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The Modern Reader's Guide to the Gospels by William Hamilton


William Hamilton is Associate Professor of Theology at Colgate Rochester Divinity School, and a Baptist minister. Before joining the Colgate Rochester faculty, he was Dean of Chapel, Hamilton College. The Modern Reader’s Guide to the Gospels was published by the Association Press in 1960. It was copyrighted by National Board Of Young Men’s Christian Association in 1959. He is the author also of The Christian Man. This material prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.


Chapter 3: The Ministry in Galilee according to Matthew and Luke


In this section we shall be dealing with some of the material in Matthew, Chapters 3 through 18; and in Luke, 3:1-9:50. This is parallel to the first nine chapters of Mark. By noting the biblical references following the paragraph titles, the reader will be able to distinguish between what Luke alone has, what Matthew alone has, what Luke and Matthew have in common, and what they take from Mark.

1. John the Baptist, Matthew 3:7-21 and Luke 3:7-20 (compare Mark 1:1-8)

a. His preaching of repentance, Matthew 3:7-10 and Luke 3:7-9

Mark merely refers to John’s preaching of repentance, but Matthew and Luke give us an example of it. The message is prophetic, and John compares the hearers to snakes fleeing from a forest fire. There will be no privileged position for the Jews as children of Abraham, for God does not need them. The time of judgment and decision is now.

b. His messianic preaching, Matthew 3:11-12 and Luke 3:10-18

Matthew and Luke both have John point beyond himself to a greater one who will follow him, one who will baptize not with water but with the Spirit. In 3:10-14, Luke adds some of John's ethical teaching, but it seems perfunctory and not particularly demanding, especially when compared to Jesus' teaching on wealth and on love of enemies.

2. Jesus' baptism, Matthew 3:13-17 and Luke 3:21-22 (compare Mark 1:9-11)

Notice that while Mark clearly states that John baptized Jesus, Luke does not specifically say so, and Matthew feels some need (3:14-15) to explain why a sinless Christ should submit to a baptism requiring repentance. Three decisive points are made in the three images here: the heavens are opened; the Spirit descends, giving Jesus power to perform his work; and the voice of God speaks, defining Jesus as a unique Son of God.

 3. Jesus' temptation, Matthew 4:1-li and Luke 4:1-13 (compare Mark 1:12-13)

This is probably a description that Jesus gave to his disciples of his inner struggles about the meaning of his messiahship. Apart from the fact that the order of the second and third temptation differs in Matthew and Luke, their accounts are similar. No doubt about the messiahship is expressed, but only the temptation to have it take an easy and successful form: to become a mere provider of bread and physical need; to be a mere wonderworker and so to coerce people into belief; or to become a political messiah claiming sovereignty over the nations of the earth. We have already noted that as early as Luke 2:41-52 the tension between suffering and Sonship is present; here the problem is the acceptance of a messiahship without suffering. This struggle must be seen as a real one, and one that was costly and difficult to overcome. Matthew follows his temptation story with a brief description of Jesus' first teaching (4:17, compare Mark 1:15), having first pointed to Jesus' fulfillment of a saying from Isaiah 9:1-2. Luke simply indicates that Jesus returned from the wilderness and began to teach (4:14-15).

 4. The rejection at Nazareth, Luke 4:16-30

Instead of including at this point a summary of Jesus' message, Matthew did, Luke illustrates Jesus at work.

Synagogue worship included a regular reading from the law (which was required to be read through every three years) reading and exposition of the prophets. Jesus is invited to read and expound from the prophets. "The acceptable year of the Lord" in the prophet's words referred to the future; Jesus here proclaim that this messianic age is now at hand, fulfilled in his own person. The popular response in Luke 4:20 begins with admiration, ends in perplexity and hostility. Verses 23-27 are confusing, bu apparently the Old Testament references are designed to meet the objection that Jesus should have performed his acts of healing his own native village. Verse 30 implies a miraculous escape. Many of the motifs of Luke's whole two-volume work are contained in this narrative: the Old Testament background of Jesus' message; the Gospel preached to the poor; the arrival of the messianic age, the hostility of the Jews to his message, and their final rejection of him, climaxed by a miraculous act of deliverance.

5. The call of the disciples, Matthew 4:18-22 (compare Mark 1:16-20)

The theme of the Gospel is announced in Matthew 4:17, and to carry out its purpose, Jesus calls together a group. Note the startling immediacy of their response.

6. A group of healings, Luke 4:31-43 (compare Mark 1:21-38)

At this point Luke, though not Matthew, introduces a group of healing stories as a description of the power of the new Gospel that Jesus is proclaiming. The man in the synagogue (4:31-37) who has an unclean spirit seems to recognize Jesus as the Son of God.

Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-39), and later in the evening when the Sabbath was officially over and the Jews could approach Jesus without fear, he heals others (verses 40-41). The next morning he withdraws for prayer, as is his custom, but he is interrupted. There is a striking note of urgency and even impatience here, but there is the deeper hint that the work of preaching is more important than that of healing. Notice in verse 43 that Jesus declares himself to have been sent by God only for the purpose of preaching the Gospel of the kingdom.

 7. The miraculous catch of fish, Luke 5:1-11

This is somewhat confusing, for we have a very similar story in John 21:4-14, which concerns the risen Christ and serves as a highly symbolic prediction of the ultimate success of the Christian mission. Here Luke sets aside any symbolic meaning, and uses the story as his version of the call of the disciples. it is hard to know if the story was originally a postresurrection one; here, in any case, it is the description of the response of Peter, James, and John, to Jesus' invitation.

