Poet End This War

Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis 1856

Poet cast your spell upon our imaginations to see a way beyond this fight
Use your words to help us see another path than the road to hell we’ve paved
Be the prophet who helps us see the humanity in those we’ve demonized
Be the statesman who can inspire the better angels of our humanity
Be the sage whose wisdom can cut through the proud prognostication of fools
Move us beyond our fear, teach us to hope again and poet
End this war!
 
Poet, I know that in the past your words have fallen upon ears that no longer hear
Made deaf by the frenetic posturing of the pundits and politicians with their promises
You spoke an inconvenient truth as others shouted what seemed attractive lies
Quiet our minds so we can hear the peaceful words you softly uttered in our midst
Still our tongues and turn us away from the screens that distract us and close our eyes
So that we might see the visions you dream and poet
End this war!
 
Poet, I know this request would be easier if your lips still moved and your heart still beat
If we had honored your presence among us rather that branding you a pariah
If your difficult words, which were the medicine we needed, we received as a prescription
Instead they became the justification used for your surgical removal from society
For we danced the bloody dance where steel and lead are mightier than the pen
Where prophets and poets, statemen and sages are those out of step and out of time
We have drunk this bloody feast, this unholy communion and poet
End this war!
 
Poet, as I read your words through the tears in my eyes something broke inside my heart
I have consumed your words which were so sweet but turned to sourness in my gut
Your words were the mirror we needed to look inside to see how we far we fell
The poet may be gone but the poetry remains and there is some magic left in these scrolls
My dry bones sit in this boneyard hoping for some wind of inspiration to breath
When I hear your spirit whispering softly in my ear, “Poet
End this war!”

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A Shard of Ice

 

She draws thralls to her as she rides across the snow in the winter’s frosted air
The woman in black upon her black horse, with violet eyes and pale white skin
A spray of crystals cast up from the metallic shoes piercing the thin layer of ice,
That covers the earth as a frozen blanket fly through the piercing cold
Shrapnel waiting to puncture the skin of any who happen too close to her path
Those whose blood run cold from the shard of ice lodged into their heart
Unable to know any love other than that of the ice queen dressed in black
 
What made her so cold, this magical queen, who desires above all else warmth
Who draws others to her embrace until abandons them to their fate
To desire her who cannot love them back, for she never learned how to love
She knows the cold of winter, and while she may dream of the thaw of spring
That is not her element, she may have been forged in fire but now she is cold steel
A dagger that can only wound and never heal, a weapon not a salve
Yet many continue to dare to dance upon her razor fine edge and bleed
 
Yet, in the danger and coldness there is an undeniable allure that draws men
Like insects drawn towards the light that ultimately consumes them
She is who she was formed to be, she knew only abandonment and betrayal
Now she is the truth that she knows, the shard of ice that pierces her own heart
The desire to be loved and the inability to trust that the love offered is real
She wishes she could be an empty carapace of a cold skull unaware of the damage
She causes as she rides across the land leaving frozen souls in her wake
 
Black and white, fire and ice, steel and flesh, emotions, whim and lies
The absence of feeling and the presence of desire, longing for love and passion
Drawn to power, seeking truth, whatever it may be in her frozen heart
There is a cool fire that lies in her violet eyes, but there is ice in her veins
And those whose destinies have been joined to hers will know her pain
For they dared to draw to close to the ice queen as she rode through winter
And their truth is now her shard of ice that cuts into their souls
 

 

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Matthew 10: 1-23 Summoning and Sending the Twelve

James Tissot, The Exhortation to the Apostles (between 1886 and 1894)

 Matthew 10: 1-23

Parallels Mark 3: 13-19a; 6: 6-11; 13: 9-13; Luke 9: 1; 6: 12-16; 9: 2-5; 12: 11-12; 6: 40

Highlighted words will have comment on translation below

 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

16 “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

The narrative in Matthew pushes us into these moments where the words of Jesus are used to reveal what the nature of discipleship will be for those called to follow (or in this case be sent by) Jesus. This block of teaching, sometimes called the ‘missionary discourse’ or the ‘apostolic discourse’ forms a cohesive unit of instruction for Matthew while Mark and Luke scatter these words throughout their gospels. Matthew remains a skilled editor, bringing together units in a way that is easy to remember and in sections that can easily be used to instruct future generations of those entrusted to proclaim the message of the kingdom of heaven’s presence among the earth. While this portion of the story is directed towards the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ it will continue to resonate for those who read this passage post-resurrection where apostles are sent beyond Israel to Samaria, the surrounding region of the Gentiles and to all the nations with the message and authority of the risen Christ.

