The Gospel according to St. Matthew from a Reader’s Point of View: Few Questions, Devices and Reflections

Posted: November 29, 2011 in General

Matthew 1 and 2: (1) The New Testament as a whole begins with a three-tier formatted ‘genealogy’. The irony of Messiah’s every possible identification to the sinners is delineated through the presentation of five women (i.e., Tamar, Rahab, Uriah’s wife, Ruth, and Mary), among them four are terrible sinners. At the same time, Matthew’s intention to present Jesus as the one from the line of David is conspicuous in the ‘Infancy Narratives’. While Joseph the father acts as the prominent character of the Infancy Narratives, Mary’s voice is suppressed (cf. Luke 1 and 2). (2) A question concerning the identity of “wise men”: (a) wise men from the East came to Jerusalem; (b) they observed his star at its rising; and (c) they left for their own country by another road. Where from these wise men arrived in Jerusalem?

Matthew 3 and 4: (1) John the Baptist: came from the wilderness, clothed of camel’s hair, leather belt around his waist, food was locusts and wild honey, and his voice was ‘rough and tough’. He looks like a Qumran (Essene)! (2) Synoptics: Jesus begins his public ministry after John the Baptist’s arrest//John’s Gospel: Jesus’ and John the Baptist’s ministries are developing side by side. (3) Three places connected to the life of Jesus: born in Bethlehem, grown up in Nazareth, and mission strategic centre in Capernaum. (4) Something to ponder: (a) In Matthew, Jesus found Simon and Andrew (brothers) together while they were casting net and called them to follow him//in John, Andrew and an unidentified disciple came into know about Jesus from the mouth of John the Baptist and followed him… Andrew goes away and brings his brother Simon to Jesus; (b) In Matthew, after Peter and Andrew, Jesus called another pair of brothers, James and John//In John, Philip is called and he goes and brings Nathanael to Jesus. Why these differences?

Matthew 5, 6 and 7: “Sermon on the Mount”. See the article in Indian Journal of Theology, Vol 43, No. 1 & 2, 2001: Pp. 42-49: “The Message of the Sermon on the Mount in the Multi-Religious Context of India” that describes the following points: (1) The Mission of Peace-Making (5:9); (2) Love People of Other Faiths (5:43-47); (3) Resist Not Evil (5:38-42); (4) Be Free from Anger and Jealousy (5:21-26); (5) Do Not Criticize People of Other Faiths (7:1-5); (6) Be a Perfect Human (5:48); and (7) Do Good unto Others (7:12). Rajaram Mohan Roy, Mahatma Gandhi, S. Radhakrishnan and other prominent Indian Religio-Political leaders highly regarded the ethical teachings of Jesus outlined in the Sermon on the Mount. Great lessons!

Matthew 8 and 9: (1) Jesus shows compassion toward the crowds, because they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Times of Jesus’ “very touch” (8:3, 15; 9:29, 29; also “touched” by the sheep, 9: 20, 21) and his “very word” (8:8, 13, 16, 26, 32; 9:6, 33) are occasions in which his compassion toward the crowds is explicitly expressed. (2) Do you think that Matthew 8:5-13 (cf. Luke 7:1-10) and John 4:46-54 are two versions of the same story?  Matthew 10, the Great Mission Discourse: Jesus prepares his disciples mentally to suffer every kinds of hardship and set a mission paradigm. He says: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vv. 5-6). Whether Jesus’ utterance in Mt. 28:19 (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”) a contradiction or a further expansion? Why Jesus summoned his disciples and delivered this important mission paradigm in the dark?

Matthew 11: Jesus’ rural and urban mission initiatives are blended together in Matthew. The sins of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom are tolerable than that of the sins of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. Was Jesus inferring about Chorazin/Bethsaida/Capernaum and Tyre/Sidon/Sodom while employing the metaphorical expressions “hidden from wise and intelligent” and “revealed to infants”? Matthew 12: (1) Another Sabbath controversy Narrative (compare with John chapters 5 and 9). (2) Extremes/contrasts: “Kingdom of God” versus “Satan’s kingdom”; “good tree” versus “bad tree”; and “good fruit” versus “bad fruit”. (3) Greater One: “… see, something greater than Jonah is here!”; and “see, something greater than Solomon is here!” (4) By addressing the people “this evil generation”, Jesus made it clear that he was living in a world in which evil sprang all around.