8. The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:1-7:29; and the Sermon on the Plain, Luke 6:20-49

Matthew and Luke have both collected a number of instances of Jesus' teaching, and placed them at this strategic point in their gospels. We need not suppose that this material was delivered at a single time or place. A word might be said about the kind of ethical teaching we have here. What is the relation of this teaching to the ordinary moral practices of society? Today people are always saying that their business practices, their foreign policies, their personal lives, are based on the Sermon on the Mount. Are we supposed to act in the ways indicated here? Are lawbreakers never to be punished, wars never to be fought, beggars to be given money indiscriminately? Jesus demands conduct without any thought of reciprocity; he demands perfection (Matthew 5:48). This demand is not based on what others might do, on practicability, or on consequences, but on what God has done and on what He is like. This body of teaching does not precisely answer the question: What am I to do in society? The question it answers is, What is God's absolute and radical will?

So even if this is impracticable in a law-court sense, it is binding. That is to say, nothing short of it is God's will. It is more like a compass than a map.

a. Who is the citizen of the kingdom, and what is he like? (Matthew 5:1-16 and Luke, scattered)


I. The beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-22, Luke 6:20-23) and the woes (Luke 6:24-26)

In both Matthew and Luke, the teaching is addressed to the disciples. The beatitudes, and all the descriptions of the new man contained here, are meant to describe what God's will is for one who has chosen the kingdom of God, now breaking in upon men. We must read this today both as a judgment and a description of the Christian.

Luke has four beatitudes, Matthew nine; and Luke adds four woes, direct opposites actual of his blessings. Note that Luke refers to actual poverty and hunger, while Matthew has spiritualized the words. "Blessed" means "happy," or even, more exactly "congratulations to the poor.." It has been suggested that Matthew’s list can be divided into three parts: Matthew 3-5 indicating three contrasts with the world's standards; verses 6-9 as positive traits of the Christian life; and verses 10-12 showing the world’s inevitable reaction to this new quality introduced into it.

 2. The relation of the disciple or the citizen of the kingdom to the world (Matthew 5:13-16, and Luke 14:34-35 and 11:33)

The disciple is not irrelevant to the world, he is like salt. This does not mean that he adds a little spice to the world, though there is nothing wrong with this idea in itself. In the ancient world salt was mainly a preservative, something to keep meat, for example, from spoiling. The disciple is the clue to the world, the supreme value the world possesses. Compare Matthew 5:14 with John 8:12 — can both these be true?

Matthew 5:16 is sometimes, alas, used in Protestant churches as a prelude to the collection, but it contains the whole secret of Christian ethics. Your light must shine, of course; the Christian life is a visible one. But it must shine in a certain way, so that when men see your goodness they do not remark how good a person you are, but how great God is. And this is the problem: How do we do a good work so that our goodness is not noted by others, only God's goodness? To call attention to our goodness is exactly what is forbidden here.

h. The new law and the old, Matthew 5:17-48

1. The key to this section, Matthew 5:17-20

Jesus is not destroying the Old Testament law as the contemporary scribes are interpreting it. He means to fulfill it, to fill it full of its true and absolute meaning, to show what it really involves. To illustrate, he takes six scribal interpretations of the Old Testament and interprets each in such a way as to show what it really means for the disciple, the citizen of the kingdom, the Christian.

2. On murder, Matthew 5:21-26 (compare Luke 12:57-59)

Jesus' meaning and method can be expressed in a paraphrase. "You have been hearing the scribes say that the Old Testament commandment against murder can be fulfilled if you avoid the act of violence that society calls murder. But I tell you that the inner disposition of the heart that leads to murder is really what is prohibited here: anger, irritation, the temptation to say to someone else, 'you fool.' Do not think that your conscience is clear if you have avoided murder. The inner meaning of this commandment is that all anger that elevates you and lowers another is forbidden by God." In other words, God regards anger against one's fellow man as serious an offense as man regards murder. Here the law in Jesus' hands is a surgical instrument, probing the human heart for any trace of egotism or pride.

3. On adultery, Matthew 5:27-30 (compare 18:8-9)

Jesus continues in effect: "The scribes tell you that the commandment against adultery is kept if you avoid the overt act of adultery. But I say that the inner lust of the heart after another is at the root of the adulterous act, and that this is forbidden by God." Adultery is a form of pride, and again this basic flaw is exposed here. This, someone has said, makes adulterers of us all. Jesus probes beneath the outer act to the inner meaning. "Don't commit adultery" means "Don't lust."

4. On divorce, Matthew 5:31-32

In the Old Testament it was possible for a man to put his wife away simply by writing out a document and giving it to her. Jesus says here that God's absolute will is that marriage should be in-dissoluble. It is probable that the phrase "except on the grounds of unchastity" is a later addition to soften Jesus' original words. See Mark 10:10-12, where Jesus' actual teaching on divorce is doubtless preserved. Compare with these also Matthew 19:9 and Luke 16:18.

5. On perjury, Matthew 5:33-37

This does not refer to profanity, but to lying under oath. The scribes have said that you must tell the truth when you are under oath. But oaths are required by law because society knows that all men are liars when their own interests are concerned. So, Jesus says, the scribal law is based on the assumption that all men are liars, and therefore it is not radical enough. Truth is demanded of the disciple whether he is under oath or not. He doesn't need special oaths to guarantee his word.

