Study Guide for next week’s readings in Matthew (Chapts 8-16) follow the sermon.
The Gospel According to Matthew: Chapts 5-7
Study Guide for Chapters 5-7
“Poetry and symmetry are not the least marks of Matthew’s nine Beatitudes, organized into two stanzas of four each, with the ninth in a somewhat different form sounding a powerful crescendo…Matthew opened and closed the entire series of eight with the same solemn promise: theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is the theme of Jesus’ proclamation and the Beatitudes begin to flesh out what Jesus means by God’s rule.
“Jesus Beatitudes are bolts of lightning splitting the skies. They crack open the heavens, astonish eye and ear, and carry with them the smell of burning ozone. They are ecstatic, inspired declarations trumpeted from the mouth of the revealer, and they are brimming with infinite grace.
“Who will benefit from the inbreaking kingdom proclaimed by Jesus? In Jesus’ day, the Essenes of Qumran taught that the pure will benefit; they prayed for a kingdom of the perfectly clean. Pharisees said the law-observant will benefit; they looked for a kingdom of energetically good people. Zealots promoted the way of religious patriotism; they expected God to support their efforts to establish a kingdom of free people….
“Matthew himself heard the voice of Jesus invoking heaven’s blessing, not upon the spiritual virtuosos, but upon those who were inspired to seek God’s rule of righteousness. The one indispensable fruit of the Spirit desired by Jesus is righteousness…which may be defined for now as hearts set on the will of God, on love toward God and toward the neighbor, and even toward the enemy. But the reality of righteousness surpasses easy definition. Matthew spends 28 chapters describing its contours and singing its praise.”
Robert H Smith “Matthew” (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament, Augsburg, Minneapolis1989). Pages 78-81.
In reading chapters 5-7 of Matthew pay attention to this:
The mountain: Are you still listening for echoes of Moses and the Exodus? Ancient teachers sat down to teach. As you continue to read the Gospels, listen for Jesus’ posture.
The Beatitudes: Is there a way that you see these verses as comfort, as hope for yourself? Could you rewrite them from your own experience?
The Law and the Prophets: Could verse 5:17 be a manifesto of Jesus’ work? Heard it before? Keep your ears open as you continue to read. Jesus sets himself as the true teacher over other interpreters of Torah.
You have heard…but I say: Is Jesus more generous in his interpretation of the Law or more strict? Where is grace in his teaching?
Your Father in Heaven: This phrase runs through this teaching as a constant point of reference. This is the measure of what Christian life should look like. “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” How does this fit with the Beatitudes we’ve just heard?
Pray this way: When you read this prayer in its context what strikes you about it most?
As an exercise, you might want to write this prayer imagining it said to God in the person of someone other than “Father” that you loved(ed) and trust(ed).
Do Not Worry: This is another favorite from Matthew. Does this only address clothes and food and housing? What is the confidence that this lifts up? How do you hear this speak to you about your own life? About the pressures of living in a consumer culture?
6th Sunday after Pentecost
July 8, 2012
Matthew 5: 1-16
We’ve been reading Sara Miles’ “Take This Bread” (Ballantine Books, NY. 2007) on Wednesday mornings. This skeptical atheist wandered into a local church that offered communion to all “without exception” one Sunday morning. She was offered a chunk of bread and some “nasty-tasting sweet wine,” by someone who told her it was the body and blood of Christ. She was thunder-struck. “It turned out that the prerequisite for conversion wasn’t knowing how to behave in church, or having a religious vocabulary or an a priori “belief” in an abstract set of propositions: It was hunger, the same hunger I’d always carried.” (pg xiv)
“What I heard, and continue to hear, is a voice that can crack religious and political convictions open, that advocates for the least qualified, least official, least likely; that upsets the established order and makes a joke of certainty. It proclaims against reason that the hungry will be fed, that those cast down will be raised up, and that all things, including my own failures, are being made new.” (pg. xv)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”(Matt 5: 3-6)
In Mexico the bronze wall in the cathedral in Cuernavaca says, in Spanish, “Bienaventorados los que tienen el espiritu del pobre…” “Blessed are those who have the Spirit of the poor…”
When was the last time you came here because you were hungry for something you can’t find anywhere else? When was the last time you came because you were grieving something you couldn’t replace and didn’t know where else to turn? When did you come because even though you weren’t powerful, you had something to offer the world? When was the last time you came because you realized that you were poor in what really mattered in the world?
Then you are welcome. You are the person Jesus is looking for. Matthew’s Gospel is written for you: to assure you that your emptiness is what God has used to call you, so that you can be filled.
There are plenty of “Spiritual Virtuosos” in the world. They will be glad to tell you what you lack, what you should be doing, how to be more correct in the way you worship, pray, give, and what you should read. In the sermon we hear from Jesus’ lips this morning, we hear that our emptiness, our loss, our craving is just what God wants.
It is our desire that God can use to transform our hearts and then through us to change the world. When we come to the end of Matthew’s Gospel, we will hear Jesus’ last sermon. It’s the one in which he talks about the sheep and the goats. Remember? Those who are set aside to enter God’s kingdom are the ones who have fed the hungry, visited the sick and incarcerated, clothed the naked. Told that all this time they have been feeding and clothing and visiting Jesus himself, they are shocked. They are totally unaware that they have done anything virtuous, they were just being human and caring for those who needed it. Their hearts have been transformed by God’s love, and they are seeing the way God sees, and loving the way God loves.
In Jesus’ discourse on the law in today’s reading, he is harsher than the Pharisees, who have been parsing the Torah for centuries to figure out how to do it just right and please God with their efforts. But Jesus makes it clear that even the best behavior is not enough to fulfill all that God requires. No one can do it. Rather, we turn, empty, to see that God loves sinners. God’s mercy is what makes life livable, sees what we need, and fills every need with elegance and delight, just as God feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field.
In his model prayer, Jesus tells us to turn to God for in God’s holiness, we are provided with everything we need: our food and physical necessities, the forgiveness that makes life new, and protection from the destruction of evil. And so we are able then to forgive as we have been forgiven, and be part of God’s kingdom, coming among us. Turning to God for all we need, living out the love that forgives us and creates a world of beauty and possibility is the way to build on solid rock, says Jesus. This is the righteousness that Matthew begins to dream for us: living on God’s promises, seeking only to live in God’s will, coming empty to be filled with God’s love, so we can pour it out into the world God loves. This is the rock on which we build.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid…In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Have you ever been completely in the dark? How much light does it take to change what you see? Not much, right? You may have come here today feeling empty, feeling hungry, feeling poor in Spirit, but you don’t have to leave that way. God loves sinners. God loves you. What God wants is your hunger and your craving to be right with God. That flicker of light that lifts you for the coming week is a light that can change lives, just like yours has been changed. Amen.
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 Matthew Chapts 8-16: Coming Next Week
As you read chapters 8-16 of Matthew, pay particular attention:
“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?