Today’s Chocolate: Splendid 70% Dark Chocolate with Orange
Today’s Passage: Matthew 28
Of all the gospel authors, Matthew spends the least time on Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. He’s tied with Mark for the number of verses in the final chapter of his gospel (twenty), but while Mark’s last chapter is around 500 words, Matthew’s is closer to 450. After the women discover the empty tomb, they encounter Jesus, and later on he meets the disciples at a mountain in Galilee. But Matthew also has an exclusive scene with the tomb guards and the chief priests which continues a point of interest from the previous chapter.
The previous day, the Sabbath, the religious leaders brought a concern to Pilate. Jesus was buried in a private tomb, and the religious leaders wanted to make sure his disciples didn’t steal the body, and they couldn’t post a Jewish guard without breaking the Sabbath. But that’s what Gentiles are for–so they went to Pilate and asked for a force to secure the tomb. Pilate grants them some soldiers, and on top of that, they seal the tomb so that any tampering will be obvious. It’s all in Matthew 27:62-66, if you wish to read it yourself, but the point is that by the time they’re done, the tomb is mad secure.
But that doesn’t last. All it takes is an earthquake and one superluminous angel, and the guards drop like dead men. By the time the women arrive at the tomb, the guards have left, and that means trouble for the guards. Pilate could easily have them executed for abandoning their post.
So they go to the chief priests and tell them the events they witnessed, and the chief priests come up with a plan. They give the guards a fat chunk of change for their troubles, instructing them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble” (13-14). The priests will cover for any charges of negligence on the guards’ part, and the story provides a counter-narrative to explain the empty tomb, by this point a quite obvious fact. Matthew notes, “This story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day” (15). It’s the first attempt in a longstanding historical tradition of trying to explain how what happened could have happened without Jesus actually rising from the dead.
Sometimes I wonder how Matthew found out about the chief priests’ involvement in the attempt to keep Jesus buried, or at least to bury the truth of his resurrection. Matthew was a Jew, but he had also served as a tax collector for Rome. Did he have connections, people who could get him insider information from the Jewish religious leaders or the Roman government? But I speculate. Much like those confronted with the empty tomb, here I am confronted with the text of Matthew’s gospel, and I must ask myself how to explain it.