6. On retaliation, Matthew 5:38-42 (see Luke 6:29-30)

The scribes say that limited retaliation is possible. If you lose an eye in a fight, you may take one eye from the one who injured you. But Jesus says, do not resist evil at all. The old law says linited retaliation is permissible; Jesus says retaliation is itself evil. Perhaps something like this is behind the analysis. The old law of retaliation, called the lex talionis, was made to limit the taking of revenge: only one eye taken for one eye lost, one tooth for one tooth. This law is made to curb human sin, for it assumes that man will, if left alone, take greater vengeance than was taken on him. But since retaliation has to be curbed by the law, it is proved to be evil. Therefore the true spirit of the law is: don't retaliate, don't be vindictive.

An interesting question to raise is this: Does this analysis apply only to a man-to-man relation? What happens when more than two are involved? If someone hits you, do you lead him to a friend of yours so that he can hit him as well? Does the introduction of a third party alter the character of the law? Is pacifism a necessary consequence of this?

7. On love of enemies (Matthew 5:43-48; see Luke 6:27-36)

The scribes were teaching that a sort of fence can be put around the word "neighbor" in such a way that those outside the fence could he called enemies. Those inside are to be loved, those outside hated, or at best, ignored. But this, Jesus says, is not the meaning of the word neighbor. Your neighbor is anyone who has a claim on you; he is everyone, and there are no enemies for the disciple (except, perhaps, in the unimportant sense of those who are hostile to you-but even this is no excuse for the disciple to refuse to serve them, for who needs love more than the loveless and hostile?).

Matthew 5:45 and Luke 6:35 state the ground for Christian love with unmistakable clarity. Note that it does not say that we should love our enemies because it is the best policy and because the power of our love might win them to our position. Nor does it say that every man has an inherent value, however deeply concealed, which our love might fan into flame. Jesus does not allow our love to depend on perceived value in the neighbor. It may be there, it may not. We are to love because we are sons of God, and he loves his children universally, regardless of their human merits or traits. The shape and direction of our love is to be that of God's love for us.

The reader may want to follow up this point. Turn first to another important definition of the neighbor in the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37; (see page 53). Note also the key passages in the New Testament that define the quality of God~s love; if our love for one another depends on his love for us, we must get very clear the nature of that love. Romans 5:8, I Corinthians 13, Ephesians 5:1-2, and I John 4:7-12, all bear special relevance to Jesus' teaching on love here.

C. spiritual discipline in the kingdom, Matthew 6:1-18

In the previous section Jesus has analyzed six scribal interpretations of the law. Here he takes three typical virtues of the Pharisees: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, and shows how easy it is to do good for the wrong reasons.

1. Almsgiving, Matthew 6:1-4

Apparently the Pharisees assumed that it was possible to gain favor in the sight of God by giving money to the poor. Jesus takes the idea of almsgiving, with all its dangers of self-display, and removes all merit from it. If you do this, he says, to gain a reward, you will get one-the praise of men, and that is all. Do good of course, but say nothing about it. It is possible, and fatally easy, to do good acts sinfully. Compare Luke 11:37-53, which is also a controversy with the Pharisees based on the question of alms.

2. Prayer, Matthew 6:5-15 (see Luke 11:2-4 for another version of the Lord's Prayer, given in a different context. See page 54)

Here Jesus again points to the self-display of the Pharisees who liked to be seen praying in public. Their piety shall be seen by men, and that is all the reward they receive. He asks his disciples to retire into the pantry (that is really the word in Matthew 6:6) and to pray quietly there.

A few questions can be raised about the content of the Lord's Prayer. "Our Father" is one of the very rare instances in the New Testament where Jesus invited all men to consider God as their Father. For the most part, Jesus is the Son, and God is his Father. Perhaps we cannot really know that God is Father until we come to him through the Son.

"Hallowed be thy name": God's name is his very nature, and that nature is holy and majestic, beyond men. Let thy kingdom now come, Jesus prays, and adds to explain the meaning, let thy will be done here and now on earth. The kingdom's present reality is as fully stressed here as is its future completion. Notice the frank concern for the physical needs of men. Give us enough food for the day; the necessities of life are as "religious" as the more exalted spiritual gifts.

Note the close relationship between human and divine forgiveness here. Can man be forgiven by God if he is himself unforgiving? But can man ever make himself forgiving enough to deserve God's forgiveness? "Temptation" means a situation in which a Christian is tempted to recant or minimize his faith. If it be thy will, Jesus asks, do not lead us into the dangers and crises of life; but when they come, he goes on, keep us from succumbing to evil.

The conclusion to the prayer, "for thine is the kingdom . ." is not found in the best manuscripts of Matthew and Luke, and is either an independent later piece of oral tradition, or a liturgical conclusion which the church added when the prayer came to be used in worship.

