The kingdom at hand: repent

john-the-baptistLuke introduces the ministry of John the Baptist with a careful historical introduction listing the year, the emperor, the rulers of the surrounding territories, and the high priest who was in office. Matthew introduces John’s ministry with a very general, “in those days.” The point is not that Matthew was unaware of the interval of about thirty years that he is passing over. Rather, his purpose was to show that the birth of Christ and the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry are part of the same flow of God’s activity in salvation history. There are two major sections within this passage. Verses 1-6 introduce the ministry of John the Baptist while verses 7-12 summarize the message of John. Continue reading

Mustard Seed and Yeast

mustard plantsThe Mustard Seed and Yeast. There is much debate over the meaning of these two short parables. Some Christians believe that the imagery of the parables is meant to portray the presence of evil within professing Christendom. This is due primarily to an understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven as a “mystery” encompassing Christendom, understood as organized Christianity. Christendom as a whole contains evil elements mixed with the good, so both parables are usually viewed as picturing that evil. The birds nesting in the mustard tree are unbelievers. It is also pointed out that yeast is often a symbol of evil (Exod 12:15, 19; Matt 16:6, 11–12; 1 Cor 5:6–8; Gal 5:9; but see Lev 7:13–14; 23:17) and asserted that the parable of the yeast portrays the growth of evil within Christendom. This view of the parables is often held in conscious opposition to a view which understands the images of the growth of the Kingdom in the two parables as indicating the ultimate conversion of the world to Christianity before Christ returns. Continue reading

Our impatience with weeds

wheatOur Impatience with the Weeds. The landowner (God) is quite patient and accepts that there will be “weeds” among the harvest – it is the lot of the human enterprises. Some people do not/will not/cannot hear the Word sown in to their lives. The laborers in the parable are quick to want to eradicate the poison. I think history has shown that we reach beyond our calling – not to simply point out error – but to extinguish the source and root of that error. In the first centuries of the Church, when some of the epic battles over theological orthodoxy and heresy were waged, executions were not part of the Church’s response. There might be condemnation, banishment and loss of position, but people were not put to death. Yet a millennia later the island nation of England has its book of Protestant and Catholic martyrs as witness to our human reaction to “weeds” among us, despite the Gospel message. Continue reading

Wheat and the Tares

wheatCommentary. Although our gospel text does not seem to indicate the audience, v.34 (All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables) does make it clear that the hearers are not the disciples alone, but that the crowd is again and active participant. Given the disciples’ question: “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (v.10) and the fact that Jesus is again speaking in parables, it is clear that a larger audience is present.

Weeds Among the Wheat. This parable is unique to Matthew and unlike the other evangelists who also tell a pericope of the “Sower and the Seed,” Matthew’s use and placement of this unique parable seems to serve as a reinforcement of the themes of on-going conversion (understanding, action, joy, perseverance in suffering brought about by tribulation or persecution, and ultimately bearing fruit superabundantly. The context of the parable is clearly “in the world” that place where anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit (v.22). Continue reading

The Kingdom of Heaven: context

wheatMatthew 13:24–3324 He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. 26 When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. 27 The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” 31 He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. 32 It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’” 33 He spoke to them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Continue reading

For Whom Are You Looking: a final thougth

Matthew 11:2-11. 2 When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him 3 with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 4 Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. 6 And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. 9 Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he..

