Recap of Matthew 21-24
The gospel is building toward its great climax in the Passion, which we’ll cover this weekend. It began in the approach to Jerusalem, in the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday. Then on Monday and Tuesday, we covered three chapters of Matthew, 21-23.
After entering Jerusalem, Jesus went to the Temple, driving out those who would harbor evil and keep out the needy. His authority is challenged by the Pharisees and scribes and Jesus teaches them in parables.
Then he’s confronted with a couple of trick questions and his responses, while both simple and cryptic, are often mistaken for suggesting we all just get along. The Pharisees took them as the challenge to their authority Jesus intended them to be.
Then Jesus lays into them, confronting them directly, calling them hypocrites and snakes. He speaks prophetically to the way they endorse a system which oppresses many of the faithful and prevents them from knowing the love of God.
In chapter 24, Jesus leaves the Temple, predicting its demise and the signs of the challenges to come.
The disciples are a little freaked out. Understandably, right? So they ask him when this is going to happen, and he prophesies about the end times. War, famine, destruction. Persecutions and false prophets. You will be enslaved,
“And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.”
After the desecrating sacrilege comes and the dark days come, then the Son of Humanity will come.
So be watchful, he argues. Stay alert, because dark days are ahead and the faithful is the one who will be striving even during these dark times.
Reflection on Matthew 25 and preview of 26
Again, context is our friend in understanding what Jesus is speaking to this morning.
Jesus has confronted the leadership for its hypocrisy and named the horrible things they’ve done and will do to oppress people. But what’s in store is way more than the Temple leadership. Rome is going to come and smack down Jerusalem and destroy it. And thousands of people will die. Thousands will be displaced. Hundreds of Jesus’s followers will be rounded up and killed. Be ready.
These two parables in chapter 25 are the last two Jesus uses to teach in Matthew. A dark ending to his teaching, don’t you think? And their dark character confounds us as we are eager to misapply their meaning to our lives!
It’s understandable. In both, he compares the kingdom of heaven to two divisive and nasty visions of an exclusive god. A vision of God which is often applied to our merciful God. So what gives?
If we keep in mind the tension which comes from a world which doesn’t look like God’s and a people who reject Jesus’s teaching, we’re given a comparison to which we can compare the kingdom of heaven.
In the first, is the kingdom exclusive, or is it that the foolish lose sight of their work: to prepare and keep watch? While you and I are worrying about the lamp oil in the lamp of one group of bridesmaids versus the other, might we notice that what makes the foolish one foolish is not that they didn’t bring enough but that they listened to the selfish ones and ran off to get more? That all would get in if they simply stayed and waited? Or better, if the selfish ones had shared their lights, none would be left out?
And surely few parables are misunderstood like the last one Jesus tells. The one in which God is compared to a slavemaster who leaves his slaves with no instructions, but expects them to break Torah, collecting interest on investments, defrauding their neighbors, to collect money for a cruel and evil master. An image of God so repulsive, we would reject it out of hand if we weren’t so frightened to get it right.
Perhaps the kingdom of heaven is like the one who rejects the cruel master and stands up to injustice, refusing to steal from his neighbors, impoverishing them for personal gain.
Like the sheep who unknowingly give to God by healing the sick and giving to the poor. Unlike the the other two slaves, the ones rewarded with more wealth by a cruel master; they’re the goats.
Here, after Jesus is finished, then the chief priests and elders conspire to kill Jesus.
On Wednesday, Jesus and the disciples remain in Bethany. There, a woman pours ointment over the head of Jesus. The disciples who think this expensive ointment could have fetched some good money for outreach ministries, are chastised. For this generous moment was her anointing Jesus for burial. For this, Jesus says:
“Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
In other words, given all that Jesus has been teaching them and us this week, she is the living embodiment of the gospel.