3. Fasting, Matthew 6:16-18

The ostentatious fasting of the Pharisees is now under scrutiny. When you undergo any form of self-discipline, Jesus says, do it gladly and keep it to yourself.

d. Simplicity and carefreeness in the kingdom, Matthew 6:19-34

Jesus here turns to the external things that God gives to man for his enjoyment: food, drink, clothes, property. The best word to sum up the Christian attitude to these things is detachment. Unlike some religions, Christianity does not condemn these things, but points out that they can readily be misused. To put God and his kingdom first (Matthew 6:33, Luke 12:31) is to be ready to forego, at any time, any of these lesser goods. We must not be anxious about them, for to trust in them too absolutely is to betray our trust in God. These lesser goods can easily become substitute gods for us if concern for them controls the whole of our lives. (It might be noted, however, that there is a vast moral difference between the secure man's over concern with his possessions and the unemployed man's anxiety about his lack of these goods. The wealthy man preaching the virtues of poverty to the poor, on the grounds that God will provide, represents a special kind of immorality.)

 

1. God and mammon, Matthew 6:19-24

Often, Jesus suggests, we accumulate possessions because of our fear of the future. But these things fall apart, they can be stolen, and many new toys soon bore us. Instead of being a form of security, they can become an added worry. Matthew 6:21 suggests the interesting idea that we can be known, and can know ourselves, by observing what we would least rather do without, what we would give the most to get. "Mammon" means possessions of any kind; owning them is not opposed here, but serving them is. Often things we think we control end up by controlling us. Verse 24 means that it is impossible to give absolute loyalty to two principles, just as it is impossible for a man to be in love with two women at the same time, if love has any real meaning at all.

2. Freedom from fear, Matthew 6:25-34 (Luke 12.22-31)

Anxiety has sometimes been called the root of all sin. if we are anxious about our self-esteem, we shall often assert ourselves in a proud way over others. Here Jesus probes to the heart of this problem. He says: Do not be anxious at all. The reason is not that it is psychologically harmful or that there are not good reasons for it (there is always reason for it, and there is probably always room for the right kind of anxiety or concern about ourselves and the world). We are not to be fundamentally anxious before God because he is to be trusted, and will care for his people. Verse 34 reminds us that the worries of tomorrow won't be the ones we expected anyway. So let us face just the present day with trust in God.

e. Judging and asking in the kingdom, Matthew 7:1-12

1. On judging, Matthew 7:1-5 (Luke 6:37-42)

In this chapter, we return to a note that we have already seen in Chapter 6: opposition to hypocrisy, perhaps the most important single element in Jesus' ethical teaching. The argument in Matthew 7: i-2 is highly compressed. Don't judge, in order that you won't be judged (by God). Why shouldn't we want to be judged? Because we shall be judged by the same standards that we use to judge others. And we could not survive that ordeal and be vindicated, for we have no merits of our own with which we could meet God's judgment. And so we are not to judge, because we could never hope to survive the judgment of God. Man's natural inclination is to judge himself very leniently, and others very harshly. The disciple is one who reverses this order. For an interesting application of this, see John 7:53 — 8:11 (printed as a footnote in the RSV).

Matthew 7:6 is an apparently irrevelant interlude. This may be an indication of Matthew’s anti-Gentile bias, and "dogs" may refer to the non-Jew.

2.On asking Matthew 7:7-12 (see Luke 11:9-13)

These familiar words contain a revolutionary idea: that "everyone" who asks will receive. This runs quite counter to the prevailing Old Testament view that God listened only to the righteous (see Psalm 34:15 if.) Here Jesus notes that God listens even to the undeserving, and gives to all who ask. not perhaps what they will, but in accordance with his will. Is there such a thing as unanswered prayer? Notice al~o the interesting analogy in Matthew 7:11. Man, who is evil, can perform occasional acts of kindness; how much more can God who is good give to those who ask.

Matthew 7:12 (and Luke 6:31), often called the Golden Rule, is based on the previous verse which stressed what God does even for the undeserving. Since God acts in this way to us, there is only one basis for our actions toward others: putting ourselves in the other’s place. here is a rule of thumb for the disciple in any action: reverse the roles of self and other; you will discover by this that he too is a man in need. Then base your action on the insight gained from this identification. This is not so much a principle or an ideal to he applied (perhaps we talk too much about applying Christian ideals) but an invitation to identify yourself with the concrete concerns of another.

f. The kingdom and the two ways, Matthew 7:13-23

1. The narrow gate, Matthew 7:13-14 (Luke 13:23-24)

It is difficult to be sure just what "destruction" means here. Is this eternal judgment in hell, or merely the spiritual destruction of being without God? The disciple, in any case, will always be a minority. This passage has always been a barrier to ideas of universal salvation.

2. The danger of false prophets, Matthew 7:15-23 (see Luke 6:43-46, 13:26-27)

Do not be beguiled by a teacher's external appearance, Jesus says, or even by his words. Look at the effects of his words in his life: this is the real means of judging. In Matthew 7:21 we see again a favorite idea of Jesus: people who mouth the conventional words are not necessarily true disciples. A man must go beyond intentions and words to acts, to the demanding discipline of doing the will of God.

g. Conclusion, Matthew 7:24-29 (see Luke 6:47-49)


1. how to respond to the "sermon," Matthew 7:24-27

Here again the perils of a merely verbal religion are stressed. Hearing must he followed by doing and obedience.

2. Matthew's editorial conclusion, Matthew 7:28-29

The crowds were astonished, yet in 5:1-2 it seemed as if only the disciples were being addressed. In point of fact, Matthew intends this sermon as instruction for all Christians, though in Jesus' own time only the disciples had committed their lives to him in such a way that the teaching could be relevant to them. They were astonished, for he spoke with power and authority.

For the Christian, this is the Son of God who has spoken, and his teachings here are an act of radical judgment on the world. No wonder the hearers were astonished and upset.

