Posts Tagged ‘fulfilment’

A Jewish Christian view

June 17, 2017

Pentecost 2 – 2017

Matthew 9:35-10:42[1]

Marian Free

In the name of God who reveals Godself to us in many and varied ways. Amen.

Thanks to the interruption of Lent and Easter, you may be forgiven if you had forgotten that this is the Year of Matthew. What that means is that just as we travelled through Luke last year, so this year we will make a journey through the gospel of Matthew. Matthew has many distinctive characteristics that will, I hope become obvious as we work our way through the passages set for the remainder of the year. Today I’d like to provide a broad bush stroke of some of the characteristics that set Matthew apart from Mark and Luke.

By way of reminder, it is believed that the first gospel to be written is the one that we know as the Gospel according to Mark. Within a decade, Luke and Matthew put quill to papyrus and composed their own accounts. To do this both Matthew and Luke used the gospel of Mark extensively. They have also used a common source that scholars have named Q. At the same time Luke and Matthew include material that is unique to them. In the first 12 chapters Matthew relies heavily on Q after which he follows Mark quite closely. Material that is unique to Matthew includes the parable of the 10 maidens and the parable of the sheep and the goats.

In trying to come to grips with Matthew’s gospel it is important to understand something of the background situation. The gospel is written, we think, for a Jewish Christian community in the 80’s of the first century. That is, it is written after the Jewish revolt that led the destruction of Jerusalem and, more importantly, the destruction of the Temple. The Temple was not only a symbol of unity and the liturgical centre of the Jewish faith; it was also the place where God met the people and the place in which reconciliation with God was possible. Without a Temple, the Jews had to rethink who they were and how they would continue as a people of faith.

Fortunately, the Pharisees, with their scepticism in regard to the Temple and their emphasis on the oral law, were well placed to step into the vacuum. In fact it can be argued that without them Judaism might have fallen into disarray and eventual decline. Instead their practice and teaching led to the development of rabbinic Judaism with its focus on the interpretation of the law. One consequence of this development was that there was less tolerance of difference and this included their fellow Jews who believed that Jesus was the one sent by God for their salvation.

Matthew’s community, that consisted of Jews who believed in Jesus also had to re-think who they were – in relation to the law and in relation to their ancestral religion that no longer held them to be members. Who were they in this vastly changed environment and how would they govern their life together? This search for identity and meaning explains what appears to be an over-emphasis on the law in Matthew’s gospel. While the Pharisees were building a new look for the Jewish people based on the law, the Jews who believed in Jesus had to determine what their relationship with that law would be. In the light of their relationship with Jesus, would they abandon the law altogether, would they transform the law or would they keep the law more rigidly even than the Pharisees?

In respect to the community’s relationship with Judaism, the author of Matthew’s gospel is determined to assert that faith in Jesus is not only consistent with Judaism but that Jesus is firmly rooted in Judaism. In the introduction, Matthew’s genealogy makes it clear that Jesus is descended from Abraham (the founder of the Judaism) and of David (from whom the Messiah was to come). What is more, over and over again (explicitly and implicitly) Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is not only the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises but he replaces the Temple as the way in which the people are reconciled to God.

Because the law and its interpretation take centre stage in this gospel; Jesus is presented as the new Moses – the one who gives the law and who interprets the law.

Just as significant as the setting of the gospel is the way in which Matthew has organised his account. Matthew takes the material that is available to him and arranges it in a way that sayings and stories that have a common theme are gathered together in the same place. It is possible to discern five distinct discourses or sermons each of which concludes: “when Jesus had finished saying these things”. The parables of growth are found in chapter 13, teaching about community life is located in chapter 18 and instructions for the disciples in chapter 10. Accounts of Jesus’ healing and casting out demons are concentrated in chapters 8 and 9.

Today’s reading bridges two sections of the gospel – it concludes the accounts of Jesus’ healing ministry and leads into Jesus’ instructions for the Twelve, the second of the five discourses. Interestingly, the setting for this sermon is very similar to that of the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus is going about Galilee proclaiming the kingdom the curing disease. On this occasion, instead of Jesus’ healing being followed by teaching, Jesus’ compassion for the crowds is followed by action, that extends his ability to respond. He summons the twelve and equips them to cast out unclean spirits and to cure every disease and sickness. In other words, they are authorised to all that Jesus does.

The discourse continues by telling the twelve how they are to go and what they can expect along the way, but the lectionary makes us wait till next week for that.

Matthew’s gospel is a rich treasure trove to be examined and explored. It reveals an aspect of early church development that we find nowhere else and it presents a view of Jesus that is both similar to and different from that of the other gospels. For the remainder of the year we will be working our way through Matthew’s Gospel. Can I encourage you to read the gospel for yourselves, to have the courage to question it and to tease out things that you do not understand? Let us take this journey together – tell me if my explanations are not clear and share with me the parts that you find difficult or incomprehensible. As we probe the text together we will discover more about what make Matthew’s gospel distinct and why.








