October 25, 2020 Traditional Worship Service

Reformation Sunday
October 25, 2020 Traditional Worship Service

Confession and Forgiveness

We are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Greeting:

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

C: And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

O Lord God, you are the holy lawgiver, you are the salvation of your people. By your Spirit renew us in your covenant of love, and train us to care tenderly for all our neighbors, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen

First Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

1The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. 15You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD. 17You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. The word of the Lord.

Psalm: Psalm 46

1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. 4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. 6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. 8Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. 9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10″Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” 11The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Second Readings Romans 3:19-28

19Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. 27Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. The word of the Lord.

Gospel: Matthew 22:34-46

34When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” 41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? 45If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. The gospel of the Lord.

Sermon: Pastor Neil White

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

Let us pray: Loving God, we lift up this world that you love. Renew your creation and give wisdom to all your people who share in your responsibility to care for the world. Give wisdom to the leaders of nations, states, and cities to care for your people and the world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of peace, where there is conflict bring a just peace where all people can flourish. Protect and bless those whose calling involves protecting and guarding our freedoms, including: Ben, Cal, Christian, Clayton, Dillan, Haden, Lindsey, Luke, Michael, Richard, Spencer, Steve, Sydney, Tyler B. and Tyler G. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Healing God, give us your strength as we care for those in need. We lift up before you today: Alex D., Alex M., Alex W., Becca, Betsy, Bob D., Bob S., Carol, Cathy, Charles, Christa, Cliff, Craig, Darryl, Dave, David, Dennis, Ella, Faith, Gary, Jamie, Jeff, Jerry, JoAnn, Judy, Julie, Lee, Marie, Matt, Maureen, Mike, Patrick, Pete, Rachel, Rebecca, Renee, Robert, Sal, Scott and Vim and the friends and family of Ruth Witzsche. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for the ministries of the ELCA and the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, we also lift up in prayer today: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Miles, ELCA Coaching and Creativity in Ministry. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader: In trust and hope, we commend to you, O Lord, all for whom we pray. Amen.

Highlights/Sharing of the Peace
Offering
(offering can either be mailed to Rejoice (12000 Independence Pkwy, Frisco TX 75035 or there is the opportunity for electronic giving on the website http://www.rejoicefrisco.com)

Instructions for Communion
Words of Institution
Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

A: Let us pray. Lord Jesus, in this sacrament you strengthen us with the saving power of your death and resurrection. May these gifts of your body and blood create in us the fruits of your redemption and grace in our lives, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing

DiscipleLife

L: As God has claimed us as his own in Christ,
we seek to follow Christ with these marks of DiscipleLife:
▪Praying Daily
▪Worshiping Weekly
▪Studying the Bible
▪Serving Others
▪Building Spiritual Friendships
▪Giving to God and our Neighbors in Need
▪Engaging God’s Mission

Dismissal: “Go in peace, serve the Lord. Thanks be to God” Alleluia!

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October 18, 2020 Traditional Worship Service

Entire service for October 18, 2020.

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
October 18, 2020 Traditional Worship Service

Confession and Forgiveness

We are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.
In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Greeting:

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
C: And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

Sovereign God, raise your throne in our hearts. Created by you, let us live in your image; created for you, let us act for your glory; redeemed by you, let us give you what is yours, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen

First Reading: Isaiah 45:1-7

1Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him— and the gates shall not be closed: 2I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, 3I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. 4For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me. 5I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, 6so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. 7I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the LORD do all these things. The word of the Lord.

Psalm: Psalm 96:1-13

1Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. 2Sing to the LORD, bless the name of the LORD; proclaim God’s salvation from day to day. 3Declare God’s glory among the nations and God’s wonders among all peoples. 4For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised, more to be feared than all gods. 5As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; but you, O LORD, have made the heavens. 6Majesty and magnificence are in your presence; power and splendor are in your sanctuary. 7Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD honor and power. 8Ascribe to the LORD the honor due the holy name; bring offerings and enter the courts of the LORD. 9Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; tremble before the LORD, all the earth. 10Tell it out among the nations: “The LORD is king! The one who made the world so firm that it cannot be moved will judge the peoples with equity.” 11Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea thunder and all that is in it; let the field be joyful and all that is therein. 12Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy at your coming, O LORD, for you come to judge the earth. 13You will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with your truth.

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

1Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. The word of the Lord.

Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22

15Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap [Jesus] in what he said. 16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away. The gospel of the Lord.