The number twelve is symbolic in Israel, representing the twelve tribes named for the twelve sons of Jacob (Israel). In summoning twelve disciples Jesus symbolically has chosen one person to represent each of the lost tribes of Israel. The authority Jesus shares with them has been demonstrated in the previous two chapters of healings and exorcisms by Jesus and now the disciples are to exercise the same authority. The naming of the twelve disciples/apostles has a few interesting notes: we are introduced to the two sets of brothers in Matthew 4: 18-22, and unlike Mark and Luke we learn that  Matthew is noted to be the tax collector introduced in Matthew 9: 9-13. Even though the ministry is to the lost sheep of Israel, the second Simon is noted as ‘the Cananaean’ (Luke titles presumably the same Simon as Simon the Zealot) and finally there is the oft discussed title of Judas, Judas Iscariot. We often think of people having last names, but when someone is given a second addition to their name in ancient times it is a way of linking either to family (typically proceeded by son of…) or some other descriptor. Iscariot could be a linkage to the Sicarii, a group of Jewish Zealots prior to the fall of the temple in 70 CE who strongly opposed Rome’s rule in Judea (the name comes from the daggers they concealed under their cloaks). If Judas is linked to the Zealots then it could explain his later betrayal of Jesus and would make this group that Jesus called a diverse group: uniting fishermen, tax collectors, zealots and perhaps even a non-Jew. Regardless of origins, the twelve disciples will be instrumental in the continued witness of Jesus’ ministry and meaning in the time after the resurrection.

These twelve apostles (apostle means ‘one sent out’) are now joined to this continued reconstitution of the people of God. The title ‘lost sheep’ echoes Jeremiah:

My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains; from mountain to hill they have gone, they have forgotten their fold. All who found them have devoured them, and their enemies have said, “We are not guilty, because they have sinned against the LORD, the true pasture, the LORD, the hope of their ancestors.   Jeremiah 50: 6-7, see also the language of Ezekiel 34 (although the term lost sheep is not used)

The Greek term for lost, apollumi, is a word that normally means destroyed, killed, or perished (the Hebrew term in Jeremiah can also have these meanings in addition to lost). In combination with the later message about being lambs going among the wolves, those who have devoured, the language poetically evokes, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, both a God who can bring new life out of death, can re-gather a decimated flock and whose presence makes new realities possible, but also that these activities will be resisted. Yet, the sending is a message of hope, not judgment. As Richard B. Hays can state:

Matthew 10, however, show no interest in pronouncing judgment on the people for straying from the fold. Rather, Jesus is portrayed as sending the disciples out to rescue and regather them, because “the kingdom of heaven has come near” (10:7). (Hays, 2016, p. 129)

The proclamation that the ‘kingdom of heaven has come near’ is identical to the gospel that Jesus proclaims in Matthew 4: 23 but the word euangellion which is translated gospel or good news is not present in the Greek. Regardless the apostles are sent as heralds of the approaching kingdom of God in both words and actions which are identical to those already demonstrated by Jesus. “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” evokes the healing narratives in Matthew 8-9 which those reading the gospel, or hearing it read, have just encountered. They are to do this not for financial gain, they are not to use these powers entrusted to them to accumulate wealth or power, but instead (in the order the Greek renders it) “without cost you received, without cost give.”

The word translated take in verse 9 is ktaomai which is better translated acquire, and probably has less to do with what the disciples may take for their journey than continuing to emphasize that they received without cost and they are to give without cost. Laborers deserve their food, but they are not to accumulate precious metals, additional clothing or items for their journey. They are to rely on the hospitality of the people to be provided for during their stay with them, but they are not to use this commissioning as a means to accumulate. They are to find a worthy person to receive their message and to be their host, they are to offer their blessing of peace to that home so long as the home is worthy and shows them hospitality. They are the heralds of the message, but they cannot ensure its reception and if they are not received with hospitality then they are to depart without even the dust of the town or home that wouldn’t receive them. Those places are guilty of the same violation that Sodom made when the angels visited their town and Lot’s home in Genesis 19, they did not extend hospitality and they were hostile to the emissaries of God’s kingdom. While the apostles carry a message of hope, Jesus’ words point to the necessity of receiving this message for the approach of the kingdom of heaven is joyous for those who receive it with joy but judgment for those aligned against it.

