In today’s chapter, a good deed goes unpunished, but only barely.
If you like parables, then good news: by popular request, we’re returning to Matthew 25 for the Parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. And by “popular request,” I mean that one person requested it. If you don’t like parables, then I don’t know what to tell you.
Matthew 24 is basically Luke 21, and I’ve already talked about Luke 21, so I guess we’re done here.
One of my favorite Bible verses is Hebrews 12:2. It describes Jesus as “the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” I’ve said before that there’s a fine line between Christianity and masochism, and it’s not difficult to fall into spiritual self-flagellation (or physical, if you’re a 13th-century monk). At times, to varying degrees, I’ve succumbed to the temptation to embrace and pursue suffering for its own sake.
My childhood saw a lot of messages emphasizing the brutality of the crucifixion. Some of these details one probably shouldn’t share with, say, kindergartners, but I’m guessing that by as early as age ten, I had a pretty good idea from sermons and event speakers what Rome’s best-known method of execution entailed. I remember one message from a Saturday event while I was in junior high that particularly impressed upon me the physical suffering and torture that Jesus was willing to endure for my salvation. Beatings, floggings, nails, slow asphyxiation: I heard it all. And I came out of high school with a strong conviction that understanding what Jesus physically suffered was crucial to appreciating the gospel.
The events of the Last Supper do not reflect especially well on Judas or Peter. In their own way, both men stab the Savior in the back. Peter denies three times that he even knows the man that he left his nets to follow, the man he called “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). And Judas…betrayed him for a hot buck and led an armed crowd to accost him in the dead of night. Yes, sin is sin, but I think pretending not to know a person constitutes a lesser offense than giving them over to their enemies and making oneself complicit in their death. Perhaps this is why Luke opts not to mention Judas for the rest of his gospel, though he later spells out Judas’ earthly fate in the first chapter of Acts. But I speculate. Let’s look at Peter and Judas here.
Sometimes, even though you’ve read a passage before, you open it up again and find that you’re reading it as if for the first time. It must have been early 2001 when I had that experience with Matthew 24, the analog of today’s chapter in Luke, and Matthew 25, which comprises several parables about the last days. I seem to recall that I was in Georgia visiting relatives over spring break, and I was sitting in the back of the family Toyota Sienna reading the passage. But wherever I was, I had recently learned from some book of N.T. Wright’s about the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD, and I remember trying to sort out the passage, asking which of Jesus’ prophecies had already been fulfilled and which ones genuinely pertained to the Second Coming.