9. The healing of the leper, Matthew 8:1-4 and Luke 5:12-16 (compare Mark 1:40-45)

When Mark writes up this incident he mentions Jesus’ pity for the man. For some reason, Matthew and Luke both omit this human touch.

A word might be said here about these healing these stories; this is the first one in a series, and we shall come up against many similar stories in the two gospels we are studying. Demon-possessions the way biblical man explained what we would call physical and mental illness. Sometimes the healings are to be seen as signs of the coming kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 12:28); sometimes they are marks of Jesus' very human concern for the physical as well as the spiritual part of man. But a modern reader will want to ask, "Did they happen?" as well as "What do they mean?" However devout we may feel ourselves to be, it is not easy to accept such things. Some try to explain the healings by Jesus' power of suggestion, believing that the diseases were what we would call psychosomatic. And some of the stories may yield to this approach. Some, like the story of the Gadarene demoniac (Matthew 8:28-34), may well have a good deal of legendary material attached to them. And readers will doubtless want to raise the whole question of spiritual healing in this connection. But, remember, the main clue to our interpretation of these difficult pieces of material is this: what and who do we believe Jesus Christ to he? If he was in fact what the Christian tradition has tried to claim, then we cannot be Certain that such things cannot happen.

10. The centurion's servant, Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10

Fearing that Jesus would not wish to enter a Gentile house, the centurion in Matthew's narrative says that since he is a soldier and knows the meaning of authority, Jesus can merely speak a word of power, and the healing will be accomplished. This confidence elicits Jesus' praise, and the servant is healed. In verses 11-12, Matthew has drawn out the missionary implications of the Gentile's faith by means of a figure taken from the idea of the messianic banquet in heaven. Luke uses this material, but in another context (13:28-30).

11. The widow's son, Luke 7:11-17

In his reply to John the Baptist, in Luke 7:22, Jesus declares that in his ministry the dead have been raised. This story, which Luke alone has, seems to be included to support that description. Stories of Jesus raising someone from the dead are fairly rare in the New Testament: the raising of Jairus' daughter may be such a story, but it is not entirely clear (see page 41); John 11:1-44 is another. These cannot but be stumbling blocks for us today, and perhaps they should be set aside until we deal with the chief stumbling block, the resurrection of Jesus himself. The symbolic meaning of the story is important to Luke: Jesus is both the bearer and the giver of new life.

12. On discipleship, Matthew 8:18-22 and Luke 9:57-62

Here are some descriptions of the nature of true discipleship. To the first inquirer (called a scribe by Matthew), Jesus points out the risks and insecurities of the disciple's lot. To the second, Jesus says that even the sacred duties of the law must be abandoned: those who allow their legal duties to stand in the way of full obedience are the truly dead ones, the spiritually dead. Luke adds a third point in 9:61-62: discipleship requires the same attention and care as does the plowing of a straight furrow.

13. The Gadarene madman, Matthew 8:28-34 and Luke 8:26-39 (compare Mark 5:1-20)

Matthew and Luke make their own use of this story from Mark. Matthew radically shortens it, and cuts much of the detail that Luke includes. In Luke the madman greets Jesus, and begs him to leave him alone. He wryly tells Jesus that his name is Legion, a reference to the multitude of demons possessing him. Jesus calms the man, and news of the cure is spread about; the people from the countryside fear Jesus, perhaps because of the destruction of the swine, and beg him to leave. The man himself begs to go with Jesus, but Jesus refuses and sends him back to his village to announce to all what God has done. 

14. Healing the paralytic, Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke 5:17-26 (compare Mark 2:1-12)

This is another story taken over from Mark. Again Matthew shortens and simplifies. Luke has the man brought to Jesus by being lowered through the roof of a house where Jesus was teaching, surrounded by a crowd. The faith of those who bring the man is commended; Jesus forgives the paralytic's sins. This offends the scribes (and the Pharisees, Luke adds), for only God can forgive. Jesus affirms his status as the divine Son of man, authorized to bear the divine forgiveness, and bids the man to rise from his bed and walk. Two real miracles take place here; a man receives the divine forgiveness, and he is healed. Spiritual and physical needs are all of a piece, and both can be met by Jesus' word of healing.

15. The woman with a hemorrhage and Jairus' daughter, Matthew 9:18-26 and Luke 8:40-56 (compare Mark 5:21-43)

A ruler in Matthew -- a Jewish leader, in Luke -- comes to Jesus and bids him come to his daughter. Matthew says she has died; Luke, that she is dying. Jesus follows the man, and on the way a woman with a chronic hemorrhage pushes through the crowd to touch Jesus. Luke says that Jesus felt a power go forth from him when she touched him. Matthew merely says that Jesus sees her, and declares that her faith has made her well. The party then arrives at Jairus' house. Matthew seems to play down the miracle; Jesus merely says that the girl is not dead but sleeping; he goes in, and the girl rises from her bed. In Luke, when they arrive at the house, the report comes that the girl has died, and they conclude that Jesus should therefore not be bothered. This suggests that Jesus was not expected to be able to raise the dead. Jesus takes Peter, James, John, and the girl's parents with him into the house. He calls the child, and she arises.