Some Final Thoughts. Within the narrative of Matthew, John the Baptists helps establish the identity of Jesus – something especially key during the Advent Season. “Whose birth are we preparing for, anyway?”  And this is as important a question for us in our day as it was in the life and time of John the Baptist. Continue reading

For Whom Are You Looking: the herald

Jesus meets John the Baptist

 

The Third Sunday of Advent

 

Matthew 11:2-11. 2 When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him 3 with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 4 Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. 6 And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. 9 Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

 

Jesus’ View of John. John’s preaching had created a sensation (see 3:5), and the movement into the wilderness had been a remarkable phenomenon. Jesus now examines its motives, to show the real significance of John. The series of three questions and answers suggests motives progressively closer to a true understanding of John. A reed shaken by the wind is a metaphor for a weak, pliable person; John was not such a person, and the implied answer is ‘Of course not’. It was John’s rugged independence which attracted a following. Nor was he dressed in fine clothing; far from it, as 3:4 shows. It was as a man conspicuously separate from the royal palace that attracted them. (There may be an ironical reference to his present residence in a ‘royal palace’—as a prisoner of conscience in Herod’s fortress) His rough clothing in fact points to his real role, as a prophet (see 3:4), and the crowds would gladly have accepted this description of John. But even that is not enough. Continue reading

For Whom Are You Looking: tell what you see and hear

Icon of Jesus Christ from the Cathedral of Hag...

 

The Third Sunday of Advent

 

Matthew 11:2-11. 2 When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him 3 with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 4 Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. 6 And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. 9 Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he..

 

Commentary. The Baptist, whose proclamation introduced Matthew’s presentation of the Messiah (3:1–12), is now appropriately called as the first witness to the meaning of Jesus’ ministry. Yet John’s response is equivocal, positive but uncertain. Nonetheless his is a preparatory role for the true time of fulfillment. John remains the one who points forward, even if uncertain. Continue reading

For Whom Are You Looking: Context

Icon of Jesus Christ from the Cathedral of Hag...

The Third Sunday in Advent

Matthew 11:2-11. 2 When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him 3 with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 4 Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. 6 And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. 9 Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Context. The “works of the Christ” (Mt 11:2), which have been set out in chapters 5–10, provoked different responses from different groups. These responses, most of which consist of misunderstanding if not outright rejection, are examined in chapters 11–12, and explained in the parables of chapter 13. Further examples of the response to Jesus will occur in chapters 14–16, until the true response is found in Peter’s confession in 16:13–20, which will bring the second main part of Matthew’s Gospel to its climax. This is the thread which runs through these chapters. Through them we are led from a view of Jesus as others saw him to the true confession of him as Messiah which eluded most of his contemporaries, conditioned as they were by erroneous or inadequate ideas of the Messiah. Continue reading

The Advent of Vigilance – Hopes and Dreams

Year C: First Sunday of AdventMatthew 24:37-44: 37 For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 In (those) days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. 39 They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be (also) at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42 Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. 43 Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. 44 So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

What disciples should be doing. The practical conclusion to be drawn from vv. 36–41 is that of constant readiness, which will also be the focus of the rest of the chapter and of 25:1–13. The point of vv. 36–42 is summed up in a little parable (paralleled in Luke 12:39–40). If house-breakers (broken into is literally ‘dug through’, an easy mode of entry into a mud-walled house) gave prior warning, no-one would be caught out.  In a rather bold analogy, the Son of man, like the burglar, does not advertise the time of his arrival. The only precaution, therefore, is constant readiness. In view of such plain statements as this it is interesting that some Christians still attempt to work out the date of the parousia.

But this is Advent… So far we have looked at this gospel in its Matthean context. But what about it use on the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the Liturgical Year?  If last Sunday (Christ the King Sunday) represents a culmination of things – when Christ reigns above all – then what are we to make of the First Sunday in Advent?  Do we go back to the beginning and again work our way through the year until Christ is again King?

Yes…in way. The beginning is not the birth of Jesus. The beginning is the advent (the coming) of Jesus as the fulfillment of the promise of God and thus the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people. This is the first Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Expectation and Hope. The Old Testament Lectionary reading for this first Sunday of Advent is Isaiah 2:1-5.

This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come, The mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us climb the LORD’S mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!”Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Israel had a troubled history. She was a tiny nation wedged between huge and ambitious empires that were constantly vying for superiority. Israel had few times during her 700-year history in which she did not live under threat. Wars were almost constant, some were devastating. For much of her existence she lived under the sovereignty of some other nation, unable or sometimes unwilling to establish her own existence in the world as God’s people.