Sermon: Pastor Neil White

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

Let us pray: Loving God, we lift up this world that you love. Renew your creation and give wisdom to all your people who share in your responsibility to care for the world. Give wisdom to the leaders of nations, states, and cities to care for your people and the world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of peace, where there is conflict bring a just peace where all people can flourish. Protect and bless those whose calling involves protecting and guarding our freedoms, including: Ben, Cal, Christian, Clayton, Dillan, Haden, Lindsey, Luke, Michael, Richard, Spencer, Steve, Sydney, Tyler B. and Tyler G. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Healing God, give us your strength as we care for those in need. We lift up before you today: Alex M., Alex W., Becca, Bob D., Bob S., Carol, Cathy, Charles, Christa, Cliff, Craig, Darryl, Dave, Dennis, Ella, Faith, Gary, Jamie, Jeff, Jerry, JoAnn, Judy, Julie, Lee, Marie, Matt, Maureen, Mike, Patrick, Pete, Rachel, Rebecca, Renee, Robert, Sal, Scott, Steve, and Vim. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for the ministries of the ELCA and the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, we also lift up in prayer today: Resurrection Lutheran Church, Plano, Trinity Lutheran Church, Clifton and College & Seminary students.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader: In trust and hope, we commend to you, O Lord, all for whom we pray. Amen.

Highlights/Sharing of the Peace
Offering
(offering can either be mailed to Rejoice (12000 Independence Pkwy, Frisco TX 75035 or there is the opportunity for electronic giving on the website http://www.rejoicefrisco.com)

Instructions for Communion
Words of Institution
Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

A: Let us pray. Lord Jesus, in this sacrament you strengthen us with the saving power of your death and resurrection. May these gifts of your body and blood create in us the fruits of your redemption and grace in our lives, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing

DiscipleLife

L: As God has claimed us as his own in Christ,
we seek to follow Christ with these marks of DiscipleLife:
▪Praying Daily
▪Worshiping Weekly
▪Studying the Bible
▪Serving Others
▪Building Spiritual Friendships
▪Giving to God and our Neighbors in Need
▪Engaging God’s Mission

Dismissal: Go in peace, serve the Lord. Thanks be to God Alleluia

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Matthew 21:33-46 The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

By James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2007, 00.159.139_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10957416

Matthew 21: 33-46

Parallel Mark 12: 1-12; Luke 20: 9-19

33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

The imagery of the vineyard in this and the preceding parable, combined with the fig tree in the prophetic sign prior to the parables and the great banquet in the closing parable of this trilogy all work together in ways that reinforce Jesus’ answer to the chief priests and the elders. Even if the hearers of the previous parable did not catch the imagery of the vineyard representing Israel, now Matthew (and Mark beforehand) include the references of digging a wine press in it and building a watchtower which show that Isaiah 5 provides the imagery for this parable:

Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. Isaiah 5: 1-2

Yet, even as the imagery of Isaiah 5 is used, some important transformations are made which recast the imagery into a new image to fit the context of Jesus’ interactions with the chief priests and elders in the temple. Into the midst of the space between the beloved (the LORD of hosts in Isaiah) and the vineyard (Israel in Isaiah) the parable introduces workers responsible for the care of the vineyard of the ‘house master.’[1] Many modern commentators have missed the point of this parable by assuming the that the ‘housemaster’ is neglectful of the vineyard, and this is not helped by the NRSV and other translations adding ‘to another country’ which is not in the Greek. The ‘housemaster’ merely departed on a journey after hiring workers to care for the vineyard during the time the ‘housemaster’ is away.[2] The imagery in this parable, pulled from Isaiah, explicitly links the vineyard as Israel and God as the master of the vineyard (Isaiah 5:7), and even though in the Hebrew Scriptures the LORD is the God of Israel, the LORD is not only the God of Israel but the God of the entire earth and who watches over the Gentiles (the nations) as well. The people of Israel’s relationship with the land is contingent upon their relationship with their God, and they are reminded:

the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. Leviticus 3:23

While the people of Israel are ‘aliens and tenants’ on land that is owned by God, here Israel is also the vineyards and the ‘tenants’ or ‘vinedressers’ are the leaders. Jesus stands in a long prophetic line of criticizing the leaders of Israel (both political and religious) who have led the people away from the way of the LORD. One example of this is both Jeremiah 50: 6-7 and Ezekiel 34 criticizing the ‘shepherds’ who have led the sheep astray. The language that Jesus is using is understood by the chief priests, elders, Pharisees as well as the crowds who are present with him in the temple. The slaves of the ‘house master’ who come to collect the fruit in this parable and who invite to the banquet in the following parable are the prophets and messengers of God who have come to Israel and have often been abused or killed. Jesus tells this parable in Jerusalem, a city whose leaders have often not heeded the prophets when they came. The parables follow the question of the chief priests and the elders about the authority of Jesus to do these things, and now, in parable form, the answer is presented by his identification with the son of the ‘house master’ who the ‘house master’ believes the tenants will respect but whom they see as a hindrance to their continued control and possession of the fruit of the vineyard. The ‘house master’ has shown incredible forbearance with these recalcitrant tenants who have abused and killed his servants, but with the death of the son outside the vineyard the response of the ‘housemaster’ is given not by Jesus but by those he is speaking to.

