Posts Tagged ‘the sending out of the Twelve’

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.

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Stand up and be counted

June 21, 2014
Meriam Ibrahim and her two children in jail

Meriam Ibrahim and her two children in jail

Pentecost 2 – 2014

Matthew 10:24-39

Marian Free

 

In that name of God who constantly reminds us that there is more to our existence than this life alone. Amen.

It is impossible not to be touched, saddened and outraged by the situation of Meriam Ibrahim a Sudanese woman sentenced to hang – ostensibly for abandoning her Muslim faith. Meriam’s Father is a member of the Islamic faith and her Mother is a Christian. Meriam claims that she has always been a Christian and that therefore she has not abandoned Islam and is not guilty of apostasy. Her claim however appears to be falling on deaf ears and it seems probable that the Mother of two small children will hang for refusing to renounce her faith. Half a world away, in the comfort of a country that has been primarily Christian since its inception, it is difficult for us to imagine the courage and the faith that would lead a young woman to risk her life rather than to deny what she believes.

We are nearly half way through the year and only now are we able to really come to grips with Matthew’s gospel. In fact, even though it is the year of Matthew, it has been three, nearly four, months since our consecutive reading of this gospel was interrupted first by Lent and then by Easter. It is then, a good time to look at the gospel as a whole so that we can begin to appreciate its parts. The Gospel attributed to Matthew appears first in the New Testament, however most scholars agree that Mark was the first to be written. The consensus is that Mark was written first and that Matthew used Mark’s work to write his own. Evidence for this is found in the fact that basic content of Matthew is the same as that of Mark. Matthew has filled out the material used by Mark in two ways. In the first instance, the author of this gospel appears to have had access to some teaching that was circulated widely enough to be known by both Luke and Matthew – they both include sayings that are not found in Mark. Secondly, as some material appears only in Matthew, it seems clear that he or his community were privy to teaching known only to them – including the parable of the ten bridesmaids and the parable of the sheep and the goats[1].

Matthew’s gospel stands out from the remainder as it is the most Jewish of the Gospels and the one that most clearly identifies Jesus as the one who fulfills the Old Testament. In Matthew Jesus is first and foremost a teacher which may be the reason that Matthew organizes Jesus’ teaching into five sermons the best known of which is the Sermon on the Mount. It is almost certain that Jesus’ preaching did not consist of a string of unrelated sayings, but rather that Matthew gathered them and placed them together. Apart from the introduction (the birth narrative) and conclusion (the passion and resurrection), Matthew’s gospel is made up of five parts each of which consists of a narrative section and a sermon. In other words, the story that Matthew is telling about the life of Jesus is punctuated with blocks of Jesus’ teaching.

Today we are reading a portion of Chapter 10 – the sermon which concludes part two of the gospel – Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. To set the sermon in context, we need to remember that at the beginning of this chapter Jesus has set apart twelve of his disciples and given them authority to cast out demons and to heal. Having done that he sends them out to proclaim that the kingdom of Heaven has come near. In other words, Jesus has shared with the twelve both his authority and his ministry. This is an enormous privilege, but it comes at a cost. If the disciples are to be Jesus’ representatives, they must expect that, like him, they will experience rejection and persecution. (“If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!” Jesus says.)

The sermon in chapter 10 is addressed not to the crowds, or to the disciples in general – but specifically to the twelve. If they are to share his ministry they must expect to share the consequences of that ministry. Jesus says: ”I am sending you out as sheep amongst the wolves.” This does not mean that they should be timid or afraid – the Holy Spirit will give them words to say and Jesus reminds them how precious they are in the sight of God. If they remain true they may lose their life, but nothing can kill their soul – not even death can separate them from God.

For generations Jesus’ warning has seemed to be directed specifically at those early disciples or to those in the early church who faced persecution and martyrdom. How comforting it must have been to know that the Holy Spirit would be with them when they faced their accusers, that whatever situation they confronted, they were so precious to God that even the hairs of their head were numbered and that if martyrdom was to be their lot they would lose their body, but not their soul. Words such as these must have provided comfort then and they must surely offer hope and consolation to Meriam and to others in her situation today.

Times are changing. In an increasingly secular and multi-cultural Australia we can no longer take for granted the privileges and benefits that have accrued by virtue of our belonging to the predominant faith. There are challenges to our practices and beliefs on a number of fronts – religious education, the presence or not of Santa Claus in kindergartens, the presence or not of Nativity Scenes in public places and whether or not churches that provide social services are to be considered charities and receive the tax breaks associated with such practices. In some places the Christian faith is met with ridicule, in others with indifference and in yet others with outright hostility.

In a nation in which loyalties and beliefs are changing, it may be that there will be a time when we will have to defend what we believe. At best we may have to stand up and be counted and at worst we may have to consider what is more important – security in this life or in the next. Should we, like Meriam, be put to the test, let us pray that we will heed Jesus’ words to his disciples and find the strength and courage to hold fast to our faith no matter what oppositions confronts us and no matter how tempting it is to try to save our skin.

[1] An interesting exercise is to place Matthew, Mark and Luke side by side to see how they have used material known to them all, what sayings occur in Matthew and Luke and what is unique to Matthew or to Luke.


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