In the time of Isaiah of Jerusalem, Judah was a vassal state of Assyria. During Isaiah’s lifetime the Assyrians would sweep in and totally annihilate the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and threaten to do the same to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Judah had weak leaders who saw it more politically expedient to appease the Empire than to be faithful to God.

And yet there were those like Isaiah who could envision a different reality, who could hope for a time when Israel would be faithful and allow God to be God. Israel was weary of war and threat, weary of the divisions that had torn her country apart after Solomon, weary of the instability of a world in which power and the oppression that it brings were the controlling factors in the world. Some like Isaiah knew that God’s vision of the world was much different. They knew that the God they served was the same God who had heard the cries of oppressed slaves in Egypt and entered history to relieve their oppression. And they knew that because God was such a God, he would not forever tolerate oppression in the world.

And so they hoped. And they dreamed. They dreamed of a time when God would enter the world and bring an end to war and suffering, when he would establish his reign on earth and restore all creation to what he intended it to be. They dreamed of a time when the division that had torn their people apart and divided them into north and south might be healed, and they could once again be a whole people under God.

This is the context of the cautionary tale of Matthew’s gospel on this first Sunday of Advent. Those things hoped for and dreamed about are at the door – so “Wake Up!” and be prepared for the time when we will “allow God to be God.”  And be prepared that God will be God – even if it is in ways we cannot imagine. A King in swaddling clothes.  Who’d have thought.

Notes

Matthew 24:37 it will be like it was in Noah’s day. Humans living in the days preceding Jesus’ return will be as unaware of it as Noah’s contemporaries were of the flood (Gen 6:5ff; Isa 54:9; cf. 2 Pet 2:5; 3:6). The timing of God’s judgment in both instances is totally unanticipated. The analogy with the days of Noah suggests that judgment is to be a feature of the coming of the Son of man. But the main point is the unpreparedness of Noah’s contemporaries. Whereas Noah and his family were ready, everyone else carried on oblivious to the threat of judgment, and so, while Noah was saved, they were swept away. The implication is that it is possible to prepare for the parousia, not by calculating its date, but by a life of constant readiness and response to God’s warnings and teaching. There will apparently be only two categories, the prepared (and therefore saved) and the unprepared (and therefore lost).

Matthew 24:37 coming: parousía  The general meaning of parousía is “presence,” specifically “active presence” (e.g., of representatives or troops, in person; cf. 2 Cor. 10:10). In Hellenistic writings it referred to the visit of rulers or high officials. The word has no exact parallels in Hebrew, but similar terms (“to be present” and “to come”) are plentiful and point to the coming of the end of time (Lam. 4:18), end of evil (Prov. 1:27), or of the day of redemption (Is. 63:4) or recompense (Dt. 32:35). Above all, God comes draws near to his people. (e.g., Gen. 16:13–14; 28:18; 2 Sam. 24:25). The entry of the ark is God’s coming (1 Sam. 4:6–7). But God is not tied to places; he may come in dreams (Gen. 20:3), theophanies (18:1ff.), clouds and storms, visions, the quiet breath (1 Kgs. 19:12–13), and in his Word or Spirit (Num. 22:9; 24:2). The OT refers to God’s coming as World King (Dt. 32:2ff). He is king forever and ever in Ex. 15:18. He will finally assume full kingship (Is. 2:2). His coming as world king will mean the creating of a new heaven and earth (Is. 66:15) and universal peace and joy (Is. 2:2ff.; 65:21ff.; 66:10ff.). The concept also refers to the coming of the Messiah whose main task is to establish peace (Zech. 9:9–10). This coming has a universal sweep and is historical, but with eschatological aspects (Dan. 7:13). In the Psalms the stress is on God’s coming, not that of the Messiah. The place of the parousía concept in the NT is that Jesus has come already, but so strong is the hope of his coming in glory that the word is not used for his first coming. There is not a twofold parousía.