Mathew 13, Third Major Discourse/Kingdom Discourse. (1) Similitudes, parables and allegories about the Kingdom of Heaven: (a) “…like a sower went out to sow…”; (b) “…compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field…”; (c) “…like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field…”; (d) “…like yeast that a woman took…”; (e) “…like treasure hidden in the field…”; (f) “…like a merchant in search of fine pearls…”; (g) “…like a net that was thrown into the sea…”; and (h) “…like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old”. (2) Do you still have a negative attitude towards the usage of ‘allegories’? Allegory is one of the best pedagogical tools used by the church from its incipient stages onward. Do you think that ‘allegory’ can be systematized in the postmodern context? How? If not, why?

Matthew 14: (1) “Feeding the Five Thousand”, a story that appears in all the four Gospels. See the NRSV translations of one expression: Matthew: “…those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children” (v. 21). Mark: “Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men” (6:44). Luke: “For there were about five thousand men” (9:14a). John: “…so they sat down, about five thousand in all”. While John gives an impression that there were “five thousand in all”, Matthew gives the impression of more than ten thousand! While Matthew, Mark and Luke agree in reporting about five thousand men, John stands out! (2) “Jesus walks on the lake”: In Matthew/Mark, Jesus says: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid”. In John: “It is I; do not be afraid”. Why does John omit “Take heart”? Peter’s request to walk on the water looks purely Matthean.

Matthew 15: Readers get the impression that Matthew used Mark and improved/explained on it. It is improper to think that Mark used Matthew and made it worse. Matthew’s versions give more clarity and explanation than the Markan. “Feeding the Four Thousand”– Matthew: “Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children” (v. 38); Mark: “Now there were about four thousand people” (8:9). Matthew’s explanation in v. 38b, “…men, besides women and children”, can be considered as an editorial attempt. In chapters 14 and 15, Matthew brings the women and children into readers’ focus. Then, why Matthew is always weighed down as an “exclusivistic/andro-centric” Gospel?! My reading takes me to side more with the “Oxford Hypothesis” than the “Griesbach Hypothesis”.

Matthew 16: (1) A request from Pharisees and Sadducees for a “sign from heaven”. (2) Jesus says: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times”. (3) Jesus says: “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees”. Matthew 17: (1) Jesus is ‘schooled in nature’, mountains, hills, valleys, seashores, villages and cities. (2) The transfiguration account is caricatured as an occasion of heaven-earth interaction centering around Jesus. (3) An irony: Jesus is the Son of God, but as a responsible earthly citizen he takes initiative to ‘pay temple tax’. Matthew 18, the Church Discourse: Liberation is divine and practical, not merely bookish: (1) Jesus’ ‘paidia-language’, as one who is mindful of the ‘little ones’: “become like children” (v. 3), “humble like child” (v. 4), “welcomes one such child” (v. 5), and “one of these little ones” (v. 6, 10, 14); (2) Thoughtful of the ‘estranged ones’: “…go in search of the one that went away” (v. 12); (3) Concerned about the ‘minority’: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (v. 20); and (4) Pitiful toward the ‘impoverished’: “…out of pity for him, the Lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt” (v. 27).

Matthew 19: See a “Triple Tradition”: (1) Mark: A man: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (10:17-18); (2) Luke: Luke exactly follows Mark; but, while in Mark ‘a man’ raises the question, in Luke ‘a certain ruler’ is the interlocutor (18:18-19); and (3) Matthew: Someone: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus: “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good” (19:16-17). Actually, who edited the statements, Mark/Luke or Matthew? Matthew 20, Labourers and their one day’s wages: calling early in the morning, nine o’clock, noon time, three o’clock, and five o’clock; all receive the same amount of wages, beginning from the last to the first; …so the last will be first, and the first will be last. Do you think that Jesus’ statement “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave” has anything to do with the story of labourers and their wages? I see some similar expressions.

Matthew 21, “Parable of the Wicked Tenants”: (1) the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another; (2) owner sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way; and (3) finally, the owner sent the son, and they seized him, throw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What the owner of the vineyard will do? “He will put those wretches to a miserable death”. Was Jesus teaching the philosophy of “teeth for teeth… nail for nail”? If yes, how it works within the framework of the Sermon on the Mount? If not, then what? Matthew 22: (1) “Parable of the Wedding Banquet”: Destroyed those who didn’t turn up after receiving the invitation (and burned down their city). Also destroyed the one who did turn but didn’t wear a wedding robe! Is it an ‘irony’ or a ‘contrast’ (whatever the reason may be)? (2) “Paying Taxes”: Jesus never told to flee away from the society; but he told to live as responsible social beings. (3) Jesus silences Herodians (and the disciples of Pharisees) by telling about ‘from below ties’; He silences Sadducees by telling about ‘from above ties’; and He silences Pharisees by telling about ‘Messiah-David (from above-from below) ties’.

Matthew 23, Scribes and Pharisees: “…they do not practice what they teach…”; “…lay heavy burdens on the shoulders of others…”; “…they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long…”; “…they love to have the place of honor…”; “…they lock people out of the Kingdom of Heaven…”; “…they cross sea and land to make a single convert…”; “…they say…’whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing…'”; “…they tithe mint, dill, cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law…”; “…they clean the outside…”; “…they are like whitewashed tombs…”; “…they build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous…”. See, most of the above Pharisaic/Scribal tendencies are obvious even among several Christian circles today. What is important is a “clean heart”, nothing else. Matthew 24, Eschatological Discourse: …see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place… the beginning of the birth pangs… before the end time many will come saying that “I am the Messiah” and many false prophets will arise and lead many astray… “…if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’–do not believe it…”. For false Messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens. The days of Messiah… the coming of the Son of Man… the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour… Matthew’s ‘futuristic’ and ‘proleptic’ apocalypticism and eschatology are at their peak here…

Matthew 25: To those at the right hand: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”. To those at the left hand: “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me”. If the ‘right’ and ‘left’ bifurcation is there, then… five wise virgins are on the right and five foolish virgins are on the left… the slaves those who received five and two talents respectively are on the right and the one who received one talent is on the left… Am I right?! Do you think that the entire Gospel of Matthew is a portrayal circumscribed around a “Rightist” and “Leftist” bifurcation, Kingdom of Heaven versus Kingdom of Satan and Belief versus Unbelief?

Matthew 26, some of the greatest ‘ironies’ or ‘contrasts’ in the Gospel of Matthew: (1) In the house of Simon the leper, a woman with alabaster jar performs a good service/prepares Jesus for his burial; (2) the Son of Man/Messiah is being sold for thirty pieces of silver; (3) Jesus’ spirit is indeed willing; but his flesh is weak; (4) “kissing and betraying”; (5) One with the “Prince of Peace” takes up his sword and cuts the ear of high priest’s slave; (6) Jesus was available at the temple; but, now they are coming at a deserted place to arrest him as though he was a bandit; and (7) the Saviour of the World is under the custody of ‘puny little powers’. The dramatic “front of stage” (Jesus’ Trial Narratives) and ‘rear of stage’ (Peter’s Denial Narratives) are developing nicely. But, John’s Gospel does a better job.

Matthew 27: Judas is too late! Judas: (1) “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood”. Chief Priests and Elders: “What is that to us? See to it yourself”. One who received “throwing down” the money; those who gave “picking up” the money back; now, it is “blood money” or “polluted money”; hence, it is not lawful to put them into the treasury! The money is ‘good for nothing’ now! With the “blood money” they buy “Field of Blood” in order to bury foreigners. See the status of ‘foreigners’ in Israel during the First Century AD. (2) Some issues: (a) Choice is between two Jesusses, Jesus Barabbas and Jesus who is called the Messiah; (b) How we can learn more about Pilate’s wife? (c) The chief priests’ and elders’ response to Judas, “…see to it yourself…”, is returning back to themselves (v. 4; cf. v. 24). (3) Looking forward for more clarity about vv. 52-53: “The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many”.

Matthew 28: The Chief Priests and Pharisees made confirm that Jesus’ body would not be stolen (27:64; cf. 28:13); they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone. Jesus, one who suffered, crucified, buried and remained in a sealed tomb about three days, is now resurrected. An angel from heaven is testifying it aloud and Jesus himself is appearing to the women in person with an utterance “Greetings”. Finally, he appears to the eleven disciples and instructs them to do “the Great Commission”. Jesus is indeed the ‘Resurrected Lord’. Amen.

By Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

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