[1] The reading for the day is much shorter, but the sermon gives an overview of the chapter.


Does Jesus need to be baptised??

January 7, 2017

The Baptism of Jesus – 2017

Matthew 3:13-17

Marian Free


In the name of God whose plan is, was and always will be to save the world.

Why does Jesus need to be baptised? Surely Jesus doesn’t need to be cleansed from sin. He doesn’t need to profess his faith. John certainly doesn’t think that Jesus needs to be baptised. It is important that we, with John ask the question? Why does Jesus need to be baptised? The problem is that it is easy for us to make assumptions based on the  idea that John’s baptism was like that which we received when in fact the two things are very different.

John’s baptism – that received by Jesus – was very different from the baptism that has grown up in the practice of the church. John was calling the people of Israel to repentance.  Baptism (the greek word simply means “wash”) was a sign that they were turning their backs on the way that had been living and were returning to God. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. It was not intended for individuals but for all of Israel. John was calling for the renewal of the Jewish people nation. He was NOT calling for people to repent of their own individual sins. John the Baptist was preparing the people as a whole for the coming of a Redeemer.

Baptism in the name of Jesus is, at the very least a post-resurrection event. It is form of initiation and a statement of faith. John’s baptism is not and cannot have been a baptism into the Christian faith.  Jesus had not even begun his public ministry and Jesus was, and remained a Jew.

What all this means is that when we consider Jesus’ baptism we have to see it as a stand-alone event and not as something that foreshadows the practice and doctrine of the Christian church. The baptism of Jesus is not baptism in the way that we think of baptism, but something entirely different.

All the gospel writers record this event, so we can state with some confidence that it has a basis in historical fact. Jesus was baptised and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended on him. Matthew, Mark and Luke all report a voice coming from heaven (or from a cloud) that affirmed Jesus as God’s Son and indicated God’s pleasure in God’s son.

Of the accounts of Jesus’ baptism, Matthew’s is the longest. This is because he alone records John’s reluctance to baptise Jesus. “I need to be baptised by you and do you come to me?” he asks. John recognised that Jesus is the more powerful than he.  John thinks that Jesus should baptise him, not vice versa. Matthew apparently agrees with John that Jesus does not need to be baptised, so in order to understand what is happening, we have to examine how Matthew explains Jesus’ baptism.

According to Warren Carter we need to pay attention to four things in order to understand Matthew’s understood if we pay attention to four things: the context, John’s baptism, the conversation between John and Jesus and the voice from heaven[1].

The account of Jesus’ baptism occurs part way through chapter three in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus’ ministry is yet to begin. In fact it will not begin until mid-way through chapter four (after the temptations). Matthew has been setting the scene. Jesus’ baptism is one of the way in which Matthew establishes Jesus’ identity and demonstrates the way in which Jesus is a fulfilment of God’s promises. Matthew begins by establishing Jesus’ identity and the ways in which his early life is a fulfilment of scripture. Jesus is of the line of David, conceived by the Spirit to save the people from their sins. He is Emmanuel, “God with us”. His life is in danger because he is a threat to Herod. The leaders in Jerusalem ignore his birth and yet he is recognised and worshipped by foreigners. Through Joseph, God ensures that he is kept safe from harm and finally John the Baptist prepares the people for his coming.

Matthew has made is clear that Jesus has been sent by God. His baptism by John demonstrates that Jesus both understands and accepts his role and that he intends to be obedient to God’s plan for his life.

Only Matthew records the conversation between Jesus and John – John’s initial reluctance and Jesus’ insistence. Remember that John ‘s baptism is not about individuals, but about the nation of Israel. Jesus’ sinlessness is not in question, it is Jesus’ role as the “one who is more powerful” that causes John some anxiety.  Jesus’ response is mysterious. All it really tells us is that Jesus’ submission to John’s baptism is part of God’s plan for putting everything right – the plan that John has been announcing to the world. Just as other events in Jesus’ life so far have been to “fulfil” God’s plan, so too will Jesus’ baptism. It does not make immediate sense, just as Jesus’ death will not make sense. What is important for Matthew’s story is that God has a plan and that Jesus is determined to submit to that plan, to accept his commission from God.

After Jesus has convinced John that his baptism is not only right, but also divinely sanctioned John baptises Jesus. Then, as Jesus emerges from the water, God affirms both Jesus’ identity and his mission by opening the heavens, descending as a dove and declaring Jesus to be his son, the Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

Through genealogy and story, affirmation and fear, Matthew has established Jesus as the one of David’s line who will fulfil God’s promise to bring salvation to Israel. Now that he has made it absolutely clear who and what Jesus is, Matthew can begin his record of Jesus’ teaching, teaching that he has proven can be heard and received with absolute confidence. Those who hear and those who read Matthew’s gospel know exactly who Jesus is, by whom he has been commissioned, and what role he is to play in the history of Israel.

As we travel together through the gospel according to Matthew this, we can be sure of this that Matthew believes that: Jesus has been sent by God, to fulfil God’s promises and to carry out God’s plan. What we read and hear can be trusted because it comes from God..





