I think I was in fourth grade when I first heard Weezer’s “The Sweater Song.” I was at the pool at Queen City Racquet Club, and one of the teenage lifeguards must have been playing The Blue Album, because I also remember hearing “Surf Wax America” and “Buddy Holly” over the snack bar speakers. It would be years before I heard “Buddy Holly” again, recognized it, and finally put a name to the band and songs that I’d heard as a kid at the pool. But Genesis 3 reads like the chorus of “The Sweater Song,” with God’s perfect garden unraveling and leaving the man and woman, the only two beings made in his image, lying naked and ashamed on the floor. The world is coming apart.
In today’s chapter, we’ve got one of my favorite scenes from the gospels, in which Jesus goes to bat on behalf of a woman caught in adultery.
In today’s chapter, no good deed goes un-disdained, at least where the Pharisees are concerned. They chew Jesus out for letting his disciples snack on grain on the Sabbath, conspire to “destroy” him when he heals on the Sabbath, and accuse him of using the power of Satan to cast out demons. And then some of them even have the audacity to ask for a sign from him. After all that, it’s no wonder that Jesus quickly gets short with them.
I feel like Matthew 4 is mostly setting the stage for Jesus’ ministry. Jesus retreats to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, begins preaching and healing, and calls the fishermen: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Most of the narrative here paints Jesus’ activity with a broad brush, and even when it gives us the specific scene of the fishermen’s calling, it’s a quick-and-dirty details-light account that’s over before you know it.
But something in Jesus’ wilderness temptation caught my attention: some quality of specificity that’s absent from the rest of the chapter. Matthew is setting the stage here, as in the rest of the chapter. But with the temptation, he’s not breezing past it, summarizing, or glossing over. Satan is making a play here, and Matthew thinks it’s important to get into the details of it. Perhaps he thought Mark’s account was too sparse? And where did he get his information concerning Jesus’ forty days alone in the wilderness? From Luke, from one of the other disciples such as Peter, maybe even a first-hand account from Jesus himself? I could speculate, but one thing’s for sure: Matthew wants us to know about Jesus’ dialogue-duel in the desert with the devil.
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.
Jesus has entered Jerusalem by this point. Some Greek Jews are there for the passover, and they ask Philip to take them to Jesus. Fun fact, “Philip” is a Greek name. It means “friend of horses,” it’s got the Greek word for “horse” (Ἵππος) in there. You know, like how “hippopotamus” means “river-horse?” The text also notes that Philip “was from Bethsaida of Galilee” (21). Was Bethsaida known for Greek cultural influence or something? Anyway, I don’t really know where I was going with that stuff.