological waters and feel like you are about to go under.
Why do I say that?
There are so many ways people read Matthew 24. This is the type of passage that inspires charts… and diagrams… and long extended analogies to explain. So many charts… and at least potentially (from this chapter)… so little time.
The chapter begins with a comment about nice buildings… and then a promise of destruction of those buildings.
Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
Then the real question… the one where the theology suddenly get deep. What exactly do the disciples ask Jesus in Matthew 24:3? Continue reading “Can You Repeat the Question? – Comments on Matthew 24:1-4”
Throughout his gospel, Matthew organizes large segments of Jesus’ teaching into five major discourses. That just means there are a whole bunch of red letters… all scrunched together… in five different places.
The author does this on purpose… because he wants us to think of Jesus in terms of the Old Testament character, Moses. Moses was that person who lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and on towards the land that had been promised to their family. Moses wrote 5 major discourses (the first five books of the Old Testament). To help connect Jesus as “the new Moses”, Matthew presents Jesus’ teaching in five distinct settings.
Today, it’s the last discourse I’m interested in… and where it might begin. Those familiar with the Bible at all have probably heard of “The Olivet Discourse”. It’s found in Matthew 24:3-26:1 and is named after the location Jesus was when He taught it. He was on the “Mount of Olives” in Jerusalem.
We know the discourse ends in Matthew 26:1 because the Matthew includes a clue for the reader that signifies the end (“When Jesus had finished all these words…”). But there is no equivalent marker used for the beginning of the discourse. Continue reading “Jesus’ Last Discourse? – Comments on Matthew 23:13-36”
Matthew 22 features a set of three questions that the religious leaders bring to Jesus in an attempt to trap him and end his ministry. Jesus answers each question brilliantly… which only serves to further frustrate His questioners.
In Matthew 22:15-22, they ask Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay the poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” This seems like a political question… but it certainly has religious undertones.
This reminds me of a role I played in a high-school production of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”. Those familiar with that story know that the main character has several daughters. The story largely focuses on the daughters falling in love and getting married. I played Perchik, a religious and political radical that fell in love with one of the daughters. When it came time for my character to propose marriage I said,
“There’s a question I wish to discuss with you. It’s a political question, the question of marriage.” She responded, “Is this a political question?”
It was a fair question. I went on to explain that the relationship between a man and a woman has a socioeconomic base that must be founded on mutual beliefs, a common attitude, and philosophy towards society.”
What a romantic! The world certainly doesn’t need more poets like this character. Continue reading “There’s a Question I Wish to Discuss… Comments on Matthew 22:15-22”
Jesus’ ministry has been described in terms of a comparison of two temples. One temple, a physical building in Jerusalem, was supposed to be a visible example of God’s purity and forgiveness. But at the time of Jesus’ ministry, that temple was not a clear picture of these attributes. In fact… it was exactly the opposite. People were visiting the temple and often leaving with a distorted picture of God and how He works.
In contrast to the Jerusalem temple, Jesus was a clearer example of God’s purity… and His forgiveness. Jesus’ ministry began a transition away from the temple in Jerusalem… to a new temple. The temple of Jesus and those connected to Him through faith. It is a temple of believers.
It was this new temple that Jesus came to inaugurate… and that old temple, the one in Jerusalem, that he put on notice that its time was done.
This factors greatly into Matthew 21:12-22. In those verses Jesus makes his way to the temple in Jerusalem and drives out those who were buying and selling. The forgiveness of God had become a profit making business, but forgiveness from God is available to everyone. It’s not a money making transaction.
No matter who you are… no matter how much money you have… God’s forgiveness is available to you. That picture wasn’t being truly represented in the temple in Jerusalem. Sometimes I think we forget that simple truth.
The cleaning of the Jerusalem temple is followed by this strange and cryptic “cursing of a fig tree”. There’s a fig tree… it has leaves on it… but no fruit. Jesus says, “no longer shall there ever be any fruit from you” and at once the fig tree withers and dies. Without a broader context… this certainly seems like a strange event to include in the narrative of Jesus’ week leading up to the cross. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Temples… Comments on Matthew 21:12-22”
The chapter and verse numbers weren’t included in the first manuscripts of the Bible. They were added to the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Old Testament texts in the 16th-century by a man named Robert Stephanus (his son, Henri, is famous for introducing the pagination numbers still used today in many of Plato’s writings).
While Robert’s Stephanus’ work has long been the gold standard for quickly finding Bible references according to “chapter and verse”… some of his organizational decisions are not as helpful for studying the Bible as a piece of literature. Matthew chapter 20 is one such “unfortunate chapter break”.
Matthew chapter 20 begins with the word “for”. Grammatically, that word suggests that the statement that follows somehow relates with information that came before. It organically ties back to the statement in the last verse of chapter 19. Continue reading “Unfortunate Chapter Breaks – Comments on Matthew 20:1-16”
In Matthew 19:16 a man came to Jesus asking a question. He said, “What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”
There are several places in the New Testament where people ask a question similar to this. Surprisingly, the answers vary greatly (see John 6:25-29, Luke 3:10-18, Luke 10:25-37, and Acts 16:30-31).
In this particular case Jesus answered the man, “keep the commandments.” But that wasn’t as clear as it needed to be so the man asked another question, “Which ones?” The people that count such things have found 613 different commandments in the OT. So I think it was a good question.
To which commandments was Jesus referring? He started with a portion of the list of the 10 commandments found in Exodus 20:12-17 (and repeated in Deuteronomy 5). But surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t list all of the 10 commandments and the ones He does mention were strategically chosen.
Let’s count along with him. (I’ve included each commandment’s number for your convenience.) Continue reading “Grieving #10 – Comments on Matthew 19:16-22”