Just as verse seven looked back to chapters eight and nine with the apostles now doing the very things that Jesus did, now in verses 16-23 the persecutions that those sent out with the message entrusted to them by Jesus will encounter the same reception that Jesus receives. Being handed over to councils and synagogues (26: 1-5; 26: 57-68), dragged before governors and kings (27: 1-2, 11-26), being betrayed by brothers (which can also reference not only physical connection but also may reference being betrayed by other believers as with Judas 26: 47-51). (Allen, 2013, p. 105) They are sent out to the lost sheep of Israel as sheep themselves, subject to the same dangers from those who have previously devoured the flock. They are called on to be shrewd and at the same time not to adopt the practices of those who have left the flock in such a decimated state. They will receive the same treatment that Jesus did, and though Matthew doesn’t share the gospel of John’s imagery of Jesus being the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ these sheep, like Jesus will be handed over to death for the sake of the world.

Those carrying this proclamation will be hated because they represent a challenge to those who have been the shepherd, both political and religious, to the flock and have fattened themselves off the flock. The shepherd have turned out to be wolves, brothers may become betrayers and in the acidic words of Johnathan Swift these wolves or shepherds or brothers have “just enough religion to make us hate one another—but not enough to make us love one another” (Case-Winters, 2015, p. 159) The disciples are to be something different, to have enough ‘religion’ or faith to make us love one another, to perceive the advance of the kingdom of heaven against the forces that keep people enslaved, possessed, sick and injured. They are not to practice the ways of the shepherds who became wolves by accumulating the possessions and wealth of the sheep they were to care for, but instead to trust that they have what they need for the ministry they are sent into. The world may be a dangerous place but there are worthy homes and people who are willing to practice hospitality and to hear their proclamation. These apostles have no time for places unreceptive to their message and resistant to the kingdom of heaven. They merely are to shake off the dust and walk (or flee) to the next town, for there are more towns in Israel than they can cover. The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are relatively few.

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Neighborhood Watch

Neighborhood Watch

‘A house is a man’s castle’ and so like the castles of old we surround them with fortifications
Locks bar the gates to prevent the approach of the barbarian hordes that loot and pillage
Cameras act as sentinels watching every boundary where someone might approach
Alarms await as klaxons to summon those who come with badges and guns to defend us
And we sit alone, separated from the dangerous world in the cage we built to keep it outside
Signs declare that this is a neighborhood where the citizens are on a hair trigger alert
‘Good walls make good neighbors’ declared the neighbor in Robert Frost’s Mending Wall
But perhaps we, like Frost’s neighbor who declares this, are merely cutting ourselves off
From the world of people who would otherwise pass through on their journey
Visitors who we might invite inside, to break bread with and to listen to their stories
Instead we sit alone searching our screens for the connections we used to make at table
Entering the sanctuaries we made from the modern world, only to wonder if perhaps
The neighborhood watch, instead of creating a place where our children could play in safety,
Instead became a place where we watch one another from our separate cells longingly
If our homes which became castles were really only dungeons in disguise, our own Alcatraz
Where the locks and bars and cameras keep us in, and the rest of the world out
Like animals trapped in some bizarre zoo so that the neighborhood can watch
As we live out these lives that are no longer worth living surrounded by the suffocating safety
Of the world that our fear locked us inside, disconnected from our neighbors and the world
On the other side of the walls, ingesting the worry that comes to us every hour from our screens
Telling us that the world is a dangerous place and that we are safest locked inside our homes
Where ‘good walls make good neighbors’ who no longer cross the property line
But instead remain as the neighborhood watch, watching for signs of life that approach our walls
So that it might be escorted back to its own place, its own home, its own cage
Lest some lion or tiger or bear might escape from its place in the exhibition

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The Son of David, Son of God, and Son of Man Titles in Matthew’s Gospel

Stained Glass window at the Melkite Catholic Annunciation Cathedral in Roslindale, MA depicting Christ the King with the regalia of a Byzantine Emperor

The gospels use several titles when talking about Jesus. When looking at Matthew’s gospel the particular title that is used may give important clues about the disposition of characters in the story in relation to Jesus, but since so many of these titles are deployed in chapters eight and nine it may be helpful to examine each one in a little more detail.

