Sunday, September 21, 2014


Matthew 18 - 20

Matthew chapters 18-20. The movement has become a community, a congregation, a family. Jesus had given Peter a certain amount of authority as a  leader in this community because of his faith that Jesus was the messiah, although he instructed his disciples not to tell people he was the messiah. When Peter objected to Jesus' prediction that he would be executed by the authorities in Jerusalem, Jesus called him a stumbling block, an obstacle, rather than a foundation stone, because he was thinking like men think, rather than how God thinks. Matthew is the only gospel where the word for "church" - congregation or community - is used. Matthew's gospel is directed to the needs of the community of followers in the generation or generations after the original Jesus generation, so we have Jesus touching the children and accepting them into the community of brothers, commanding these brothers to not be a stumbling block to the weakest, most dependent members of the community. 
Who were these children following Jesus? Homeless orphans? It is clear he speaks of actual children, but sometimes he calls his followers children of the father in heaven. So, he tells his followers to become like children, become homeless orphans dependent on the father. He doesn't mean for them to become stupid and gullible about church doctrine, he means they must be in an abject and dependent state so their commitment to the community will be total. 
Jesus had made Peter a leader, but his disciples were also leaders and teachers, I guess, or organizers in this community of brothers and sisters that was growing around Jesus, and he insisted that these leaders be servants to the community. He also is shown insisting  that those who want to join give up all their possessions. 
The parable of the unforgiving servant whose own debt to the master was enormous, but who would not forgive the much smaller debt of the much poorer servant. What debt does one bring? What burden too much to bear? 
Jesus speaks to them about resolving conflicts among themselves, forgiving each other and reaching agreement, and tells them that he is present when the brothers and sisters of the community are in agreement. This is Matthew's message to the community of the generations after the original Jesus movement.

I believe that Jesus performed his stories and that parables such as the story of the unforgiving servant were routines and this was part of his appeal to the crowds, especially the children. I don't think you will ever see a preacher, especially in a baptist church, simply read a parable to the congregation. They will perform it, and even act out parts in different voices, and embellish it with details that connect it with the everyday lives of the listeners. So, in this stand up routine Jesus delivers the message to forgive one's brothers and sisters in the community, because your own debt, which has been forgiven, was so great. The condition of one's being forgiven, is that one forgives one's brothers and sisters in the community.

Living with the terms of marriage, as originally intended by the creator, may not be acceptable to everybody, because of personal weaknesses, but Jesus says that those who can accept the commitment should.

It is virtually impossible for the wealthy man to win eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus insists on the impossible. Giving up possessions and sharing them was a condition for joining the community. The parable of the laborers in the vineyard carries the message of equality among community members. The least will be the greatest and the last will be first. 

What about us? Peter wants to know. You will all sit in judgment of the tribes of Israel, after all things are made new, Jesus promises. What was that all about? And did it mean the same thing for the first century Jewish sect that it meant for the fourth century Gentile church?


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