Irony is at work in the scene as these religious leaders call for the condemnation of the ‘tenants’ speaking their own condemnation, much like the scene where king David condemns the man in the prophet Nathan’s telling only to be told, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:1-15) Yet, for David there was repentance and mourning after his condemnation but for these leaders their desire is to remove this pesky prophet. Instead of being righteous who are “like trees planted by streams of water, who yield their fruit in its season”(Psalm 1:3) they find themselves in the place of the wicked who “will not stand in the judgment,”(Psalm 1:5) Throughout scriptures the desire of God is for repentance, just like the ‘house master’ who continues to send slaves for the harvest even when they have been met with hostility in the past. Just as the religious leaders were unable to acknowledge God’s work in the ministry of John the Baptist, they remain unable to acknowledge their positions as ‘tenants’ before the son.

Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 118:22 changes the metaphor from tenants and slaves/sons/’housemaster’ to builders and cornerstones, but the central point remains the same. The leaders are charged with rejecting that which is central, and while they have been a stumbling block preventing others from recognizing the kingdom of heaven’s work in their midst, now they will stumble over this stone they rejected. The chief priests and the Pharisees, now introduced to the Jerusalem narrative, perceive that they are the targets of these words, but they are constrained by fear of the crowds who have gathered around Jesus.

Although this has often been used to support a reading where Israel is bypassed for the Gentiles, that is not the intent of Matthew. In the parable it is not Israel, the vineyard, who is replaced, but rather the leaders, the tenants. While, ironically, they can realize they are the focus of Jesus’ parables, they also speak their own judgment. If, like most scholars believe, that Matthew is written after the war with Rome in 66-73 CE it is apparent that Matthew understands the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by Rome in 70 as a part of God’s judgment on these leaders who have not produced the fruits of the vineyard. But the ‘house master’ is seeking better sons to work in the vineyard, better tenants to produce the fruits at the appointed time, and as we will soon see in the final parable those who respond to the summons to the long awaited great banquet.


[1] This is the Greek oikodespotes which links this passage with the parable in 20:1-16 and Matthew is the only gospel which titles the owner of the vineyard as a ‘house master.’ See the fuller discussion of oikodespotes in my comments on Matthew 20:1-16

[2] The Greek apedemesen is depart on a journey, the addition of to another country attempts to harmonize this telling with Luke’s version of the story, but the departure for another country is not there in the Greek in Matthew and Mark.

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Matthew 21: 23-32 Authority and the Parable of the Two Sons

A.N. Mironav, Parable of the Two Sons, CC by SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:The_Two_Sons

Matthew 21: 23-32

Mark 11: 27-33, Luke 20: 1-8

23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The fatherwent to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two didthe will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Jesus re-enters the temple after the night in Bethany. He has already upended, at least temporarily, the business of the temple and once again his presence brings conflict with the religious leaders in the temple. Throughout Jesus’ ministry he has evoked conflict with the religious leaders in the area he works, primarily with the Pharisees in Galilee and now with the religious elite of Jerusalem. Like the prophets who clashed with religious authorities before Jesus, it is helpful to remember that Jesus’ words, actions, and presence is unsettling to those with religious and political authority in his world. As Richard B. Hays can state:

Jesus’ message was controversial and threatening to the established institutions of religious and political power in his society: the message carried with it a fundamental transvaluation of values, an exalting of the humble and a critique of the mighty. The theme of reversal seems to have been pervasive in his thought. (Hays 1996, 163)

This conflict which opens a series of parables about reversal is a conflict between two perspectives on faithfulness. The chief priests and the elders represent the voice of the established order of the temple and in a reductionist way the priestly voice speaks to orthodoxy (right prayer/worship)[1] while Jesus, John, and the prophets have generally focused on orthopraxis (right actions). The authority of the chief priests and the elder comes from their position in the temple, but they do not have faith which allows them to see how God is at work in the things Jesus does and says.

The prophets and the psalms frequently criticize the people who continue to worship God in the temple but who fail to live in accordance with the covenant. Both John and Jesus have, in their own way, attempted to call the people into the ways of righteousness and have been resisted by the religious and political leaders in their proclamation and work. Jesus is now doing this work in the temple, and the chief priests and the elders say to him, “by what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus is doing the work, which included healing and teaching as well as the work of driving out the moneychangers, and especially with works like healing the authority must come from somewhere. The primary question is not whether Jesus has the authority to do what he is visibly doing, but where the authority is coming from. Previously Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of deriving power from Beelzebul (12:22-32), and while Warren Carter is correct that “the question is not about his identity but whether they will recognize it.” (Carter 2005, 423) Yet, from Matthew’s perspective the issue is not the ability of the chief priests and the scribes to acknowledge Jesus’ authority as proper but rather will the chief priests and elders have faith to recognize the works, the baptism of John, and John (and Jesus’) way of righteousness coming from heaven.

Politicians are famous for not answering the question that is asked, but I do not believe that is what Jesus is doing here. This scene sets up three interlocking parables, but Jesus’ question helps the reader (and has the potential to help the religious leaders) understand the first question better. Matthew links the language of Jesus and John the Baptist throughout the gospel[2] and so a question about the things John does gives the answer to the authority for the things Jesus does. If the authority of John is from heaven, the works that Jesus does are authorized by heaven, but if one cannot see the baptism of John and the transformation it brought into the lives of those who came to John as an action of the kingdom of God then one will not have the faith to understand how God is at work in the things Jesus does. Throughout this passage what the NRSV renders ‘believe’ is ‘have faith’[3] but even though Jesus does not directly answer their question, the first short parable gives them the answer.