The ‘Son of’ titles: Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man

Son of David or relation to David:

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. (2 Samuel 7: 12-13, 15-16)

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. (Isaiah 11: 1)

The land, the temple and the Davidic line of kings were significant pillars of Judaic identity for centuries. The destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in the years around 586 BCE brings an end to the reign of Davidic kings over Judah, but one of the hopes is that in the post-exilic years there will be a reestablishment of the line of Davidic kings and with that reestablishment will be a return to the ‘golden era’ of the Hebrew people. After Babylon the land of Israel is, with the short exception of the time after the Maccabean revolt, ruled by a foreign empire either directly or through vassal kings. The Son of David title in relation to this existing hope is the desire for a King of the Jews that will be God’s anointed one that will bring the people back to their glory days when they were not ruled over by Rome or the Herodian kings. In this way the title is close to the Christ/Messiah title.

Matthew spends longer on the genealogy of Jesus than on narrating the birth of Jesus, and one of the primary linkages in the genealogy is to David. From the first verse we learn that Jesus is the Son of David, the Son of Abraham and David stands at the transition from one set of fourteen generations to the next. The lineage of David is also highlighted both at the end of the genealogy in verse 17 and in the address to Joseph, Son of David in the birth narrative in verse 20. While the continuity with the person and story of David in important to Matthew, the Son of David title is never used by Jesus to refer to himself and the only time Jesus mentions David he implies or states that we are seeing one who is greater than David. In Matthew 12: 3, when responding to the Pharisees complaint about Jesus’ disciples plucking grain on Sabbath, Jesus replies to the Pharisees complaint, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?” and he proceeds to imply that he is greater than David, greater than the temple and, using his chosen title states that, “the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” Additionally in conflict with the Pharisees in Matthew 22:41-45 when Jesus asks, “What do you think of the Messiah, whose Son is he?” the Pharisees’ response is “the Son of David” but then Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1 and again states that David calls the Messiah (and by implication himself) Lord.

Several of the uses of Son of David are related to requests for healing, which is surprising because David is not thought of as a healer (with the possible exception of playing the harp to calm the evil spirits in Saul). In the closely related stories of the two blind men in Matthew 9:27 and the two blind men in Matthew 20: 30 the request for healing comes in the identical form, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” Similarly, the Canaanite woman asking for the demon to be cast out of her daughter in Matthew 15:22 asks, “Have mercy on me, Son of David.” The combined usage of this title with both the blind and an outsider paradoxically imply that the blind and the outsider perceive what others do not. The crowds will initially ask “Can this be the Son of David?” in Matthew 12: 23, which will bring about another conflict with the Pharisees where Jesus will again claim the title Son of Man and link his healings and work to the Spirit and the Kingdom of God. Finally, in Matthew 21:9 and 21: 15 the crowds will shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”

While Jesus will almost always use the Son of Man title (see below) to refer to himself, the linkage with David and the hope of a renewal of the Davidic line is present in Matthew. Jesus’ actions also enhance the linkage with David as we will see when we look at the ‘triumphal entry’ into Jerusalem in Matthew 21: 1-11. Matthew regularly taps into the prophetic hope surrounding the reestablishment of a Davidic king who will be the awaited messiah. Yet Matthew, along with the rest of the New Testament, attempts to deploy a wide range of titles and narratives to describe the central importance that Jesus of Nazareth will occupy in the hope and faith of the disciples who make up Matthew’s community.

Son of Man (Son of Humanity)

As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being (Son of Man—this is a place where the NRSV’s desire for inclusivity unfortunately obscures the textual linkage) coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed. Daniel 7: 13-14

The Son of Man, or one like a human being as the NRSV renders this figure, appropriates the connection between the Davidic king and God and places it within a cosmic context. Daniel, where this title emerges from, is probably one of the later books of the Hebrew scriptures but it operates in a world where God reveals how God is active in the midst of the rise and fall of empires and kings. The worldview of Daniel, sometimes called an apocalyptic worldview, believes that the God of Israel is ultimately in control in the world and the God will judge the nations and restore the faithful ones to their proper place once God acts in judgment toward the nations. In place of the domination of the nations the cosmic Son of Man assumes a dominion that will not end. Although there is a strong resonance with the Son of Man and the Son of David, the Son of David is closely linked to Israel while the Son of Man’s dominion is over all peoples, nations and languages.

Among the ‘Son of’ titles Jesus, in Matthew, uses the Son of Man exclusively in referring to himself. The Son of Man title is often used to refer to both the suffering of the Son of Man and the authority or glory of the Son of Man while other times it simply seems to be a self-reference to Jesus as he describes either what it means to follow him or how he is received. The title Son of Man is first used in Matthew 8:20 when a scribe approaches Jesus as a ‘Teacher’ and offers to follow him wherever he goes. Here Jesus describes the manner of his life, and by implication the life of those who would follow him wherever he goes by stating, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Similarly, Jesus uses the title for description of how he is received in Matthew 11: 19, “the Son of Man cam eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton, and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ And finally, in Matthew 20: 28, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Finally, when Jesus asks his disciples about how he is perceived he uses this title again, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16: 13) but then immediately follows that question with asking his disciples “But who do you say that I am?”

Most of the usages of the Son of Man title are explicitly tied to either Jesus’ authority or his suffering. Many of the texts of suffering are explicitly tied to the handing over of Jesus to those with religious and political authority and his crucifixion (Matthew 12: 40; 17:12, 17:22, 20: 18, 20:28, 26:2, 26:24, 26:45) repeatedly tying Jesus’ embodiment of this title with suffering, crucifixion and death. Yet suffering and glorification are linked in this title both in terms of resurrection (17:9) in manners that have a strong resonance with Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man receiving authority and coming on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 19: 28, 24: 27-44, 25: 31-46, and in response to the accusation of being the Messiah the Son of God in Matthew 26: 64). But it can also be used in more mundane ways to justify the authority Jesus exercises to forgive sins (9:6) or to have greater authority than his opponents concerns about Sabbath regulations (12:8). The Son of Man title is closely tied to the authority, suffering, resurrection, glorification and self-identification of Jesus. Matthew, with seeing Jesus’ authority extending beyond Israel to include all the nations, probably hears in this title a more universal claim to authority and power than the Son of David title carries.

Son of God

I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.” Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” Psalm 2: 7-8

Most modern readers assume that the Son of God title automatically assumes divinity, but in the ancient world being called a son of a god was associated with being king. Caesar Augustus, emperor of Rome at the birth of Christ was often referred to on inscriptions and coins as ‘the son of the divine Julius’ (Julius Caesar being afforded divinity upon his death) but this practice also has strong ties in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially in the language of the book of Psalms. As one whose authority was derivative from the LORD the God of Israel, and one who reigned on God’s behalf the anointed king could be referred to, as in Psalm 2 above, as the son.

In Matthew this title probably has the most surprising application. On the one hand it is implied twice from the voice from heaven of a cloud where the implied speaker is God (Matthew 3:17, 17:5) declaring Jesus as the Son, the beloved. On the other hand it is most frequently found in the mouth of forces in resistance to Jesus: the devil in the temptation (Matthew 4: 1-11), 2 demon possessed men (8:29), the high priest at Jesus’ trial (26: 63) and mockers at the cross (27: 30-34).  Yet, it can also be found on the mouth of Jesus’ disciples in general (14:33) and Peter specifically in his answer to the question “But who do you say I am” when he responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (16:13) In Peter’s answer we see Messiah (anointed king) and Son of the living God tied together. While the Son of God title in both Jewish and empire context are linked closely to the authority of a king, Matthew is probably hinting with both the title from the voice from heaven and its ironic usage by both the devil and demoniacs that something greater is at play. This is also alluded to in Matthew 14:33 when the disciples not only declare Jesus the Son of God but also worship him.

The three ‘Son of’ titles overlap in their understanding of the kingly role of Jesus. Jesus at a minimum in Matthew is linked to the hope for a Davidic king and to God’s action to act on behalf of God’s people and to reign over the nations. The titles in their usage are also tied to the title of Jesus as Christ/Messiah and his proclamation of the kingdom of heaven/God. In Matthew, Jesus intentionally uses the Son of Man title for self-reference with its more universal application than the Son of David or Son of God titles. Yet, all three titles link Jesus to the hope for a divinely anointed leader who would rescue the people and through the narrative of Matthew we see how Jesus both accepts and changes the expectations for these hopes.

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Faith in Matthew’s Gospel

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

 

Faith, believing, and unbelief are frequently used terms in Matthew, all originating with the Greek pistis. When modern people use terms like faith or belief they typically are referring to some type of cognitive assent-I believe certain things to be true, but the frequent usage of faith related terms in Matthew indicates definitions closer openness or trust than some type of cognitive assent to certain beliefs. There is a certain elasticity to how Matthew employs these terms but when we think about faith in Matthew it is not belief in the dogmatic sense.

As I’ve alluded to several times while discussing portions of Matthew that we view the world differently than the people that Matthew’s gospel is written to. I still find one of the more helpful ways to think of this difference comes from the philosopher Charles Taylor in his work A Secular Age where he differentiates between our ‘disenchanted’ world and the ‘enchanted’ world of our ancestors. Most ancient cultures, and the readers of Matthew’s gospel certainly fit within this characterization, believed there were times, places and individuals where the spiritual side of reality permeated their reality. Divine and demonic forces were actively at work in the world and responsible for sickness, famine, war, acts of nature and could be at work for or against the individual living in this enchanted world. Demons might cause a person to be mute or have a seizure, they might cause a storm to come upon the sea or the crops to fail. God or another deity might bring a bountiful harvest or hold back the rains as a judgment on the lack of ‘faithfulness’ of the chosen people. Ritual, when done by the priests, or magic, when done by others, often tapped into these people, times, and places where the spiritual world drew close to our own.

The gospel of Matthew is written from the perspective that the spiritual realm of the LORD the God of Israel, the Kingdom of Heaven, has now drawn near and turning towards the approaching Kingdom of Heaven is the proper response. (Matthew 4: 17) Although this is a minimalistic way of putting things, in Jesus we have a person where the spiritual side of reality associated with the God of Israel is able to act upon the earth and against the demonic forces that enslave, the sin that condemns and the lack of holiness that excludes. Faith or belief in Matthew’s gospel seems to reflect an openness or an awareness of this reality that some have while others do not. Some, like the centurion and the Canaanite woman, seem to perceive this reality in Jesus without having the background of the Jewish scriptures and practices, but instead use their own frameworks to understand who Jesus is and what Jesus means.

A special usage of this term, oligopistoi, what I’ve translated ‘little faith ones’ is always used in relation to Jesus’ disciples. They may not demonstrate the moments of clarity or openness that those coming to Jesus requesting a healing or exorcism may, but their faith is enough to recognize the call that Jesus extends to them. Traditionally translators and commentators have viewed ‘little faith’ as a criticism but Jesus, even asked to increase the disciples’ faith in Matthew 17: 20 (after they were unable to exorcize the demon of the son the father brings to them) tells that if they have ‘faith the size of a mustard seed’ they can command mountains to move. Being a ‘little faith one’ is not a crisis, for indeed these little faith ones will be sent out with the authority to heal and cast out demons and carry out the mission in chapter ten as emissaries of the kingdom and workers in the harvest. Jesus seems to be indicating that those with a small amount of faith can still do incredible things. As Mark Allan Powell can state,

So, Jesus seems to be saying, the amount of faith is not what’s important; you just need to know what to do with the faith you have. Quit worrying about whether you have enough faith and start asking, “Which mountains does God want me to move?” (Powell, 2004, p. 112)

Jesus may be able to expound about people like the Canaanite woman or the centurion that they have ‘great’ faith (in contrast to the little faith of the disciples) and they may simply have a greater openness to what God is doing in the world. This is not limited to Jesus’ time. There are many who are outside of organized religion who demonstrate a greater openness to God’s action than those who have been shaped by congregations. That doesn’t mean that faith and understanding cannot coexist, merely that they are not the same thing. I do think when Matthew invites the disciples who come to hear his gospel into the world of Jesus, he is also trying to invite us into a world where God’s kingdom is active and present, where in Jesus we meet the ‘God who is with us’ and to invite us, whether our faith is great or little, to hear about the people whose faith enabled them to see in Jesus the opportunity for God’s healing, forgiveness, and even resurrection.

