Welcome to The New Testament In Review! I am working my way through the Gospel Of Matthew and blogging about it as I do. This is a work in progress, done in practically real-time.
I have been reading through my first entry in this series, and I notice now what I didn’t then: I have a huge chip on my shoulder when it comes to the Bible. I wanted to start this series out on an unbiased point-of-view, making sure that I was seeing the Bible as a literary work, and not a Holy Book. I kinda moved in the opposite direction, and started arguing reasons why the Bible cannot be a Holy Book. Which is counter-productive. And not like me.
I don’t disavow anyone their faith, and I will never say that one person’s beliefs are wrong and mine are right. We are all free to believe what we wish, and our faith can make those beliefs true. I don’t want to be the guy carrying around the “Jesus Saves!” sign on a street corner, but I also don’t want to be the guy standing outside mocking the sign guy. I am firm in my beliefs. There’s no reason to try and disprove other’s beliefs.
Having said that, my tone isn’t going to change for today’s entry. It is already in the can, and i don’t feel like re-writing it. So here is my curmudgeonly take on Matthew chapters 8 through 15:
The Sermon On the Mount was Jesus’s breakout moment. After that, everyone knew that he was holy, and flocked to him. They weren’t disappointed: Jesus started performing miracles on-demand, including healing the sick, raising the dead, calming storms and casting out demons. Oh, and Jesus was also surprised! This is the first hint that I can see as to Jesus’s humanity (he doesn’t know everything).
Jesus also shows his sense of humor: “Foxes have holes and birds have nests / but the Son of Man has no place to rest.” Yes, it is corny, but if the vision of Christ making a little joke like that doesn’t make you smile, then you need to find your funnybone!
More miracles, including another resurrection (this one the daughter of an “official”) along with cures of diseases and blindness. There’s trouble brewing though: Other officials have noticed that Jesus is making claims that he can forgive sins, and word of his works and dislike for the Pharisees is starting to leak out.
Oh, almost forgot: Matthew makes his first appearance in his own Gospel, as a tax collector who Jesus calls to Jesus’s side.
Matthew 10:1-4 is boring, as it details who Christ’s disciples are. Then Christ gives the disciples their charge: spread the word that Jesus has taught them throughout the lands. And expect to be ridiculed and persecuted for it. Interestingly enough, Jesus says something that I don’t remember ever having heard in verse 34: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword!”
Hey, John the Baptist is back! He’s still in jail, but he’s heard of Jesus and wants to know if Jesus is truly The One. Jesus tells his disciples to go to John and extol Jesus’s works, and let the Baptist figure it out for himself.
But then Jesus goes just a little bit haywire. At the end of the chapter, Jesus suggests that the burden he is bearing from being the only person who really understands the Father is taking its toll. Christ condemns the towns where he performed his sacrifices, saying that they are not worthy. For Capernaum, Christ says that the judgment day will be harder on Capernaum than it was on Sodom. Ouchie!
Another prophesy of Isaiah’s fulfilled [yawn]. If I had more energy, I’d go back through, but has Jesus said he’s fulfilled any of these prophecies? Maybe one? Most of this seems to be Matthew saying that a prophesy has been fulfilled. Which seems like it could be poetic license to me…
Part of what is taking its toll on Christ are the Pharisees. They are starting to build a trap around him. First, they catch the disciples picking food on the Sabbath, and try to use this against Jesus. Jesus swats this away with just a bit of scripture (Priests eat on the Sabbath, David ate food reserved for priests). That was just a trial on the Pharisees part, however.
In a hint of what was to come, the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus. They sent a man with an injured hand to Jesus, hoping that they could catch Jesus healing on the Sabbath. Jesus used logic this time, pointing out that it’d be okay to help a fallen donkey out of a ditch, so why not a man? This really pissed off the Pharisees, to the point that they were seeking to kill Jesus. Jesus did the smart thing, and headed out of town.
Jesus went back to casting out demons. The Pharisees and Jesus had a debate about this: The Pharisees said that Jesus was using the power of the devil (Beelzebul); Jesus pointed out that this is silly: only something holy could drive out demons. Another logical victory for Jesus, another reason for the Pharisees to be angry.
By this time, Jesus is getting angry, too. His rhetoric with the Pharisees started out as slightly condescending. By this point, he is openly hostile: Matthew 12:37 – “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Still trying to ensnare Jesus in a trap, the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign. Jesus decides to show his scholarly side, using the story of Jonah to rebuke the Pharisees. Damn!
Jesus is still coming undone, though. Chapter 12 ends with Jesus abandoning his mother and brothers (why not Joseph? And apparently Mary and Joseph decided to scrap the virgin birth thing and make some children of their own) in favor of his disciples.
Parables! The Sower and the Seeds (those who are willing to believe and live Jesus’s teachings will be blessed), The Weeds (those who believe and those who don’t will be separated on judgment day; those who don’t believe will burn, those who do will come to the side of the Lord). Jesus explains these to his Disciples after everyone leaves for no apparently good reason. Oh, Jesus proclaims one of Isaiah’s prophecies fulfilled, about those who will hear but not understand.
Jesus returned to Nazareth, only to find that people there wouldn’t listen to what he had to say. A lot of this was because people there knew him as one of their own, not someone holy. Jesus apparently has sisters, too! “His brothers are James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, aren’t they? And his sisters are all with us, aren’t they?” (Matt 13:55-56)
John the Baptist died somewhere along the way, and the new King Herod assumes that Jesus is John reincarnated. Which would be a feat, since it would mean that John was reincarnated into a 20-something year old man. Herod is not the brightest match in the box.
Hey, I totally forgot about the Baptist’s gruesome demise. Herod wanted to kill John the Baptist over a woman (naturally), but Herod was too chicken. The woman was not, however, and demanded John’s head on a platter. Exit one Baptist, and enter wanton violence into the New Testament.
I expected this to be one of the times when Jesus flew off the handle, but all in all, he handled news of the Baptist’s death with surprising grace. In his grief, he went to the hillside and performed the Miracle on the Mount, feeding five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish. Afterwards, he sent the give thousand away and spent some alone time on the hillside. Matthew doesn’t explicitly say as much, but I think it is safe to say that Jesus was still mourning the loss of his friend.
Chapter 15 starts off with a story that every child loves: Jesus says it is okay to skip washing hands before dinner! (“Eating with unwashed hands doesn’t make a person unclean” – Matt 15:20). Jesus also proclaims that the Pharisees fulfilled a prophecy: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is empty…” BURN!!!
Hmmm… There seems to be a complete retelling of the Miracle on the Mount here (Matt 15:32-37). The only difference is that it was 4,000 people instead of 5,000, and at the end Jesus hopped on a boat instead of sitting alone on the hill. So my question is: did this happen twice, and the Disciples forgot about it between the first and second time? Or is this a contradiction, within two chapters of the same Gospel? My money is on the second.
But we’ll have to wait ‘til Thursday to find out for certain. I am packing it up for the week.
New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series will be accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.