Recap of Matthew 21-22
The climax of the gospel began on Sunday with the Triumphal Entry.
From there, Jesus went to the Temple, drove the tax collectors and dove sellers out, only to find those in need of healing coming in — a kind of exchange which yields far different results than the leadership would want.
A second symbol of the kingdom Jesus is ushering in comes in the curse of the fig tree, as it does not produce according to need, but according to its own desire.
It is only natural that Jesus’s authority would be challenged, then. It would have to be. But he throws it back at the leaders who mistake the structural authority for divine authority, perhaps.
Then Jesus starts teaching in that most familiar form: parables. He tells two to close out chapter 21: the Parable of the Two Sons and the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Outside of this context, these seem like straightforward teachings: one telling us to be a person who does what he says and the other is an allegory for the coming crucifixion. But given this context of a Temple hiding thieves and blocking the needy, the implications of hypocrisy and villainy are aimed squarely at the Temple’s leadership. And they know it. But they can’t do anything about it because Jesus is not only popular, but known to many as a prophet.
In chapter 22, we have teachings that are among some of the most famous. And like the ones which proceed it, are covered by the church well outside of Holy Week, giving the impression that they are more like sensible teachings to be understood whenever, rather than the context of the Temple, authority, hypocrisy, and ushering in the kin-dom.
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet is another one telling us to what the “kingdom of heaven may be compared”. Like the one right before it, there are those invited to the banquet who know better than to rudely and arrogantly oppose the king, ignoring his wishes, and worse, killing his people. The king’s response is to replace those guests.
Then the Pharisees question him about taxes, which he sidesteps, instead reminding them that all of creation is God’s and capital is the product of humanity.
The Sadducees question him about the resurrection, which he, again, sidesteps to answer a different question: focusing on possession of wives and living for eternity is about living in the past, in death. God’s focus is on life.
Then the Pharisees huddle and send a lawyer to ask a question about the greatest commandment: which Jesus eagerly answers:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
And while they are all together, Jesus asks the Pharisees a question about King David bowing before a King. How is this possible? They can’t say.
Reflection for Matthew 23
read Matthew 23
I’m always dumbfounded when I’m told that Jesus isn’t divisive. That the Word of God is uniting, simple, and easy on us.
We’re eager to explain away Jesus’s confronting the Temple authorities, the Pharisees and Scribes, here. A whole chapter full of scolding.
Or we use it as an excuse for anti-semitism, that Jesus isn’t being a Jew confronting a system which is oppressing its people, but instead, a Christian, attacking the Jewish leadership for being “the old way” and he is offering something new. No matter how much Jesus insists he didn’t come to replace the law, but fulfill, it, “good” Christians this time of year say, he didn’t come to do that, but we did!
The theme from Jesus has been consistently not about the leaders as people, but their continued hypocrisy in support of a system which oppresses and destroys the lives of decent people. A theme set out at the beginning of Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount and continuing throughout the gospel, through the walk to Jerusalem, and then here, at the Temple, healing the needy and confronting those who would bar the doors and keep them from receiving.
These people who would sooner kill the innocent than embrace the Word of God that is in their midst.
The challenge we’re given today is this: how are we like these Pharisees? How are we focused on the rules which divide us into winners and losers—then blaming the one who points out such division only to cause further division?
How are we blind to what God is doing, where Jesus is leading us? And ourselves lead others into bad places? This is a question I ask myself constantly. But it’s a question we all have to ask ourselves as Christians, leaders, as Pharisees in our own church.
How messy are we on the inside, hiding that from others?
And how have we discouraged the faithful, ignored their prophecies, challenged their authority? How have we rejected others? Not just the ones from another political position (that’s too obvious) but from another approach to the same? From the poorly spoken or the loud shouter? From the bully or the whisperer? When have we ignored the Word of God come to us from another—the prophet rejected because the message sounds a little hinky?
When have we rejected the idea that Jesus raises his voice and challenges hypocrisy? Or rejected the idea that Jesus could be so divisive?
When have we been like those Pharisees? Now, strive instead to be like one who hears these words and doesn’t want to reject them.