It is hard to know what is meant here by the saying of Jesus in both accounts that "she is not dead but sleeping." Does this mean that Jesus knew she was not truly dead? Or that death is not the true end of man? Was he making a diagnosis? Is this intended to be a raising from the dead? This is used, both by Luke and Matthew, as a sort of climax to a series of miracle stories, and it seems as if they treat it as a miracle of resurrection. But the details of the story are not entirely clear, and this perhaps is a place where some may wish to reserve judgment or even to doubt the event as it stands. In any case, beyond these details stands the deeper and more important truth about Jesus, that through him is new life, both now and in the world to come.

16. The sending of the disciples, Matthew 9:35-11:1 (compare Luke 9:1-6 and 10:1-12)

This might be called the second main discourse of Jesus to his disciples in Matthew, the first being the Sermon on the Mount. Between the two discourses, Matthew has placed some of the healing stories of Jesus to serve as a pattern for the Christian minister. Now the disciples are commissioned to leave their teacher and to go out into the world.

 

a. introduction, 9:35-38

Jesus' work of teaching (Matthew 5, 6, 7) and healing (8-9:34) is summarized, and the need for special apostles or representatives is described. Their work is compared to that of a shepherd gathering sheep or a harvester bringing in the grain.

 b. the twelve, Matthew 10: 1-4

The list of names is the same as that found in Mark.

 c. the discourse of Jesus to the disciples, 10:5 -- 11:1

In Matthew 10:5-15 Jesus describes the aim and manner of evangelism. The disciples are to go to Jews alone, and their words and work are to be the same as Jesus'. The passage 10:16-39 is a collection of sayings, all centering around the idea of opposition and persecution. In Luke 10:17 we read that this original mission of the disciples was successful, and so here Matthew must be referring not to the fate of the disciples but to the fate of the church at the time of the writing of his gospel. The councils are the local Jewish bodies, and apparently punishment was often administered in the synagogue itself. Christians are advised to trust in God and not to prepare elaborate defenses. The details of verses 21-22 suggest an actual persecution, perhaps that of Nero around A.D. 65. This saying is formulated by Christians who believed both that Jesus was the supernatural Son of man, and that he would shortly return.

In Matthew 10:26-33 the church is exhorted to fearlessness in the face of danger and to trust in God, who cares for even the smallest things of earth. Verses 34-39 recognize that the claims of the Gospel may clash with other loyalties. Perhaps such divisions of families were actually taking place in the time of persecution. The basic paradox and secret of the Christian life in verse 39 is given special power in this setting of actual persecution.

In Matthew 10:40-11:1, we move from the setting of the persecution of Christians back to the original context of Jesus' mission charge to the disciples. After some words on how to receive the disciples on their mission, and a commendation of simple acts of helpfulness, the discourse comes to a close.

 

17. The rejection of Jesus by the Jewish leaders, Matthew 11:2-12:50

After his presentation of the missionary function of the church, Matthew here describes the dramatic story of Jesus' rejection. There are three different sets of controversy here (11:2-19, 12:1-14, 12:22-37), with intervals of serenity intervening (11:25-30, 12:15-21 and 12:46-50).

a. Jesus and the question from John the Baptist, Matthew 11:2-19 and Luke 7:18-35

The first challenge to Jesus comes from John the Baptist. ls there a note of disappointment in his reported question? Had he expected more of the Messiah? He seems to wonder if Jesus is in Ijet the Messiah, for that is what "he who is to come" means. Jesus, in reply, points to what has been done, and Chapters 8 and 9 in Matthew have recorded these signs.

Jesus goes on (Matthew 11:7-19) to describe, to praise, and to identify John as the forerunner of the Messiah. Matthew 11:12-14 is difficult, for it is not clear if the interval between John and Jesus' teaching or between John and the early church is meant. In the first case, the violence would be that of the Jewish revolutionaries who tried to bring the kingdom to pass by force. In the second sense, the men of violence would be the earthly rulers who tried to prevent it. The little picture of verses 16-17 portrays two groups of children, one inviting the other to play-first, a dancing game, second, a weeping game. Both offers were rejected. Are John and Jesus those who offer and the rest of the people those who reject? Verses 18-19 suggest that the ascetic John may be compared to the children's offer of a weeping game, and that the non-ascetic Jesus, eating and drinking, may be compared to the dancing game. Jesus is identifying himself with John (both are being rejected) more than distinguishing himself. It is interesting that this section begins with John wondering whether Jesus should be rejected, and ends with Jesus portraying the world's rejection of both of them.

b. Jesus as revelation of God, Matthew 11:25-30 (Luke 10:21-22)

In verses 20-24, we have an instance of Jesus' rejection of those who are rejecting him, but with verse 25 we turn to quite a different mood. The section can be divided into three parts: verses 25-26, Jesus' thanksgiving to God; verse 27, Jesus declares himself to be the unique Son of God; (these three verses find an exact parallel in Luke 10:21-22); and verses 28-30, an appeal to follow, found only here in Matthew. Because verses 25-27 sound so much like the fourth gospel, considerable critical effort has been spent on a study of them. Some scholars can find no reason for questioning their authenticity as coming from Jesus; some describe them as an early inspired interpretation of Jesus, ascribed to him as defining his true meaning. Some effort must always be made to distinguish between sayings of Jesus before his death and "sayings" of the risen Lord to the church, though we should never be very certain of any distinction. If we believe that this saying is a true one about Jesus'. then there is little to keep us from affirming that he could have easily said it of himself, even though this kind of self-description is rare in the synoptic gospels. To say that the Son alone "knows" the Father is not to say that we are all forced to be agnostics. But it does suggest that we do not know God fully, directly, or adequately. Our "knowing" is by faith, not by vision or touch or sight. And we know even the little that we do because of Jesus Christ, because he does "know" fully. 11:28 refers to those who labor and are heavy laden by the burden of the law which the scribes put upon men. Jesus' own interpretation of the law (Matthew 5-7) and of himself (verses 25-27 above) involves a new yoke but an easy one, in the wearing of which rest and peace are substituted for anxiety and fear. That this great passage should come in the midst of a context of Jesus' rejection by men reminds us how closely his rejection and death are tied to his gift of rest and peace.