Entering this and the following parable, it is helpful to understand that just like the fig tree the vineyard is a representation of Israel. Probably the most familiar reference to Israel being the vineyard of the Lord is Isaiah 5 where the LORD does everything possible for a vineyard to be fruitful, but it only bears wild grapes:

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness but heard a cry. Isaiah 5:7

It is important to note that in these parables of Jesus the vineyard is not destroyed, instead better sons (in this parable) and faithful stewards (in the following) parable are sought to work in the vineyard. It is not Israel that is the primary problem but the leaders who resist the will of the father. In this parable the father goes to the first son who states “I do not will/desire to go[4] but this son repents[5] and does the work of the father. The second son in contrast declares “I am, lord” but does not go. The inclusion for the second son of lord (Greek kurios) which can mean ‘sir’ but missing that this means ‘lord’ misses the connection with Matthew 7:21:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

The one who repents and goes into the vineyard does the will of their father, just like the sinners that observed John’s coming in the way of righteousness and had faith in him by repenting and changing their life did the will of God and enter into the kingdom of God. The religious leaders have seen the change in others but have resisted both John and Jesus and could not see God’s kingdom at work in the things they do.


[1] Orthodoxy is normally understood as correct beliefs, but the word itself means ‘right praise/prayer.’ The high priests and the elders are primarily concerned (as they are portrayed) focusing on the proper operation of the temple in its worship of God.

[2] Compare John’s message in 3:1-12 with Jesus in 4:17 and 10:7

[3] This may seem like semantics, but faith in Matthew’s gospel is an openness to where God is at work in the things Jesus (and John) are doing. For more on this see my discussion on Faith in Matthew’s gospel.

[4] The Greek thelo is the act of willing or desiring, so the action is not merely declining but stating it is not the desire of the son to do what the father asked.

[5] Greek metamelomai which means regret or repent.

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Matthew 21: 18-22 The Fig Tree and the Mountain

By Maahmaah – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21625760

Matthew 21: 18-22

Parallel Mark 11: 12-14, 20-26

18 In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 Jesus answered them, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. 22 Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”

The symbolism in this scene is so rich, and perhaps the disciples miss the mountain for the fig tree but so have most modern readers. Although this can be simply read as a story about the power of faith, a reader immersed in the language of scripture and who has some awareness of location in the narrative will see how Matthew (and Mark beforehand) is tapping into a rich prophetic language of the conflict between the religious leaders of the temple and the prophets declaring God’s judgment on the temple. Perhaps a fig tree is simply a fig tree and a mountain merely a mountain in the narrative but with Matthew’s (and Mark’s) careful use of the language of scripture this is unlikely.

The fig tree is one of the central images for Israel. It can be used as an image of what prosperity in Israel looks like when Israel is faithful to God:

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees. Deuteronomy 8:7-8[1]

But figs and fig trees are also frequently used by the prophets as images that reflect judgment:

Woe is me! For I have become like one who, after the summer fruit has been gathered, after the vintage has been gleaned, finds no cluster to eat; the is no first ripe fig for which I hunger. The faithful have disappeared from the land, and the is no one left who is upright; Micah 7: 1-2a

When I wanted to gather them, says the LORD, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them. Jeremiah 8:13[2]

Fig trees typically are harvested in June for early figs and in fall for mature figs. Although the Passover (in March/April) would be early for figs, the green figs which will develop will be on the tree. Yet, the symbolism of the fruitless tree, a tree which is an important image in Israel,which is cursed and withers is more than just Jesus reacting in hunger. This is a symbolic prophetic act, especially sandwiched between two times when Jesus enters the temple. The language of this action is also tied to the upcoming parable of the vineyard where the tenant refuse to provide the ‘fruits at the appointed time.’ It is possible that the disciples miss the significance of this action and are caught in the wonder of how Jesus did this action, but Matthew (and Mark beforehand) have crafted their narratives in ways that show that they understand this action as a, “symbolic act of one coming to judge those who do not bear fruit.” (Case-Winters 2015, 253)

Matthew places Jesus and the temple in conflict. The conflict between Jesus and the authorities in the temple as well as the talk of the coming destruction of the temple (and Jerusalem) will consume much of the next four chapters. Jesus stands in a long prophetic tradition which condemns the way the temple and its worship has displaced the covenant life desired by the God of Israel. It is also significant to understand the location that Jesus is speaking from, the mountain he is moving towards is the temple mount and when Jesus says “even if you say to this mountain” it is not a generic mountain.

Faith in Matthew is an openness to what God is doing, and for Matthew and his community they expect God to be at work in the world bringing about the kingdom of heaven. A recurring theme in the next chapters will be the resistance, or lack of faith, among the religious leaders in Jerusalem. While Matthew views the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by Rome as a judgment from God, much as Jeremiah would view Babylon’s destruction of temple and the city in his time, he also sees in this the beginning of God doing something new. Although I will note it frequently in the coming chapters, it is worth saying up front that Jesus’ primary conflict is with the leaders and not with the Jewish people. Matthew’s community is trying to figure out how to make sense of a radically transformed world where Jerusalem and the temple are no longer present and where they are trying to live faithful lives among the nations. Too often the texts that come at the end of Matthew have been used to justify the persecution or exclusion of the Jewish people, but Matthew, being the most Jewish of the gospels, calls for a much closer reading in light of the law, prophets and the psalms. That Jesus stands with a long line of Hebrew prophets who have condemned the actions of the temple and who call the people to a different vision of embodying the covenant should not be surprising, the crowds all seem to understand Jesus as a prophet. It also shouldn’t be surprising that Matthew’s community, living in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple as most scholars believe, would remember words and actions of Jesus that help them understand the destruction of temple and city. The followers of Jesus will need faith to understand how they can move beyond the temple and Jerusalem to find their identity in the community of Christ. Faith may move mountains, but it also helps the disciples understand how to live their life once mountains have been moved.

[1] see also Numbers 20:15, 1 Maccabees 14:12 as well as 1 Kings 4:25, Micah 4:4 and Zechariah 3:10 which I mentioned when discussing Matthew 20: 1-16

[2] See also Isaiah 34:4;Jeremiah 24: 1-10, 29: 17; Hosea 2:12, 9:10; Joel 1:7,

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Matthew 21: 12-17 Turning Tables and the Temple Upside Down

By Andrey Mironov 777 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24847288

Matthew 21: 12-17

Parallel Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19: 45-56; John 2: 13-17

12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”

14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?”

17 He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem culminates at the temple in Matthew’s gospel, and Matthew’s narration of this scene adds a lot of rich symbolism to the way Mark and Luke narrate this brief scene. Like the previous scene, many people remember this scene the way John narrates it with Jesus making a whip of cords to drive the moneychangers out of the temple (and John’s location of this event near the beginning of the gospel), but in Matthew, Mark and Luke this begins the direct conflict between Jesus and the temple authorities. Matthew in particular highlights many Davidic and prophetic themes in this purification of the temple.

Jesus has entered Jerusalem in a way that models Israel’s vision of an ideal king, and the rare good kings in Israel and Judah were responsible for bringing about reform in the temple. For example, Hezekiah’s repair and reform of the temple is narrated:

Hezekiah said, “Listen to me, Levites! Sanctify yourselves, and sanctify the house of the LORD, the God of your ancestors, and carry out the filth from this holy place. For our ancestors have been unfaithful and have done what is evil in the sight of the LORD our God; they have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the dwelling of the LORD, and turned their backs. 2 Chronicles 29: 5-6

The connection between this scene in 2 Chronicles and Matthew is strengthened when you realize that in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) the word translated ‘carry out’ in 2 Chronicles is the same word translated ‘drove out’ in Matthew. The Greek word ekballo, which is used in both places, is more commonly translated in Matthew ‘cast out’ and is the term used when Jesus exorcises demons. While Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus is purifying the temple, he may also be communicating that Jesus is performing an exorcism on the temple. The action is further explained by joining together two pieces of scripture in quotation. The first is Isaiah 56:7:

These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Isaiah 56 combines a vision of an expansive hope where foreigner and eunuchs once excluded from the temple are now included while the ‘sentinels and shepherds’ (Israel’s leaders-both religious and political) are condemned for their blindness. This is joined to Jeremiah 7:

Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house which is called by my name, and say, “We are safe!”—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the LORD. Jeremiah 7: 8-11

Matthew is the only gospel when Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” to specifically include the prophet Jeremiah as a portion of the answer (16: 14) and Matthew’s narration of the conflict between Jesus and the temple and the temple authorities echoes Jeremiah’s conflict with the temple and its leaders in his time. Both temples will be destroyed (the temple in Jeremiah’s time by Babylon, about 30 years after Jesus’ death the temple will be destroyed by Rome). Matthew will transition rapidly between prophetic and kingly allusions for Jesus throughout the crucifixion narrative, but this is not new in Matthew’s gospel. Just as the crowds in Matthew 16:14 (and entering Jerusalem in the previous section) could understand Jesus in terms of a prophet, Peter in 16:16 can highlight that ‘Messiah’ is an appropriate title for Jesus, and the crowds (as well as a foreigners (15:22) and the blind (9:27, 20:30)) can understand Jesus as the ‘Son of David.’

The moneychangers and dove sellers are replaced in the temple by the blind and the lame. Although Jesus is well known for his healing of the blind and the lame, this action is also symbolically rich when contrasted with David’s story. In 2 Samuel 5, the Jebusites who David conquers to take control of Jerusalem taunt David saying: “You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back”  (2 Sam. 5: 6) and when David conquers Jerusalem the phrase is now turned around to exclude the blind and the lame from Jerusalem and David’s house (perhaps excluding those Jebusites who were maimed in the battle). Yet, Jesus entering the temple makes space for the blind and the lame, and just as Isaiah 56 expanded the house of God to the previously limited eunuchs and foreigners, now the blind and lame are now made whole and enter into the temple of God with Jesus. Children are also present, just as they have been present throughout the section immediately prior to entering Jerusalem (18: 1-9; 19: 13-15) speaking the words the crowds shouted upon entering Jerusalem.