Matthew 24:37 Son of Man: In Matthew, as in all the other Gospels, the title which Jesus uses to describe his own mission is usually ‘the Son of man’. Matthew’s recording of this title differs little from that by Mark and Luke. None of them use it themselves in narrative or comment, but all agree that Jesus made frequent use of it, and, most remarkably, that when the title ‘Christ’ was offered to him, he substituted ‘the Son of man’ (26:64).

This is not the place to give a full account of the voluminous and continuing debate about this title. Even the description of it as a ‘title’ is controversial, as the phrase ‘a son of man’ in Hebrew and Aramaic means simply a human being. When God addresses Ezekiel frequently as ‘Son of man’ (Ezek. 2:1, 3; 3:1; etc.) it is as ‘man’ in contrast with God, almost meaning ‘little man’! (Cf. also Pss. 8:4; 80:17.) In later Aramaic a similar phrase came to be used sometimes, rather like the English ‘one’, to refer to oneself or (occasionally) someone else, in contexts where modesty or prudence made a direct statement undesirable. But the phrase ‘the Son of man’ seems to demand a more specific content than that, especially when it is seen that Jesus uses the phrase predominantly in discussing the nature of his specific mission, not the lot of men in general.

But there is no clear evidence that the phrase ‘the Son of man’ was used thus as a title in any Jewish literature before the time of Jesus. It is therefore likely that Jesus developed this strange usage himself, perhaps deliberately in order to avoid a familiar title (such as ‘Messiah’) which would already have carried its own meaning for Jesus’ hearers.

It is a strange usage: the Greek phrase ho hyios tou anthrōpou is as unnatural as the English, and the Aramaic phrase bar-nāšā’ would not normally be used, as Jesus always used it, with a definite article. It seems most likely that Jesus ‘coined’ the title on the basis of the vision of ‘one like a son of man’ in Daniel 7:13 (a passage to which he frequently referred in explaining his mission: see on 10:23; 16:27–28; 19:28; 24:30; 25:31; 26:64; 28:18); in Daniel this is no title, simply a description of a human figure (as opposed to an animal) in a vision, but Jesus’ definite article functions virtually as a demonstrative, ‘that Son of man’, i.e. the one described in Daniel 7:13–14, which Jesus clearly saw as a figure for his own mission.

But while the phrase was probably derived from reflection on Daniel 7:13f., Jesus’ use of it as a title for himself extends far beyond what that passage suggests. In addition to the future glory and triumph depicted in Daniel 7:13–14, Jesus uses the phrase particularly in predicting his own rejection, suffering and death, a theme which Daniel 7 alone would not have required. Further, he speaks of his ministry on earth, both in its humiliation (e.g. 8:20) and in its authority (e.g. 9:6; 12:8), under this title. It is, then, a wide-ranging term whose content is fixed not by any predetermined meaning as a title (for it had none), but by the breadth of Jesus’ own understanding of his unique mission. [France, 46-47]

Matthew 24:41 taken: paralambánō. the term is used for the reception of Christ by the world (Jn. 1:11) and for acceptance into the kingdom of Christ

Sources -Commentaries

  • Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994) pp.
  • Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000)  pp. 486
  • R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 1, ed. Leon Morris  (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989) pp.351-2
  • Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 341-47
  • Daniel J. Harrington, “Matthew” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) p.897
  • John P. Meier, Matthew, New Testament Message 3 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990)
  • D. Turner and D.L. Bock, Matthew and Mark in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 11 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005) pp. 319-20
  • G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos, 2007) pp. 373-76
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com

Dictionaries

  • G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, eds. ,Theological dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995).
    G. Delling, paralambánō, 4:5-15.
    A. Oepke, parousía, 5:858–71

Scripture –  Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC.