The other night I was hanging out in a friend’s basement, listening to Lacey Sturm’s “State of Me” on Radio U. And when she repeatedly sang, “Just get behind me,” I thought of Jesus’ brutal reprimand to Peter in Matthew 16:23: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s purposes, but men’s.” Is Jesus calling Peter the actual Devil?
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.
When I said yesterday that Judas’ remorse is just one of the things we’ll find in today’s chapter, I wasn’t kidding. Matthew 27 is full of events: Jesus appearing before Pilate, the crowds demanding the release of the criminal Barabbas, the Roman soldiers flogging and mocking Jesus, the procession to Golgotha, the crucifixion, an earthquake at the moment of Jesus’ death that splits the veil of the temple and opens several tombs (out of which after Jesus’ resurrection come several saints’ bodies, which is weird), and Joseph of Arimathea providing a tomb for Jesus’ own body, which Pilate secures with a guard of Roman soldiers. See? Lots of events. But in particular, the chief priests and scribes quote Psalm 22 to mock Jesus on the cross, and from the cross, Jesus responds with another verse from Psalm 22. I’m curious what’s going on there, so let’s check it out.
Judas doesn’t show up much in the synoptic gospels. He gets mentioned in the roll call of the disciples in Matthew 10:2-4 and Luke 6:13-16 as “the one who betrayed Him,” and that’s pretty much it until today’s portion of the narrative, Matthew 26. But when it comes to Jesus’ last hours, that’s Judas’ time to shine.
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.
In junior high, I somehow came by a compilation album titled Right from Wrong. I think it may have come with my parents’ copy of Josh McDowell’s book Right from Wrong, which of course I also read, because it was a book and I was myself. But the CD Right from Wrong collected several songs from such Christian bands as the Newsboys, DC Talk, and Audio Adrenaline, built around the theme of countering moral relativism. One of the tracks on this album, by perennial Christian hard rockers Petra, was “Midnight Oil,” about the Parable of the Ten Virgins. And today’s chapter, Matthew 25, begins with the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Now you see where I was going with this. Bam, relevance.
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.