Jesus has upset the sacrificial system in the temple and has directly overturned the world of the chief priests and the scribes who are responsible for the temple. They are indignant (I translated this term as resentful earlier with the disciples (20:24) and indignant or resentful work here as well).There is probably an element of political danger with the proclamation of Jesus as ‘Son of David’ that may endanger not only Jesus, but they may feel, justly, that anyone acting like a king could be a danger to not only themselves and their followers but to the temple and the city as well. Yet, their conflict with Jesus will often ignore the actions of Jesus (both the symbolic and the healings) and focus on authority. Yet, Jesus invites them to wonder at what is happening in their midst and to hear scripture in a new way. They hear in the crowds proclamation danger, instead of hearing Psalm 8:3

Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’[1]

which helps the attentive reader understand that this is a time for praise because God is at work in the world and in the temple. Matthew quickly ends the day by taking Jesus and his followers outside Jerusalem to Bethany where he spends the night before returning to the temple again the following day.

[1] This is Psalm 8:2 in English/Hebrew, Matthew follows the Septuagint’s wording rather than the Hebrew text behind the NRSV and other translations. The versification in the Septuagint is different from most English translations in the Psalms, here it is only one verse difference but in other places it can be off by a chapter.

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Matthew 21: 1-11 The Entry into Jerusalem

Matthew 21: 1-11

Parallels Mark 11: 1-10; Luke 19: 28-40; John 12: 12-29

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The entrance to Jerusalem, celebrated at the beginning of Holy Week in liturgical churches, is often viewed as a triumphal procession, which in one way it is, but this rich prophetically symbolic event is sometimes lost amid the palm branches and joyous songs. The entrance to Jerusalem initiates the final section of the gospel which narrates the time between the entrance to Jerusalem and the resurrection. This even is narrated by all four gospels, but only in John are the branches mentioned to be the palms which give the liturgical celebration of Palm Sunday its name. Even though this initiates a new section as Jesus enters into conflict with the religious leaders in Jerusalem, Matthew as a skillful editor and storyteller weaves in numerous threads that connect this scene and the coming conflicts, parables, events and ultimately the crucifixion and resurrection to the teaching, parables, healings, and conflicts that have been a part of the ministry in Galilee and the approach to Judea.

The first connecting thread which ties this scene to the preceding narration in Matthew is the continued presence of doubling. Just as in the previous section where two blind men are healed (and this links the final scene of the narrative prior to entering to Jerusalem to scenes throughout Jesus’ ministry) now in this initial scene of the Jerusalem narrative we have two disciples sent to retrieve two animals. Just as Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy which ties the gospel to the story of Israel, now Matthew begins his narration of the events that lead to Jesus’ death by connecting it structurally with the narration of Jesus’ ministry.

Throughout this journey through Matthew I have linked Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of heaven with the vision God intended for Israel as an alternative community to the ways of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and now Rome. This insight helps hold together both sides of Jesus’ action of coming into Jerusalem on ‘a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ While David Garland is right to identify Jesus’ action of riding a donkey into Jerusalem with this action by previous claimants to the throne of David[1] and with the expectations of the actions of the awaited messiah (Garland 2001, 213) but Warren Carter is also correct that this act is “making an ass out of Rome” in entering Jerusalem in a way that is a parody of the Roman triumphs, victories and arrivals of a governor or emperor. (Carter 2005, 413) The vision of what a king of Israel is to be, according to the law as outlined in Deuteronomy 17: 14-20 ,is the opposite of the ways the kings and rulers of nations like Egypt and Rome acted. The problem Israel experienced is that the kings of Israel often imitated the kings of the empires rather than the vision of God for Israel. Even the disciples of Jesus will struggle to understand what it means for Jesus to be the Christ (messiah) as they think of ‘earthly things’ rather than ‘heavenly things.’ Jesus’ birth caused Herod to be frightened and all Jerusalem with him, and now his entry the city is shaken (this is the Greek seio, where the English seismic comes from, this will also be used for the earthquake at the death and resurrection of Jesus) by this act of approaching on a donkey and a colt, surrounded by the crowds that have approached Jerusalem in his presence. The people of Jerusalem, the urban center where now Pilate sits as the emissary of Caesar instead of Herod and they understand the prophetic significance of the actions and words of Jesus and his followers.