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Matthew 9: 32-38 Never Has Anything Like This Been Seen in Israel part 3

James Tissot, Healing the Blind and Mute Man, late 19th Century

Matthew 9: 32-38

Parallels Mark 3:22, Luke 11: 14-15; Mark 6:6b, 34; Luke 8:1; 10:2

32 After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. 33 And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.”

35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

This third miraculous story of the third set of stories brings this section to a close and prepares us for the time when the apostles are sent out into the fertile fields to collect the waiting harvest. Even though Jesus has ordered people not to discuss the healing they have received the word has been shared and the crowd is now watching Jesus. With this final story of an exorcism in this section we also see the Pharisees again enter the scene and challenging the authority that Jesus is demonstrating. The seeds have been planted, the good news of the kingdom is gaining a hearing, the demons holding people in bondage are being expelled and surrounding Jesus is the harassed and helpless crowd looking for a shepherd to lead them in their confusion. Like a skilled composer Matthew has brought us to this point in the narrative, rhythmically setting us up to contemplate what following Jesus will mean, preparing us for the calling to go out with the apostles as laborers in the harvest, as shepherds helping to gather the harassed and confused flock, and as emissaries of the kingdom of heaven.

The man’s muteness is attributed to demon possession, and while we in our scientific worldview might look for medical explanations of a person being unable to speak the narrative views the man’s muteness as symptomatic of demonic possession. Whether we consider this narrative a healing or an exorcism matters little in relation to the person healed, but it is key to the question of authority that is put to Jesus by the Pharisees. In Mark’s gospel this challenge is met by Jesus’ response about Satan casting out Satan and brief parable of binding the strong man, but in Matthew the Pharisees challenge merely contrasts with the amazement of the crowds. In each of the reflections on discipleship that come after each trio of miracle stories in these chapters the scribes and Pharisees find themselves on the outside looking in at Jesus and his disciples. They, unlike the crowd, remain unconvinced that Jesus’ authority is coming from God and they continue to find themselves unable to see Jesus as one who can act as the shepherd of the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus, in Matthew’s telling, seems unperturbed by the resistance of the Pharisees and doesn’t consider their challenge worthy of an answer.

Jesus has already been in motion but here the pace quickens as the intensity increases. The narrative speeds up as the we learn that the harvest time approaches, and we quickly move to the instruction Matthew feels is important for these heralds of the kingdom.

The identification of the crowd as ‘sheep without a shepherd’ echoes Moses’ concern in Numbers about the need for a leader for the people after he is no longer with them:

“Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint someone over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD may not be like sheep without a shepherd. Numbers 27: 16-17

This language gets echoed in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Micah and Zechariah[1] where the image of the shepherd is sometimes the faithless leaders, sometimes the hoped-for Davidic leader and frequently the LORD acting as the shepherd (often to gather and sometimes to scatter). Matthew probably hears not only Jesus acting in concert with Moses and the hoped-for Son of David but also probably in terms similar to Ezekiel 34:

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the LORD God. Ezekiel 34: 15

In addition to the image of the Lord acting as shepherd is the additional image of the Lord of harvest. The harvest is often an image of hope in the midst of judgment where there is both accountability for those who have led the people astray and a hope for a new beginning. For example, Hosea can state:

For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed. When I would restore the fortunes of my people. Hosea 6:11

 Joel can see the image of harvest as a time where God restores Israel and judges all the surrounding nations that have oppressed Israel in the midst of a very militaristic hope where plowshares are turned into swords and pruning hooks into spears for the warriors of the LORD (Joel 3). Yet, Jesus’ vision of the kingdom is a place where violence is not resisted, and where shepherds are both leaders and healers. It isn’t like anything that has been seen in Israel previously and perhaps that is why it is so difficult for those reading scripture in light of a different hope to understand Jesus’ proclamation and work. Yet, in spite of the resistance the seeds have been sown, the harassed crowds have found a shepherd and the harvest awaits laborers called to go forth into the harvest. As we have moved back and forth between Jesus’ actions that invite us to ponder his authority and identity and the calls into following him which invite us to wonder what this calling will mean,  Matthew will now take us into Jesus’ commissioning of his called laborers to participate in the awaiting harvest.

[1] Isaiah 41: 11; Jeremiah 23: 2,4; 31:4; Ezekiel 34; 37:24; Amos 3: 12; Micah 7: 14; Zechariah 10: 2; 11; 13:7

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