c. further examples of the rising opposition to Jesus, Matthew 12:1-50


1. picking grain and healing on the Sabbath, Matthew 12:1-14

These stories may be read as examples of the new and lighter "yoke" described in verse 29 above. The first is from Mark 2:23-28, and is also used by Luke 6:1-5. The second is from Mark 3:1-6 (though you will note that Matthew has removed the reference to Jesus' anger), and Luke's version in 6:6-11 is very close to Matthew. Refer also to Luke 13:10-17 for further material on Jesus and the Sabbath. The issue in all these Sabbath controversies is that of the relation of human need to the law. When the law interferes with human well-being, it is to be broken, and Jesus' uncompromising position prompts the Pharisees to make plans to put him out of the way (Matthew 12:14 and Luke 6:11).

 2. Jesus' withdrawal, Matthew 12:15-21

In spite of the growing hostility, Jesus continues his acts of healing. Matthew briefly summarizes Mark 3:7-12 and adds the interpretative quotation from one of the great servant songs (Isaiah 42:1-4) suggesting both that Jesus' greatness is his humiliation, and the fact that even though rejected by the Pharisees he would be known as the justice and the hope of the Gentiles.

 3. Another healing and another controversy, Matthew 12:22-37 (compare Mark 3:19-30)

Luke's version of this can be found in 11:14-23, 12:10, and 6:43-45. Notice that Matthew and Luke both omit the accusation by Jesus' family and friends that he is mad (Mark 3:21). The inclusion of Jesus' discourse in 12:33-37 is intended by Matthew as a bitter criticism of the Pharisees, who in condemning Jesus have really condemned themselves.

 4. The demand for a sign, Matthew 12:38-42 (Luke 11:29-32)

Since Jesus has claimed to be inspired by the Spirit, some of the Jews ask for a decisive proof of his claim, perhaps a nice unambiguous miracle. But Jesus had already rejected that way in the temptation, so he refuses, saying that the only sign they will have is the sign of Jonah -- the preaching of repentance. This is clearly the meaning of the sign of Jonah in Jesus' mind, but Matthew, like many other Christians since, can think only of the ~whale" when he thinks of Jonah, and so he adds his own interpretation of the sign of Jonah, using the prophet's sojourn in the belly of the great fish as a symbol of the death and resurrection. Luke, note, does not add this flourish. Of course the true sign that is given all Christians is Christ's death and resurrection, and so we must say that Matthew has in a sense rightly interpreted the full meaning of Jesus' words, but in such a way as to make it harder to get at the original sense of the passage.

The citizens of Nineveh, who responded to Jonah's message, and the Queen of Sheba (who sought out Solomon, I Kings 10:1-13) are wiser than the Pharisees, and will be present at the last judgment to condemn them for asking for more evidence than they need.

 5. On exorcism, Matthew 12:43-45 (Luke 11:24-26)

These general remarks on exorcism are located here because the controversy originally began with an act of healing. Some traditional beliefs about demons are included, such as the fact that they do not like waiter. The Jewish nation is compared to the healed man who is in danger of sliding back into something worse than his original state.

6. Jesus' true family, Matthew 12:46-50 (Mark 3:13-15, Luke 8:19-2 1)

The point is seen in Matthew 12:50: Jesus' true family is not necessarily those who are in blood relationship to him (that is, the Jews), but those who obey him. Here in Matthew, it is the disciples who are the true family; in Mark, it is the whole crowd who was listening to him.

 

* * * * *

The two concluding sections (IV and V) in this guide deal first with some of Luke's characteristic material and, finally, with the close of the ministry as interpreted by both Matthew and Luke. But before we turn to these sections, some very brief notes on the intervening material follow.

1. Matthew 13:1-52 is a long collection of parables, including the parable of the sower (verses 1-9; see Luke 8:4-8) and an interpretation of it (Matthew 13:18-23 and Luke 8:11-15). Between the parable and its interpretation, Jesus tells his disciples why he uses the form of the parable for his teaching (Matthew 13:10-15 and Luke 8:9-10). Is Jesus saying that the purpose of the parables is to confuse and to withhold the truth from the outsider? It may be that the outsiders do not in fact comprehend his message, but are the parables designed to obscure it? The verses from Isaiah 6:9-10 are a key here, and the reader may wish to turn to them in the context of the prophet's message. Luke 8:16-1 8 seems to suggest quite a different interpretation of the parables, from verses 9-10 just before. Mark 4:1-25 is the basis of this section. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 contains another parable and interpretation, that of the weeds and the wheat. Note the realistic conception of judgment and evil here and how 13:39-40 suggests that good and evil will grow together in history until the end of time. No inevitable historical progress in Jesus' teaching!

