Living Out the Covenant Part I: 8th Sunday in Epiphany

Matthew 8:14-9:38; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5: 11; 1 Corinthians 7:29-30; 15

In this interval between the Sermon on the Mount and the discourse on what the followers of Jesus are supposed to do on the road, Matthew continues to show Jesus healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, and exorcising demons.

Mark and Luke both refer to the Gadarenes demon as “Legion” – which may be a clear reference to the demonic circumstances the people experienced at the hands of the Roman occupiers.  But Matthew does not refer to the “Legion.”  He removes the anti-Roman bias in Mark and Luke, and reduces the story from liberation to exorcism.   He has two possessed men hanging out in the tombs, preventing passers-by from using the road.  Are Mark and Luke better story tellers, or is Matthew more interested in promoting Jesus as the new Moses and reinventing Torah than in subverting Roman authority?…

A Cosmology of Trust: 7th Sunday in Epiphany

Matthew 8:1-17; Galatians 1:1-12, 2:16

Matthew’s Jesus now comes down from the mountain and gets into the work of healing and teaching.  Matthew’s Chapter 8 is not covered by the Revised Common LectionaryThe Elves prefer either Mark or Luke, both of which deal with the same material:  curing the leper; curing the Roman officer’s slave long-distance; speculating on who gets to hobnob with patriarchs; curing Peter’s mother-in-law; and describing how the crowds brought their demon-possessed friends and family members to Jesus.  The differences are found in the settings.  See, for example, Mark’s version of the cleansing of the leper (Epiphany 6, Year B).

The story of the unusual trust afforded to Jesus by the Roman soldier (traditionally, a centurion, who commanded about 80 men)  appears in Matthew, Luke, and John, but not in Mark.  Perhaps the reason is that the story illustrates the expansion of the Jesus movement outside Judaism in the years after the fall of Jerusalem.  In Matthew’s setting, Jesus is amazed at the centurion’s trust, which, he says, “I have not found in a single Israelite!” He predicts that “many will come from the east and west and dine with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in Heaven’s domain, but those who think Heaven’s domain belongs to them will be thrown where it is utterly dark.  There’ll be weeping and grinding of teeth out there.”  As always, with the writer of Matthew’s gospel, anti-Semitism might seem to be lurking beneath the surface.  What is actually reflected, however, is the schism between the Jewish followers of Jesus’ Way and traditional Jewish communities.

The Elves associate Galatians 1:1-12 with Luke’s version of the centurion story (Luke 7:1-10).  Luke does not have Jesus condemn to hell “those who think Heaven’s domain belongs to them,” while outsiders from the east and the west get to hobnob with the patriarchs.  Nevertheless, the Elves seem to be insisting that “if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!” (Galatians 1:9, NRSV) – as though they were reading Luke and Paul with Matthew’s exclusionary language in mind.  (See A Different Gospel? and Outside, Not Above, the Law.)

That such sentiments are completely contrary to the historical Jesus should be obvious.…

A House of Justice Built on Bedrock – End of Sermon: 6th Sunday in Epiphany

Deuteronomy 11:18-28; Romans 1:16-17; 3:22b-31; Matthew 7:12-29

The Elves have scheduled Matthew 7:21-29 for Epiphany 9.  Because this blog is going straight through the Gospel of Matthew in Year A, readers can get a jump on the rest of Christendom.

The writer of Matthew finishes Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount with a flourish of piety, almost as though the writer knew very well that the radicality of Jesus’ insistence that God’s realm belongs to the poor, not the rich, and that trust in God’s universe is all one needs for abundant life is not only impractical.  Living like that is impossible under the kind of Roman oppression that Matthew’s community were likely suffering, after the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.

His epilogue begins with Jesus suggesting people follow the Golden Rule – hardly an original thought.  He warns that the gateway into God’s realm is narrow, but the road to destruction is wide and smooth.  Most people opt for the easy way – again, not particularly newsworthy.  He says, watch out for phony prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Matthew then mixes his metaphors, saying that you will know who the wolves are by what they produce.  At this point, Matthew’s Jesus goes apocalyptic, threatening that “every tree that does not produce choice fruit gets cut down and tossed on the fire” (Matthew 7:12-20).  This part is never read in Matthew, but is picked up in Luke’s setting (6:20-49; All Saints and Epiphany 7 and 8, Year C).  If – as happened in 2007 – there are only seven Sundays in Epiphany, and the church concentrates on Transfiguration on the seventh Sunday, then these portions of Matthew and Luke may never be considered at all.  But perhaps it does not matter.  Matthew’s conventional wisdom needs no interpretation.…

Ask, Seek, Knock: Fifth Sunday in Epiphany

Matthew 7:7-11; 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2

Scholars have suggested that after Jesus’ death, his disciples and followers developed two streams of thought or action.  One was to memorize and memorialize Jesus’ sayings, and apply his teachings to a particular way of life.  Another was to memorialize and give meaning to Jesus’ death.  We might call the first the Kingdom movements, represented by the Q and Thomas communities who collected and preserved the sayings and stories about Jesus.  The second we might call the way of the cross, represented by the Apostle Paul and the leaders in Jerusalem such as James and Peter.  Eventually, the two streams were brought together by the Gospel writers.  It is possible that the gospel writers had access to Paul’s thought, if not his actual letters.  The opposite, however, is impossible to determine.  Paul never quotes Jesus in his letters to the communities he founded.  He is not concerned with Jesus’ teachings.  He is consumed with the transformation in human life that is the result of God’s radical action in accepting the crucified man Jesus as his anointed representative.

Jesus speaks of complete confidence in the covenant with God’s commonwealth.  Paul says that the Corinthians should not let the gift of God’s favor go to waste.  The time is now, the day of deliverance from the corrupting influence of conventional life has arrived.…