Matthew makes explicit what Mark implied about the biblical symbolism by weaving together Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9. While most readers probably assume Matthew’s use of scripture is merely predictive (pointing to texts from the Hebrew scriptures which demonstrate how Jesus fulfills scripture) but Matthew’s rich weaving of scripture can, for the careful reader, help illuminate a deeper engagement with what Jesus’ actions mean. As we begin this section of the story in Jerusalem Isaiah 62 and Zechariah will be two of the texts which help provide language which can explain what Jesus’ actions and eventual death will mean in this final section of Matthew. Isaiah 62 is a song of the restoration of Zion, and although Jesus’ actions will challenge the religious authorities in Jerusalem, this approach is ‘for Zion’s sake’ (Isaiah 62:1). This passage in Isaiah talks about the ending of Israel’s long exile and captivity to other empires. The specific verse which begins this intertwined quotation (the portion Matthew uses is underlined) is:

The LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to daughter Zion “see your salvation has comes; his reward is with him, and his recompense is before him. (Isaiah 62:11)

Matthew is a careful editor, when he quotes scripture and brings together verses it is intentional rather than a scribal error. Matthew seems to have access to the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the New Testament) as he is writing this and is very skilled in reading texts. The remainder of this text comes from Zechariah 9:9 which Matthew slightly modifies (again what Matthew uses is underlined):

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king is coming to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Matthew leaves off the note of triumph and victory from this quotation, even as he carefully includes the two animals (which again works in Matthew’s doubling pattern). Zechariah will continue to echo in Matthew’s narration of the passion narrative, especially in the Lord’s Supper where both the language of the blood of the covenant and striking the shepherd are rich echoes of Zechariah.

This blended quotation also allows Matthew to reintroduce the adjective ‘meek’ when referring to Jesus (NRSV humble, the Greek praus is the same term used in 5:5 and 11:29). Jesus’ actions help us understand this important term for Matthew, it does not mean silence or temerity but rather it refers to those who wait upon the Lord to deliver them rather than rising up in resistance. If there is a triumph here, the triumph belongs to the Lord, the God of Israel, rather than any king. But for Matthew we have God’s action on behalf of Israel and the ‘God who is with us’ in Jesus blended together in a way that defies easy categorization. Jesus may embody titles like savior (which may be why the beginning of Isaiah 62:11 is used), messiah/Christ/king, Son of David, and prophet, but none of them adequately describe the totality of Jesus in Matthew. Each may illustrate some amount of openness to God’s work in Jesus’ presence, but they also remain open to misinterpretation.

The crowds who enter with Jesus can declare Jesus as ‘Son of David,’ ‘one who speaks in the name of the Lord’ and ‘prophet’ which illuminates that they understand in part who Jesus is, unlike Jerusalem which quakes at his approach. Although Matthew does not specify, this crowd which enters Jerusalem with Jesus is probably not the same crowd that calls for his crucifixion. It is likely that it is the crowds from the urban center of Jerusalem who do not, at the urging of the religious leaders in the city, embrace Jesus’ words and actions. It is possible that some of the approaching crowd become disillusioned with the way Jesus embodies these titles, like Judas Iscariot who moves from a disciple to one who betrays. This scene probably reflects those who have journeyed with Jesus to Jerusalem in this festival season who enter as outsiders to the city. The people of Jerusalem may have heard stories of Jesus’ ministry and work, but in Matthew this is the first time and only time that Jesus comes to Jerusalem.

Unlike in Mark, where Jesus withdraws to Bethany after arriving at the temple late in the day, we will see Jesus immediately move from one symbolically rich action in the approach of the city directly to the symbolically rich action of clearing out the money changers and animal sellers in the temple. From a perspective where this action parodies the Roman practice of a victory parade where the conqueror proceeds to the temple to offer a sacrifice, we see Matthew joining the action on entry together with the action in the temple. But from the prophetic and Jewish perspective there is the action of Jesus embodying what a king is supposed to be. For Matthew’s narration of these linked scenes the figure of David will stand in the background of the narration as Jesus is acclaimed as Son of David, and particularly in the next scene there are some clever allusions to David’s capture of Jerusalem. But hauntingly the people entering with Jesus describe him as a prophet who is entering a city with a reputation for rejecting prophets. While David was often thought of as a prophet, especially as he is attributed with many of the Psalms, we see in Jesus one who brings together the role of prophet and king in a way not seen in Israel, with the possible exception of Moses.

[1] Absalom is riding a mule in 2 Samuel 18:9 when he dies during his rebellion against David, Solomon rides a mule to is anointing in 1 Kings 1: 33

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Reflection on C. S. Lewis’ the Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956)

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels

Book 50: C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

If you have read Lev Grossman’s the Magicians, it should clear of the influence of the Chronicles of Narnia on his writing since Narnia is slightly modified to become Fillory in his trilogy. I first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child and have read it multiple times both as a child and as an adult. Although it is a children’s story and can be read, on one level, as a simple fairy tale where four children find themselves in a magical world that they enter through a wardrobe, it also has moments of real profundity.

Since I own the Chronicles of Narnia I plan to add a brief reflection on each volume as I complete it:

The Magician’s Nephew:

Although it may be the sixth book written in the series, it is the beginning of the Narnia narrative. This is a creation story for Narnia and explains the origins of several features of the world and the entrance of the witch into Narnia. I listened to the audio version with Kenneth Branagh which is very well done. This is a well-done prequel to the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This story of a magical world and a conflict between good and evil also in a fable like manner touches in an allegorical way (whether C. S. Lewis intended or not) on many themes of Christianity, which C.S. Lewis also writes about explicitly in many of his other works. Even after many reads it is still an enjoyable story with many great images which I have been able to pull from at various times.