2. Matthew 14:1-12 (and more briefly Luke 9:7-9) records the death of John the Baptist and the return of the disciples from their mission. Matthew and Luke both include the feeding of the 5,000 (14:13-21 and 9:10-17; compare Mark 6:30-44), but Matthew alone follows Mark in including the second feeding of the 4,000 (15:32-39; compare Mark 8:1-10). The second story is sometimes referred to as a "doublet"; not a second incident, but a variant account of the earlier feeding. Matthew may have discerned a symbolic meaning to the two events: the first is on Jewish soil, and twelve baskets of food are left over (symbolic number?). The second is on Gentile soil, and the adequacy of Jesus' message to both Jew and Gentile may be the point here. It is hard to see why the disciples would have asked the question in Matthew 15:33 if a similar miracle had taken place shortly before. Matthew and Luke treat these stories as miracles, to be sure; but there is a meaning in them beyond their form. Notice Matthew 14:19, Luke 9:16, and Matthew 15:36. The action of blessing, breaking, and giving thanks reminds us of the last supper, and Matthew and Luke clearly invite us to look beyond the miracle to its meaning; that Jesus Christ is fully adequate to all human need. Not even the disciples fully grasp this meaning in Matthew 16:5-12.

Matthew inserts an important bloc of material on defilement between the two feeding stories, 15:1-20, 15:11 is the key to the passage, and it is both a decisive blow against the external legalism of the Pharisees and an important passage for the field of Christian personal ethics.

3. Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah is a moment of decisive importance (Matthew 16:13-23 and Luke 9:18-22; compare Mark 8:27-33). Peter brings out what many of the disciple must have been thinking, but what had not been openly stated. In Matthew, Jesus reminds Peter that his insight is not human achievement, but a gift of God. Matthew 16:18-19 ha been the source of much controversy, of course, for it is on of the bases of the claim of the Roman Catholic tradition the their ministry goes directly back to Peter. At times, some Protestant critics have denied that these are actual words of Jesus, though the tendency today is to see them as genuine. But who is the "rock" on which Jesus will build? Is it Peter himself, or it Peter's confession that Jesus is the Messiah? There is no reason why Protestants should not say that Peter himself is the "rock." The church is in existence whenever sinful men declare Jesus' true meaning. The keys are apparently the power of forgiveness, and surely forgiveness is one of the chief functions of the Christian church as a whole, Protestant or Roman Catholic. But Jesus goes on to describe his coming suffering, and in Matthew (though not in Luke) Peter refuses to believe the Messiah must suffer, and he is crushingly rebuked as "Satan" by Jesus. And so, in one way, Peter hasn't really seen Jesus' meaning at all. The real center of this passage is perhaps not so much Peter, but the new and as yet misunderstood truth that the Messiah must suffer and die. The disciples will not really see this until after the resurrection.

4. Like the Messiah, the disciples too must expect suffering. Three conditions for discipleship are set forth (Matthew 16:24-28 and Luke 9:23-27; compare Mark 8:34-9:1). The first is self-denial, the second is taking up the cross, and the third is following Jesus. These three conditions are really one, and together they mean radical obedience to Jesus Christ, the Messiah who is about to suffer and die.

Notice Matthew 1 6:28 and Luke 9:27 (compare Mark 9:1). What event is being referred to? The resurrection of Christ; Pentecost; or perhaps, in Matthew, some kind of "coming" of the Son of man that Jesus expected but that did not occur? Does Jesus refer to himself or to another in Matthew 16:28? See page 57 for Luke's treatment of the Son of man.

5. The transfiguration will repay careful study, and again we must carefully distinguish two questions:

What actually happened? What is the meaning? (Matthew 17:1-8 and Luke 9:28-36; compare Mark 9:2-8). Some have called this an historical event in which the true glory of Christ is revealed to the disciples. Some have called it a subjective vision, some a mere legend, some a resurrection-appearance, here out of place. We cannot escape the kind of question that we as modern men and women put to material like this; and "did it happen?" is an appropriate thing to ask, even if this question would not have been wholly intelligible to Matthew or Luke. But beyond this, what event is being portrayed in the experience of the disciples? There are some touches that remind us of the baptism of Jesus, the voice from heaven for example; and it may be that this event is designed as a counterpart to the baptism in the minds of the disciples. Jesus knew who he was at baptism; his meaning was hriefly glimpsed when Peter made his confession; now, the meaning is even more openly declared. As with Peter's confession, there is an emphasis on Peter's misunderstanding. He wants Moses (the law), Elijah (the prophets), and Jesus on the same level; Luke apologizes for Peter's foolishness (verse 33), and the voice from heaven corrects Peter's implied view of the relation of Christ to the Old Testament. Here, as at the baptism, and at Peter's confession, something is seen, and something is withheld, about the meaning of Christ. It is by no means clear that the disciples discerned the meaning of this event.

Following this in Matthew and Luke is the healing of the epileptic boy (Matthew 17:14-21 and Luke 9:37-43); and a second prediction of his death by Jesus (17:22-23 and 9:43-45). There follows a strange saying about the temple tax in Matthew (17:24-27); an argument about true greatness (Matthew 18:1-5 and Luke 9:46-48); and some teaching material in Matthew, 18:6-35, concluding, in verses 23-35, with the superb parable of the unforgiving servant, a vivid and impressive study of the relation of human and divine forgiveness.

This brings us to the place in Luke where he introduces his special selection of material, and to this we now turn. Immediately after the incidents above, Matthew turns to the Passion narrative of Jesus' final days, and this we shall pick up in our final section V.

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