Friday, June 29, 2012

Matthew Chapter 15

This chapter begins with a run in between Jesus and the Pharisees and Scribes (vv. 1-20). The temperature is definitely rising between the two sides. I often imagine how threatened the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes must have felt as Jesus was teaching and preaching. But how much more so when they had these kinds of altercations with the Lord that called into question their own integrity. Jesus didn’t suffer them gladly, but he was always hoping for their conversion- always hoping for their embracing of the Gospel. The altercation ends with Jesus declaring the old dietary laws of the Jewish people obsolete. But it’s a challenge to increased integrity on the part of the people.

We then return to two pericopes that remind us of Jesus’s generosity (vv. 21-39). This is the second time Jesus has fed the multitude. Notice the word that Matthew uses in v. 32. Jesus says that he has “compassion” on the people. I love that word: compassion. In Latin it means, “to suffer with someone.” 
But even more specifically, it means to feel with a person deep in gut- to almost share the same feelings as the one who suffers. Compassion operates at the level of the heart- but also deeper, much deeper than that. If there is another quality of Jesus, besides his generosity, that is really a hallmark of his identity, it’s his compassion.

There are many synonyms for compassion: mercy is one that comes to mind. I’m reminded of the Beatitudes from chapter 5: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Perhaps we can write another Beatitude: “Blessed are those who are compassionate, for they will be shown compassion.” 

Point for Prayer
This constant call to compassion is perhaps a great way to identify our selves with our Lord, Jesus Christ. A question for our prayer today: how can we show compassion? In ways big and small, with those we know and with perfect strangers, how can we compassionate and merciful?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Matthew Chapter 14

We can see four distinct pericopes in this chapter. The first is the Death of John the Baptizer (vv. 1- 12); the second is Jesus feeding the 5,000 (vv. 13-21); the third is Jesus walking on the sea (vv. 22-33); and the final one is Jesus healing the sick in the town of Gennesaret (vv. 34-36).

The death of John the Baptizer (or Baptist) stands out here. It seems to be a break in the narrative rhythm that has, up to point, be centered around Jesus. This episode recounting the execution of John stands out even more because of the flow of the narrative. But remember what we said about the Baptizer in chapter 3. John is simply the ‘forerunner’ and his ministry of preparing the way for Jesus is now complete.  John has fulfilled his accomplished his part of the Father’s Plan.

The Eucharistic overtones of the Feeding the 5,000 is clear. Notice the words that Matthew uses to describe what Jesus did with the bread. Sounds familiar? This remarkable of generosity will be repeated again in Matthew’s Gospel- and then repeated into perpetuity after the Last Supper (we’ll come back to this).

Jesus then challenges the faith of the Apostles, especially Peter.  It’s interesting: now that John the Baptizer is gone and the way was prepared before the Lord; it now seems that Jesus is preparing the Way for Peter for after Jesus has ascended.  Peter has just entered the school of discipleship.  And after the Lord saves Peter from drowning and Peter professes his Faith in Jesus Christ, nothing will ever be the same for him.

Point for Prayer
Notice Jesus’s remarkable act of generosity in the feeding of the multitude. Remember all the healings. He just has a generous spirit about Him. Let’s pray to have a share of that generous spirit today. Not that we necessarily need to give money or whatever: but just to have a generous way about us- quick to love, serve and forgive. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Matthew Chapter 13

Parables, parables, parables!  There are seven separate parables in this chapter; interspersed with explanations of them, the reason for them, and the consequence of them.

First, lets do a word study.  The word parable comes from a Greek word (parabole) that means, “a spoken or literary ‘comparison’ between two things for illustration.”  As literary device we can identify metaphor, allegory, proverbs and riddles and serving similar functions. According to Scott Hahn, a New Testament scholar, Jesus uses parables for two reasons: two reveal and to conceal divine mysteries.  In Matthew’s Gospel, notice the way Jesus moves from the straightforward teaching of the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7, to using parables in chapter 13, to his rejection by the Pharisees at the end of the 13th chapter.  Why would Pharisees reject him and his teaching? Dr. Hahn answers this too: by using parables Jesus is inviting the humble and simple people to reach beyond simple images to grasp the great Mysteries and Truths of God.  In this way, he is revealing the Kingdom. Conversely then, parables also obstruct these Truths and Mysteries from those who are unworthy or hypocritical like the Pharisees. So, in this way, the parables indict the Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes of their faithlessness.

[Remember that Jesus’s culture was an agrarian one: they would have seen the point and deep meaning of using the agrarian images like the sower, wheat, leaven, the harvest season, etc.]

So, with this in mind, lets turn to the parables themselves. As I said, there are seven in total. And they are all about the “Word” that Jesus is preaching and teaching.  The last three are about the Kingdom of God.
So we read these parables and then we land. It seems to me that the parabolic teachings of Jesus are key to understanding his universal message of Repentance and Redemption. The use of parables can cause a natural response of deep thinking and praying that can reveal, and not conceal, the great Truth, Mysteries and ultimate Beauty of God’s very being.

