Being Perfect: context

BePerfectMatthew 5:38-48  38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. 40 If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. 41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? 48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Context. This week’s gospel continues the movement through the first of the Matthean discourses, commonly known as the “Sermon on the Mount” begun on the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time with the Beatitudes. At a broad stroke, Matthew 5-7 are an expose of Jesus’ authoritative teaching; Chapters 8-9 are pericopes of his authoritative deeds.

Continue reading

Calling Disciples: the kingdom of heaven

Calling disciplesThe Kingdom of Heaven. 21 He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, 22 and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him. 23 He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.

“The kingdom of heaven” is uniquely Matthew’s phrase. He often uses it in place of Mark’s “kingdom of God.” Perhaps, if we assume a Jewish background for Matthew, it is a way of avoiding saying and thus possibly misusing the name of God.

Basileia can refer to the area ruled by a king; or it can refer to the power or authority to rule as king. We probably shouldn’t interpret the “kingdom of heaven” as a place — such as the place we go when we die; but as the ruling power that emanates from heaven. One commentator translates the phrase: “heaven rules”. Continue reading

Calling Disciples: command and promise

Calling disciplesFishing. 18 As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.

Clearly Jesus is calling the disciples to a life with him. But every “calling to” is by default a “calling from” in some sense. Fishing was not as easy as getting a boat and having at it. Fishing was controlled by the “powers that be” in two ways. (1) Commercial fishermen worked for the royal family or wealthy landlords who contracted with them to provide a specific amount of fish at a certain time. They were paid either with cash or with fish. (2) Fishermen leased their fishing rights from persons called “toll collectors” in the NT for a percentage of the catch. The “tax” could be as much as 40% (see Malina & Rohrbach, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, p. 44). Continue reading

Calling Disciples: fulfillment and calling

Calling disciplesAfter being identified as the Son of God in the baptism account (3:13–17) and after proving what kind of Son of God he is (4:1–11), Jesus journeys from Judea to Galilee in order to begin his public ministry (4:12–17). In the course of this journey Jesus will call his core disciples (vv.18-22) and witness to his proclamation with powerful deeds (vv.23-25). His journey will cover the wilderness of Judea and the towns of Galilee.

But all this begins with the barest of comments: “When he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.” (v.12) The word used for arrest (paradidomi) almost becomes the technical term for Jesus’ “betrayal”. There are parallels between the fates of John and Jesus. At this point we do not know why John was arrested or by whom until (cf. 14:1-12.) Yet, his arrest strongly suggests that the powers from Jerusalem reacted negatively to his practice of baptism, his call for repentance, and the proclamation that the kingdom was upon them. The authorities must have not have shared the hope of the kingdom’s coming but that rather viewed it all as a threat. Jesus’ proclamation (v. 17) is exactly the same as John’s (3:2). It is not likely to go well for Jesus. Continue reading

Calling Disciples: a context

Calling disciplesThird Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 4:12-23(25) 

12 When he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: 15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, 16 the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.” 17 From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 18 As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. 19 He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 21 He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, 22 and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him. 23 He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. Continue reading

Baptism of the Lord: meaning

English: Baptism of JesusMatthew 3: 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” 15 Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. 16 After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him. 17 And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The First Temptation of Christ. Brian Stoffregen has an interesting insight about righteousness as “do, perform” what God requires of us.

John, by trying to prevent the baptism, tempts Jesus not to do all that God requires of him. He tempts Jesus to assume his proper position now: to be the more powerful one; to baptize with the judgmental Holy Spirit and fire; to meet John’s need. I don’t think that these are too dissimilar to the devil’s temptations that occur immediately after the baptism (4:1-11) — temptations for Jesus to use his power now, for his own glory; and avoid his emptying and eventually the pain and suffering of the cross.

Continue reading

Baptism of the Lord: fulfillment

Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jo...Matthew 3: 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” 15 Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. 16 After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him. 17 And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

John and Jesus in Dialogue.  As John the Baptist mysteriously appeared in the wilderness, so too Jesus. John appeared proclaiming: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (3:2).  It was a very public appeal to which people responded: “Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins” (3:5–6.) Jesus appears on the scene and Matthew makes it clear that Jesus’ purpose is to be baptized by John (v.13). Continue reading

Holy Family – a commentary

Russian icon of the Flight into Egypt; the bot...The Flight into Egypt. 13 When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” 14 Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. 15 He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Overall, the passage serves to establish the key themes mentioned previously as it points to the larger events playing out even as God’s plan unfolds out of site in a faraway land. Having already alerted readers to the nefarious plans of Herod, we are not surprised when again (v.13) the angel appears to Joseph in a dream telling him to take the child Jesus to safety. The very similar wording to that in Mt 1:20 (the dream to Joseph to take Mary into his home) indicates that all continues in God’s careful direction of events by supernatural revelations; the parallel revelation in a dream to the magi (v. 12) has secured time for the family’s escape. The angel’s message begins with exactly the same words as in v.20, “Rise, take the child and his mother …”  Joseph’s action exactly matches the angelic instruction, while his setting off at night underlines the urgency of the situation (traveling by night was exceptional and potentially more dangerous). It also demonstrates Joseph’s exemplary obedience, which did not allow him even to delay until daylight. Continue reading

Holy Family – a context

Russian icon of the Flight into Egypt; the bot...Matthew 2:13-23. The Flight into Egypt 13 When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” 14 Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. 15 He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 16 When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.”

19 When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee. 23 He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazorean.”

Context.  The material in chapter 2 is unique to Matthew. It can be divided into four parts with each of them containing an OT quote, probably added by Matthew into traditional oral narrative material:

  • vv. 1-12 – The Visit of the Magi – with a quote from Micah 5:2
  • vv. 13-15 – The Escape to Egypt – with a quote from Hosea 11:1
  • vv. 16-18 – The Killing of the Children – with a quote from Jeremiah 31:15
  • vv. 19-23 – The Return from Egypt – with a quote from the prophets echoing Hos 11:1; it should be notes that “He shall be called a Nazorean” does not in fact occur anywhere in the OT, nor, as far as we know, in any other contemporary literature.   Continue reading

Prayer, Seeking, Asking

English: Saint Luke the Evangelist. Russian Ea...

Luke 11:1-13 – The Lord’s Prayer

With the geographical note, “in a certain place” Luke has
separated this narrative from the immediate context of Chapter 10 (the
conclusion of the mission of the 72, the parable of the Good Samaritan,
and the encounter with Martha and Mary). Luke now presents three
episodes concerned with prayer:

  • the first (Luke 11:1–4) recounts Jesus teaching his disciples the Christian communal prayer,
  • the “Our Father”; the second (Luke 11:5–8), the importance of persistence in prayer; and
  • the third (Luke 11:9–13), the effectiveness of prayer.

The Matthean form of the “Our Father” occurs in the “Sermon on the
Mount” (Matthew 6:9–15); the shorter Lucan version is presented while
Jesus is at prayer and his disciples ask him to teach them to pray just
as John taught his disciples to pray. In answer to their question, Jesus
presents them with an example of a Christian communal prayer that
stresses the fatherhood of God and acknowledges him as the one to whom
the Christian disciple owes daily sustenance, forgiveness, and
deliverance from the final trial. Continue reading