For a Study Guide for Next Week (Chapters 17-21) look after the Sermon.
The Gospel According to Matthew III,
Study Guide for 8-16
“Now when Jesus has finished saying these things” (7:28). Matthew is so symmetrical in his telling of the story. He alternates between discourse and action, and usually cues one or the other – Jesus sees the crowds and sits down to teach, and then when he finishes saying things, he does something or goes somewhere.
Healing and Faith: What is Jesus’ definition of faith? “Your faith has made you well.” Who get included in the category of those who have it? Any surprises?
Authority: How does the question of Jesus’ authority run through these chapters? How does Matthew point to it? Examples?
“Teacher” and “Lord”: Jesus is especially identified as a teacher in Matthew, but also as more than that. Who calls him “Teacher?” Who calls him “Lord?”
Parallels with Mark: These sections share much of Mark’s material. How and when does Matthew weave it into the narrative? What’s different and what’s the same? Do the differences change the picture of Jesus? Which is the Jesus you are most used to?
The Rules: Jesus is not only the authoritative teacher of Torah in Matthew, but the fulfillment of Torah. See examples of this? How does the theme of righteousness as being aligned with God’s will show up in this discussion of the difference between being ‘right’ and being ‘righteous?’
Matthew, the ‘phrase maker’: Notice the beauty of the images that flow from Matthew’s pen: the sparrows and the new wineskins, those who are weary and the householder who brings from his treasure what is old and what is new. Note how many of these phrases have come to be part of our everyday language.
Sending out the Twelve: Apostle means one who is sent. How are the disciples equipped for this mission? What can they expect? Are these the same for modern Christians who are sent? What do you think?
See the clues that this is Jesus’ “second discourse?” What happens to the disciples?
Opposition: Things begin to get tense between Jesus and some of the Pharisees. Can you hear the opposition getting stronger? What are the issues?
Parables: A parable is a story that could be true but isn’t. It’s a way to teach with memorable images that touch the experience of the hearer. Parables usually have a surprise ending – something unexpected. Look for the twist at the end.
This long teaching in parables is Jesus’ “third discourse.” Why does Matthew’s Jesus use parables as compared to Mark’s Jesus (see Mark 4:10)? How would you compare Matthew’s parables with Mark’s? What does that tell you?
“You give them something to eat”: Compare the feeding stories to Mark’s version. How are they the same? Different?
John the Baptist: What happens to Jesus’ after John’s death? What does he do? Where’s he go? Why, do you think?
“Son of God:” The reaction of the disciples after Jesus meets Peter on the water is the first time this title is given to Jesus by humans. Who else has used it? What difference does it make?
Insiders and Outsiders: Mark uses the theme of insiders and outsiders very ironically, contrasting who should get the message with who actually does. How about Matthew? What do you think?
7th Sunday after Pentecost
July 15, 2012
Matthew 13: 10-17; 24-30; 31-35
Read: Matthew 13: 10-17. Speaking in Parables
The Gospels we read today are as important for our time as they were at the time they were written, after all, people haven’t changed much. But it’s important to understand that each of them was written at a specific time and place and to a specific community that struggled to be faithful amid pressures similar to those we experience today.
Scholars think that Mark’s Gospel was earliest, probably written around the time that the Romans finally crushed the last Jewish rebellion and burned the temple to the ground. Persecution of the Jewish community, and the believers in Christ as the Messiah which was nested in it, seems very present in Mark’s writing: Jesus talks about the destruction of the temple and the suffering of believers as being the birth pangs of the new order. Many scholars believe that Mark’s Gospel was written for a Gentile community of believers: Jewish festivals are explained, and although Jesus speaks in Hebrew and Aramaic, his words are always translated. Jesus imagines the transfer of the presence of God in the community moving from the temple to the sacred community created by his presence among them after his resurrection.
Matthew’s Gospel was written fifteen or twenty years later than Mark’s. Many locate Matthew’s community in Antioch, a community of faith bursting at the seams. It is where Barnabas and Paul became leaders and were sent out on missionary journeys. Although Matthew’s Gospel is deeply Jewish in viewpoint, his would have been a community of both Gentiles and Jews. It is a time when both the Messianic Jewish community and the traditional Jewish community were changing. Believers in Jesus as the Messiah, or the Christ, more and more were Gentile, and the traditional Jewish community was redefining itself after the loss of the temple as its center and sacrifices as the major part of prayer and praise. Many scholars believe that Matthew’s Gospel reflects the emerging rivalry between the two communities. My own NT professor, focused on other parts of the text, believed that another rivalry was operating.
Robert Smith postulates that Matthew’s focus on righteousness and his redefinition of it as seeking God’s will and being obedient to it, is to combat some of the ego problems of first century Christianity. Christian leaders were as arrogant as the old Jewish leadership that Jesus denounced. It is the same issue that the Apostle Paul writes about to his Corinthian congregation. Matthew continually lifts up the least, highlights how the humble are the ones who recognize Jesus’ divinity and that real believers are the ones who quietly do what God requires, not the ones who show off their gifts. It is to this community of mixed Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, educated and illiterate that Jesus speaks in parables. These stories are rich in imagery, the kind that you turn over and over to find meaning, and that continue to live with you because they are so evocative.
Read: 13: 24-30 The Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat
This story is exclusive to Matthew, and reflects exactly the issues that plague this community. Who’s in and who’s out? How can we decide? How strict should we be about maintaining community order and how can we discern what God wants us to do about keeping out people who don’t belong? The weeds are thought to be darnel, a plant that looks so much like wheat while it grows that you can’t really tell them apart until you thresh out the grain and the darnel has no kernel to leave on the threshing floor. The human tendency is to pull out the offenders as soon as you have identified them; but by doing so, you run the risk of pulling out the good stuff, too. In God’s kingdom, Jesus says, you can just wait till the harvest to see what bears fruit and what does not. While the weeds and the wheat are still in the field, it is not important to make the distinction, and the good will be obvious when the time comes. The judgment belongs to God, the landowner, who patiently waits til the time is right.
Read 13: 31-33: The Mustard Seed and the Yeast
I use these all the time at Ochoco Care Center because I want to leave the message that even the tiniest germ of faith can be enough to change a life. Coming from California where wild mustard covers the hills in the spring, I know that the tiny seeds that the Padres brought to the mission stations can nearly take over the world. And being a bread baker, I know that the smallest grains of yeast can indeed transform flour and water into a loaf that perfumes the whole house and becomes and mouth-watering treat.
These stories tell us that God’s way is not our way. What God looks for to grow and harvest is not the same as what we measure and count.
Read 13: 34 and 35:
Jesus could have just said it that way: God doesn’t count what you count, doesn’t see what you see, and doesn’t want you to get so full of yourself that you miss what’s important. But he didn’t. He told these stories that stick in your mind, using what you know to show you another way.
I imagine that Matthew’s congregation was a lot like Our Savior’s…made up of people of a variety of different religious backgrounds and experience. Some were probably more invested in the community than others, and showed up for everything, and some only came when they felt the need. Some understood the religious practices of the community and some found them weird and disorienting. Some wanted to learn more and some were bored and wanted to get to coffee and cookies. Some came because they were hungry to know more about Jesus and the love of God that he proclaimed and exemplified, and some came because they loved the community and felt at home there. But they all came because God invited them. They all came because God loves sinners, and because Jesus died to prove it. They all came because they knew they needed to hear that their sins were forgiven, their imperfections overlooked, and their place at God’s table prepared for them to share with the others who were gathered for the same reason.
And so here we are, gathered in God’s love to live that love in the world. So even if you have the faith of a mustard seed, it is enough. Even if you are not sure of your faith, it is enough that you are here. Remember the images Matthew has laid out for you, and that taste of the bread and wine that await you. They tell you that you are called to be God’s people, and that even the least among you have the work of faith to do in the world.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Study Guide for Next Week: Matthew Chapters 17-21
The Transfiguration: Compare this story with Mark’s version (Mark 9:13-19). What do you notice?
The Boy with the Demon: How does Matthew’s version of this story compare with Mark’s? Jesus sounds so cranky, but for a different reason in each Gospel. What’s his issue in each?
Passion Predictions: You’ve already read one of them in last week’s reading (16:21-23). How do they fit into the story? How do they change what people think and do?
Authority: The question of authority looms larger and larger as Jesus encounters more opposition from the religious leadership. How does Matthew point to it? Can you see where this is headed? Examples?
The tax: This story almost sounds like a folktale in the midst of the increasing intensity of the opposition. Some authorities question whether this is a ‘temple tax’ required of Jews, or a ‘civic tax’ required by Rome. What does this story bring to the narrative?
Parallels with Mark: Are you continuing to check Mark’s version of some of these stories? What’s the same and what’s different? How do the differences contribute to a different picture of Jesus? How do they give you hints at the issues facing the community to which Matthew’s Gospel is written?
True Greatness: Jesus’ example of ‘the greatest’ is surprising in a day when children were regarded as a burden and anyone who couldn’t work to contribute to the family was worth nothing. How does this example fit Matthew’s theme of righteousness?
“The Church:” Matthew is the only Evangelist who uses this word (Greek: ekklesia). You also saw it in chapter 16:18. The careful instructions about keeping faith in the community are carefully set in the midst of parables and instruction about finding the lost and about forgiveness. Is this about purity of the community or about reconciliation? Who do you think needs to hear this? Why?
“Now when Jesus had finished saying these things:” Did you know you were in Jesus’ fourth discourse in Chapter 18? It doesn’t have the ‘classic’ beginning, but Jesus’ teaching might have tipped you off?
On the Way: At the beginning of Chapter 19, Jesus moves out of Galilee into Judea. He is headed for Jerusalem and his death.
Seated on the right and the left: James and John want special treatment in the coming kingdom. How is this version different than Mark’s? How the same? How is this an example of the difference between Matthew’s depiction of ‘the twelve,’ and Mark’s? Note the irony of Jesus’ healing two blind men after this encounter with James and John.
Jerusalem, The Temple, The Fig Tree: how do these compare with Mark? What do you notice?
Three Parables: 21: 28-32; 33-46; 22: 1-14. Jesus has become quite pointed and savage in his confrontation of the religious leadership? How do you think these stories sounded to the leadership of Matthew’s own community?
The Greatest Commandment: Jesus has been teaching about discipleship on the way and in Jerusalem. It’s not about rules or purity, it’s about loving God and loving your neighbor. Think about your own church experience. Is this what comes to mind? How have you seen this modeled in your communities?