Point for Prayer
Go back and read vv. 45-46; sit with it for a minute and then answer this question in your prayer: why is my faith in Jesus like a pearl of great price?  Finish with a few minutes in silence and a prayer of gratitude for your relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ and your Baptism in His name.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Matthew Chapter 12

In this chapter we have Jesus entering into dialogue with the ruling Jewish authorities in Galilee. We often hear of three groups of Jewish authorities that were in opposition to Jesus. We have the Pharisees were a religious sect who practiced strict adherence to the Mosaic Law that is the cornerstone of the Old Covenant given to Yahweh through Moses.  Then we have the Sadducees; they were the elite and aristocratic religious sect that, while differing from the Pharisees had one thing in common with them: a unease about this Jesus from Nazareth who was teaching something totally different from the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Finally, we have Scribes. They were experts in the Law of Moses and were quite strict in their interpretation and application of it. Whenever Jesus did something that violated the Law, like what we have in vv. 1-14, it would have been the Scribes and Pharisees who would have been the first to call Jesus out of the proverbial carpet.

As part of his run in with the Pharisees Jesus then reveals a little bit more of who he is by contrasting himself with Beelzebul. In this particular allegory that Jesus uses in vv. 22-32 it’s important to recognize that the strong man is Beelzebul (aka, the Evil One, Satan, etc.). The one who breaks in to the strong man’s house and steals his goods has to be strong than him.  So, in this parable, Jesus is stronger than the strong man!

Furthermore, we have this rather cryptic saying about the ‘sign of Jonah’ and ‘the greatness of Solomon’ (vv. 38-42).  Remember the story of Jonah and the whale and the town of Nineveh. The Jews were heard Jesus say this would have remember the story of Jonah in the Old Testament. Go back to the Book of Jonah and get a refresher- it’s a short chapter and the message is clear.

Point for Prayer
In vv. 46-50 Jesus teaches about true kinship with him. Read those verses again and ask the Lord to increase in your heart a kindred spirit to him and the message he preaches.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Matthew Chapter 11

The first verse of this chapter sums up beautifully the action from this moment onward to the imminent Passion and Death of Jesus: this is the point of Jesus’s whole mission- “to teach and preach” (v. 1).

We also have a slight interlude with a episode of encounter between Jesus and disciples of John the Baptist (or Baptizer). While the Baptizer’s role is more clearly explained in the Gospel according to Luke, we are given a fairly clear understanding of the interplay between John and Jesus. Remember that John’s main, and really only, mission, was “to prepare the way for the Lord” (v. 10). Both John and Jesus point to the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah’s coming as the foundational element of their teaching. And while the prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus’s coming, the use of prophecy is the vehicle by which both reveal to the Israelites that the Messiah is coming, and the Jesus is the Messiah.

There is also a brief section on the Jesus’s dismay about those people who can’t seem to accept his message. The use of the word ‘woe’ is pregnant with meaning.  In ancient culture, and in the Greek language, ‘woe’ is the word you would use to describe the grief and loss that one experiences with death. It’s telling isn’t it: Jesus expressing woe to the communities who won’t accept his message of Redemption and Repentance.

Finally, the chapter ends with a beautiful prayer of Jesus, thanking his Father and extending an open invitation to those who would hear his message.  Jesus’s invitation (vv. 28-30) resounds time and place and is extended to each one of us: “Come to me… and I will give you rest”.

Point for Prayer

“Jesus, you call me simultaneously to be a maturing adult and a childlike person. Sometimes I feel I want to be the ‘master of the universe’ and be in total charge of my life and others. I know I must learn to face the mystery of life and your mystery. For that I need to let go, let be, and let grow. Show me how to do this.” Amen.
-From The Kingdom and the Glory, by Rev. Alfred McBride (OSV, 1992).

Friday, June 22, 2012

Matthew Chapter 10

We could call chapter 10, “The Chapter on Discipleship”. In this chapter we have Jesus calling 12 of his disciples to be Apostles (vv. 1-4) (remember our note about the difference between the two from chapter 4). He then commissions them (vv. 5-15), and then goes into a long discourse about the conditions under which they will labor, and the costs and rewards thereof (vv. 16-42). Notice the rather harsh and straightforward language that Jesus uses.  He’s not sugar-coating it or dancing around the tough parts- he’s putting it all out there to be either accepted or rejected by this new group of 12 intimate followers and, one could even say, coworkers, or Jesus. 

The over all theme of this chapter then is about the costs of discipleship.  And there are costs associated with following the Lord. In one way or another each one us have to come to terms and experience a peace of acceptance if we choose to follow the Lord and embrace those costs. And, according to Jesus, the cost are varied and many. There seems to be an emphasis on the fact that the preaching of the Gospel is naturally contrarian. It’s counter-cultural for sure; but it’s also counter-personal. Meaning that the preaching of the Gospel, and the hearing of the Gospel could be contrarian to formally held beliefs or behaviors that will have to either be reconciled with, or rejected because of, the preaching and hearing of the Gospel. In other words, there is a cost to being a disciple.

But it’s not all bad. Check out vv. 40-42 for the great rewards that come with preaching and hearing and responding to the Gospel. Never has Jesus been gloom-and-doom. While the Gospel message is inherently life-changing, the ultimate point is that change is always change for the better.

Point for Prayer
Reflect back a little: where did your discipleship to the Lord cost you something? How hard was it to pay that cost? As we move forward with our reading and praying with the Gospels, is there anything in what we’ve encountered so far that may make the next time you have to pay any easier?