Lenten Reading Challenge: Matthew 11-18
• When and Where
Matthew’s Gospel has deep roots within Judaism. It quotes the OT forty times with an explicit phrase such as “it is written” and another twenty-one times without. In Chapter 5 and elsewhere it affirms the eternal validity of “the Law” and “the prophets” (remember those phrases refer to most of the Hebrew Scriptures).
There is an interesting “inside / outside” tension throughout. During his ministry Jesus restricts his mission to Jews, initially instructing his disciples to “go nowhere among the Gentiles” and saying of himself, in todays reading, that he is “sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” Yet he also heals the centurion’s servant and, in a resurrection appearance, will commission the disciples to “make disciples of all nations.”
Yet in small details as well as larger ways, Matthew is also intensely hostile towards “Jews” – more so that any text but perhaps John. His language is “harsh, more intemperate, condemnatory, vindictive and filled with invective.” He speaks of “their” synagogues in 4:23, 12:9 and 13:54 – indicating that Christians have been cast out and the groups increasingly see one another as “other.” We will see this especially in the final chapters. The tragedy of anti-Semitism through Christian history finds root here.
The conflict is that Matthew and his community are claiming that what happened in Jesus is the fulfillment of Judaism, not its negation – but the argument is losing as other groups who are making different claims about the future of Judaism gain the upper hand.
• Key Insights
Yoke is often used as symbol for Torah, so in chapter 11, Jesus is claiming an interpretation of Torah distinct from the “heavy” and burdensome regulation and nitpicking of the Pharisees.
The phrase “something greater” recurs – indicating Jesus is greater than the Temple, that mercy is greater than sacrifice, etc. Note how the story of the withered hand is part of a debate on what Sabbath means – is it a rule, a regulation or is it a blessing and opportunity for healing and renewal?
You might notice how many of the stories of Jesus, especially in chapters 14 and 17, echo OT stories of, titles and actions of God. Again, Matthew subtly makes a claim about Jesus.
16.8 is the first use of word church – a word that does not appear in other gospels.
• Big Picture
Some notes from the Wesley Study Bible:
In the Gospel of Matthew, John Wesley discovered many themes that determined his reflections on God, the church, and true Christian living. He preached and published sermons on visiting the sick (Sermon 98), righteousness (Sermon 99), and riches (Sermon 108), all based on passages from Matthew and discovered in the beatitudes a sweet invitation to true holiness and happiness.
Wesley observed that the Lords Prayer: “ contains all we can reasonably or innocently pray for, calling our prayers the proper test of our desires.”
Wesley saw the image of God less as a human possession and more as a relational process by which humans relate to God and the world. Humans, like the Trinitarian God, are relational beings. Being in right relationship with God, the world, others, and oneself is not only the will of God but also the essence of holiness. To be renewed in the image of God as natural, moral and political/social beings is to love as God loves through Christ Jesus.
Blessings on your reading!