[1] For the original see

Perfect has no part measures

February 15, 2014

Epiphany 6 – 2014

Matthew 5:21-32

Marian Free

In the name of God who loves us and expects us to share that love with others. Amen.

There used to be a playground chant used as a response to teasing or insult. I’m sure that most of you know it: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” I imagine it was a jingle that was taught to children by people who wanted to build their resilience and I suspect that it worked at least to some extent. That is, it taught children not to let negative comments get under their skin, but to treat them as something superficial, to have such a solid understanding of their worth as a person that the taunts could run off their back. If the child in question felt that they had been heard, the advice would have assured them that someone was on their team, recognising that the attacks were not warranted and giving them a strategy for coping[1].

The problem with the statement, “words will never hurt me” is, that in a great many cases, it is not true. Words can do as much, if not more, damage than physical attack and they leave wounds that are not immediately obvious to others – and sometimes not even to the victim.

Children who are constantly demeaned by the adults in their lives or taunted by their friends, can develop a sense of self-loathing that is difficult to turn around. Women and men who are constantly put down by their partners begin to believe that they are in fact worthless. In many cases, broken bodies heal with the proper attention, but broken minds and hearts can go unattended, often with disastrous consequences.  Thanks to social media we cannot ignore the devastating effects of on-line harassment which tragically has led young people to take their own lives. I can’t even imagine what the consequences of the current practice of “shaming” young people will have on their future lives and development.

Jesus, without the benefit of modern psychology seems to know intuitively the power of words to hurt. You have heard it said: “You shall not kill, but I say to you whoever calls their brother or sister “fool” will be liable to the Gehenna of fire.”

In this rather long selection from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is addressing the radical love that being his follower demands. In a series of anti-theses, “It was said – but I say,” Jesus takes the teaching of his day one step further. It is not sufficient, he suggests, to do the bare minimum. True love does not demean another person, real love is not limited to those who love us back, love that is real seeks reconciliation not conflict. Love is based on an authenticity that does not need to swear on anything, because it is always truthful.

When we think of the Sermon on the Mount, we tend to think only in terms of the beatitudes. However, the way in which Matthew has arranged his material extends the sermon from what we know as the beginning of chapter 5 to chapter 7:28. Within this section, verses 5:21-48 consist of a series of six anti-theses of which three are included in today’s gospel reading. These six anti-theses are divided into two groups of three 21-32 and 33-48. What links these six together – apart from their common structure – is the commandment to love which is implied throughout and stated explicitly in verse 43. In verse 48, Jesus’ hearers are exhorted to “be perfect as their Heavenly Father is perfect.” This conclusion makes clear that Jesus is demanding his followers to go above and beyond duty and law and to try to emulate the perfect love of God.

Throughout this section of the sermon, Jesus uses the formula: “you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times” – or an abbreviated form of the formula. It is difficult to say with certainty to which authority Jesus is referring. As there few are exact quotes Jesus could be referring to the Old Testament, to the oral tradition of the Jewish people or to the teaching of the Pharisees. One commentator, Luz, argues that on the basis of the content and the language of the sayings that the content refers to the Jewish scriptures. This, Luz argues, is consistent with Matthew’s overall view that Jesus fulfills or completes the scriptures. That does not mean that Jesus contradicts or rejects the Old Testament scriptures but rather that he expands and breathes new life into precepts that were always true. In other words Jesus rewrites what he has inherited in such a way as to bring to fulfillment or completion their true purpose.

Jesus begins with what is the only explicit quote from the Old Testament: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’” He then goes on to list five antitheses to this statement. In other words, Jesus takes one of the commandments (slightly expanded) and demonstrates how different it looks with love at the centre – or when a lack of love is replaced with love.

Jesus follows the commandment with three negative examples of unloving behaviour, examples of not keeping the commandment. He points out that anger and name-calling are not expressions of love. They can be just as damaging and hurtful as physical violence. He continues with two positive examples of being loving (keeping the commandment) – making peace with a fellow believer who is angry at you and coming to an agreement with someone who is taking you to court. Jesus is insinuating that while not loving is as bad as murder, loving leads to reconciliation. In other words, nothing less than unconditional love and respect fulfills the sixth commandment.

In these anti-theses, Jesus takes the law to its ultimate goal. By making clear the intention of the commandment, he introduces a radical law that is free of compromise. One is either loving or one is not.

It is relatively easy to keep the letter of the law: do not kill. It is much harder to live in such a way that no one is ever hurt by a thoughtless word or a deliberate barb. Until we are perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect (5:48), we must accept that our behaviour falls far short of the law, that the standard set by Jesus is one that we may never reach and that we must never judge another or consider ourselves better than another.

Perfect has no part measures.

[1] A quick look at my Facebook account tonight had two posts that I was tempted to use as examples – one on the top twenty things to say and another about breastfeeding. The latter posted on upworthy reminded me of a great response to bullying by a American broadcaster who received a nasty emai about her weight.

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