Lenten Reading Challenge: Matthew 26-28
• When and Where
Like Mark and Luke, Matthew depicts a single year of activity by Jesus, a claim mainly based on a single Passover being noted in the text. The Passover is a yearly festival to remember and celebrate Gods liberation of Israel from Egypt, as told in Exodus 12: 1- 20. The synoptics (a term meaning Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels) all depict the Last Supper as a Passover meal.
Prior to the destruction of the Temple, Jews from around the world would travel to Jerusalem prior to the Passover to purify themselves and celebrate there. In an age of frequent rebellion, these mass crowds would make the authorities especially nervous.
• Key Insights
Jesus appears to the disciples “on the mountain.” Big things happen on mountains in Matthew and often in the Bible, particularly the story of Moses and Mt. Sinai. This appears to be a deliberate framing by the author.
Crucifixion was a horrific Roman punishment, designed to humiliate its victim and deter others. It was reserved for state criminals, but not at all rare. (We sometimes think of “The Crucifixion” as a singular event – it was, rather, quite common and documented in multiple historical sources.)
Since crucified victims were usually left on display after death, it was particularly horrific for Jews of the time, as their practices required burial by sunset on the day of death.
Note the powerful images of the moment of death in 28:51 – an earthquake, a resurrection of the dead, and “the curtain of the Temple being torn from top to bottom.” We’ll deal more with that last image when we turn to Hebrews next week.
• Big Picture
Jesus resurrection appearance and final words to his followers combine affirmation, imperative, and promise:
Affirmation: All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.”
Imperative: “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Popularly known as the Great Commission this is the classic foundation of Christian missionary work. Borg notes that in the 1st Century Jewish context “nations” is less about distinct countries, but basically means “gentiles” (i.e. everyone not Jewish). The Risen Christ specifically expands the mission vs. what the disciples were told in 10:5.
Promise: The final words “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” returns to the opening promise of this Gospel. In Chapter 1, Matthew, citing Isaiah, describes the newborn of Jesus as “Emmanuel” – God dwelling with us. Here the risen Christ says the same thing about himself.
John Wesley’s last words were “The best of all, God is with us.” This is the central promise of the Gospels and of Paul’s writings: God became flesh and dwelt among us. God is transcendent, but also immanent. God is all-powerful, but became vulnerable. God suffers with. God does not coerce, but calls.
Blessings on your reading!