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Growing a Story

By FASTILY (TALK) – I created this work entirely by myself., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6850324

Growing a Story

Some kernel of truth was planted in the fecund imagination
And as the new shoot broke from the warm moist ground
Spreading its initial leaves to breath in the air in a new world
As an alien sun showers the cotyledons of the seed with radiation
And the roots begin to drive into the soil feeding on the detritus
So many things can happen to this new seedling over its maturation
The environment it emerges into may be too toxic for it to endure
Animals and insects may eagerly devour its first green leaves
Or weeds may grow up around it choking its access to the sun
Drought may deny it the nourishment it needs or flood may overwhelm
Subterranean pests or diseases may devour the roots it sinks
But sometimes, against all the odds, the roots delve deep
The plant spreads its tender branches towards the heavens
And the story slowly grows, struggling to reach maturity
Putting forth leaves, flower and fruit and delighting the eye
Yet no story grows unchanged by the world it enters
The knots and gnarls that give it character as it grows
Some branches have to be pruned carefully by its author
As it takes its place among the orchard that invites the hungry
To walk among the collected trees and to taste the fruit
Which provides the seeds for the next generation of stories

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Matthew 20: 29-34 Opening Eyes on the Way to Jerusalem

Jesus Healing the Blind From 12th Century Basilica Catedrale di Santa Maria Nouva di Monreale in Sicily.

Matthew 20: 29-34

Parallel Mark 10: 46-52; Luke 18: 35-43

29 As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30 There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” 32 Jesus stood still and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

Matthew is a careful narrator bringing together the pieces of Jesus’ story in a way that illustrates connections across the gospel and bringing enhanced meaning to each individual scene. The first disciples called to follow Jesus are two sets of brothers, (4:18-22) and the last who follow are two blind men enabled to see. Just as the request of the demons possessing two men make a request of Jesus (8: 28-34) is closely followed by the previous healing of two blind men (­9:27-31) so this healing of the two blind men is preceded by the formal request of the mother of James and John (see previous section). This pattern of twos provide clues to the oral structure underlying Matthew’s narration and provide signposts that allow the hearer to pay attention to commonalities in the stories. This narration of healing the two blind men outside of Jericho closes the gathering of Jesus’ followers in Galilee and on the road to Jerusalem. Its use of the Son of David title for Jesus recalls the previous usages of this title in the gospel[1] and prepares us for the crowds proclamation of this title as Jesus enters Jerusalem.

Jesus begins his final approach to Jerusalem making his way up from Jericho and a great crowd is with him. The crowds, like the disciples with the children, are a barrier for these two blind men to be in the presence of Jesus, but the use of both ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’ in their address to Jesus prepare us for Jesus’ eventual granting of their request. Previously when Jesus healed two blind men he ordered them to be silent, but instead they go and spread news about Jesus to the surrounding district. Here, the great crowds attempt to silence the two blind men only results in the blind men shouting greatly for mercy from the Lord, the Son of David. Matthew uses Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” as a key to understanding a merciful interpretation of scripture,[2] and just as the merciful are blessed and will receive mercy, Jesus responds with healing to numerous requests for mercy.[3] Jesus responds to this request for mercy with compassion.[4]

In contrast to the previous scene where the audacious request of the mother of James and John for a position of honor for her sons is met with a paradoxical partial fulfillment which points to James and John suffering, in this scene the request for mercy is met with healing. The response of Jesus to both the mother of James and John and the two blind men is and identical “What do you will (Greek theleo). There is irony in these two stories placed next to one another where disciples are unable to see what they ask, where these blind men are aware of their blindness and ask to be able to see. Despite the attempts to silence them by the crowds, they are invited into the presence of Jesus, touched by him, and have their eyes opened. Unlike the previous healing of blind men where faith was a primary portion of the story, the question of faith is unaddressed but assumed by both the titles used and the persistence of these blind men who become followers on the road to Jerusalem. Ironically, the words that the crowds attempt to silence from these two blind men becomes their shout as they surround Jesus to enter Jerusalem.

[1] The two blind men in 9:27 and the Canaanite woman in 15:22 use this title asking for healing and the crowd wonders could this be the Son of David in 12:23. For a fuller discussion of the use of the Son of David title see Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man Titles in Matthew’s Gospel.

[2] See 9:13 and 12:7

[3] 5:7 in the Sermon on the Mount; healings after requests for mercy: 2 Blind men (9:27-31), Canaanite woman (15: 21-28), Father of the moonstruck son (17:14-21) see also the request for mercy in the parable of the unforgiving slave (18:30-32)

[4] Previously Jesus has had compassion for the crowds (9:36, 14:18, and 15:32) but not for individuals. Compassion also is the expected action of the unforgiving slave in the parable (18:27)

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