The Pharisees’ Invisible Hand: Proper 17, Year A

Matthew 23

Matthew’s “condemnation of the pharisees,” also appears in Luke, but not in Mark.  The source for this diatribe is most likely Q, but Matthew expands on the theme to an extent not found in Luke.  Regardless of the original source, or where it appears, the Elves disregard the controversy completely.  One verse (Matthew 23:5-7) is read in Proper 26, Year B (Mark 12:38-39):

        Everything they do, they do for show. So they widen their phylacteries and enlarge their tassels.  They love the best couches at banquets and prominent seats in synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces, and they like to be called “Rabbi” by everyone.

Mark’s setting for this sarcastic description of the conduct of the pharisees is a scene outside the Temple in Jerusalem in which he watches a poor widow drop her last coin into the collection box (see “Widows might not,” which is even more relevant today).…

On Resurrection: Proper 16, Year A

Matthew 22:23-33; 1 Corinthians 15; Revelation 21:1-8

Much of the end of the Gospel of Matthew is normally considered during Lent and Easter.  Commentary on those readings that are included in the Revised Common Lectionary may be found in the highlights for Year A.  However, portions of these last chapters are routinely skipped by the Elves either because they are covered more traditionally in Mark and Luke, or because they do not fall into the orthodox belief system promulgated by the RCL.  The discussion on the resurrection in Matthew 22:23-33 is lifted word-for-word from Mark, and repeated in Luke.  Luke’s version is the only one that is read, as the Christian liturgical year winds down to the triumphalism of Christ the King Sunday, and – insistence on an actual season of Advent notwithstanding – the Christmas season begins.

The “Resurrection” of Jesus is the defining story of Christianity.  But what does it mean in a post-modern, post-Enlightenment, even post-Christian world, in which science leaves little room for meaningful metaphor?  Logos has been trumping Mythos since Mark first set down the story:…

Tea Parties and Fig Trees: A Parable for Today – Proper 15, Year A

Mark 11:12-14; 20-25
Matthew 21:14-22

The Fig Tree parable is never read if the Revised Common Lectionary is followed, whether one uses the version in Mark or in Matthew (Luke left it out altogether). The “triumphal entry into Jerusalem” and the famous incident in which “Jesus cleanses the Temple” are the foundations for Christianity’s “Holy Week.”  The accompanying scene in which Jesus curses a fig tree for not having figs out of season is ignored as not important.  After all, Jesus is looking at a very bad week ahead, so perhaps he can be excused for taking it out on a stupid tree.…

Debt, Lies, and Fantasy Land: Proper 14, Year A

Matthew 20:20-34

The Elves deal with chapters 21-29 of Matthew’s gospel starting at the end of September, and ending with the “Reign of Christ” on the Sunday before Advent.  Past commentary on these chapters and their accompanying lectionary readings focus on Parousia – the Coming of the Lord – and the relevance of that metaphor to post-modern exiles from Christian traditional belief.  Portions of these chapters are skipped by the Elves because Matthew lifted Mark’s story nearly word-for-word, and Mark is considered the definitive gospel.

Matthew 20:20-23 is one of those skipped passages.  It differs from Mark’s version in two details.  In Matthew’s scene, Jesus has just explained to the disciples that once they reach Jerusalem, he will be sentenced to death, tortured, killed, and raised on the third day.  In Mark’s version, James and John react to this horrifying news by demanding that once he has been raised to God’s heaven, Jesus designate one to sit on his right hand and one on his left – the places of honor, in ancient royal protocol.  In Matthew’s version, the disciples are not so crass.  Instead of making the request themselves, Matthew has their mother do it.  Matthew’s Jesus then says, “You have no idea what you’re asking for.  Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?”  He omits the reference to baptism that Mark’s Jesus adds: “[Can you] undergo the baptism that I am undergoing?” Of course they answer, “Yes we can!”  Cue the famous hymn by Earl Marlatt (1926) set to music composed in 1924 by Harry Mason. The romantic piety approaches the insufferable. …