Matthew 24 is basically Luke 21, and I’ve already talked about Luke 21, so I guess we’re done here.
Having bested his opponents among the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other Jewish religious leaders in a series of dialectical sparring matches, Jesus spends an entire chapter dunking on them. Matthew 23 is one big vitriolic criticism of the scribes and Pharisees, a warning from Jesus to his disciples and the multitudes not to fall into their traps.
We’ve seen the sorts of parables Jesus tells to the general populace and to his disciples. But what sorts of parables does he tell to the Pharisees? Apparently, he tells parables about people who disrespect the servants of those in power and who, as a result, face the master’s wrath when he learns of their misdeeds.
I’ve been noticing something about Jesus’ miracles as we read through Matthew. They tend not to be flashy, like silver-screen superpowers or the special effects for magic in my console RPGs. They lack theatricality and ostentation. They’re subtle, and Jesus often tells the witnesses to keep it quiet about the miracle. (Sometimes the witnesses even comply with his request.) And the only times he pulls out all the stops, like the transfiguration, the only people present are a few of the apostles. But today’s chapter starts off with just such a miracle: Jesus tells his disciples where to find a donkey, they go, and lo and behold, there’s a donkey precisely there.
The last chapter ended with Jesus reassuring Peter that the sacrifice of discipleship is worth it. In the age to come, he promises, the disciples “shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (19:28), and anyone who has to leave their family and their world for him is stepping into a bigger family and a bigger world. So, today’s chapter turns to matters of the kingdom of heaven, and it opens with a parable in the vein of chapter 13’s.
For the most part, I’m not really into fruit in my chocolate, but I know some of you on my Patreon are, so I tried out Endangered Species’ cranberry-almond chocolate to thank you guys for your support. And to my surprise, I couldn’t really taste the cranberry! It’s hard to notice even if you’re looking for it, but it accents the bitterness of the chocolate with just a little tart flavor. The almond bits provide a little variety and crunch in the texture, and all in all, it’s Endangered Species; it’s good and dark. It’s not my favorite bar that Endangered Species offers (it’s hard to beat the chocolate-upon-chocolate of their cacao nibs bar), but even if you’re not a fruit-in-your-chocolate person, you may well enjoy this bar.
Just as I promised, the Pharisees kick off this chapter by putting Jesus to the test on the topic of divorce right after he’s healed a bunch of people. Some other stuff also happens in the chapter, namely Jesus embracing children as his disciples consider them a nuisance, and the rich young ruler. But we know Jesus is cool with the kids, and we already looked at the rich young ruler when he showed up in Luke 18, so today it’s Jesus on divorce.
We all know we’re going to die someday, but life goes on. And in today’s chapter, although Jesus is well aware that he’ll meet an untimely end at the hands of his enemies and has said as much to the disciples, he goes on teaching and telling parables. Facing our limited lifespans has a way of making us prioritize what we do here on earth, but Jesus…kind of takes an interlude here to tell his disciples stuff about sheep and debts and stuff.
Just as the transfiguration divided the gospel of Luke in half, so it divides Matthew. It’s a momentous, supernatural event that marks a shift in the narrative no matter which gospel you’re reading it in. And when you reach Matthew’s account of the transfiguration here in chapter 17, you know you’re not too far from the endgame in Jerusalem, in part because it suddenly starts hitting the disciples: hey, there’s going to be an endgame in Jerusalem.
If there’s one thing reading the Bible has taught me, it’s the limits of the human mind. I often read a passage and ask myself, “Now where have I heard that before?” Sometimes I’m able to come up with an answer. Sometimes I’m not. And sometimes my mind makes up a wrong answer out of whole cloth. But today we’ve got just such a rabbit hole of recollection, all incited by Jesus’ mention of the sign of Jonah.