Matthew 17: 22-23 The Way of the Cross part 2

Domine, quo Vadis? by Annibale Carracci, 1062

Matthew 17: 22-23

22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, 23 and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” And they were greatly distressed.

Matthew, like Mark, loves patterns of threes which is a frequently seen characteristic of literature written for to be heard primarily rather than read. This is the second and shortest of the three predictions of the passion in the gospel and they all either precede misunderstandings by the disciples about what it means to be followers of Jesus. In the first prediction Peter will rebuke Jesus and need to be told what discipleship will mean (16: 21-28), in this prediction there is an intermediary scene before the disciples ask who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (18:1-5) and the final prediction will be followed by the mother of James and John asking for places of honor in the kingdom (20: 17-28). The disciples show some understanding of this brief statement as they gather in Galilee, but until the resurrection they will continue to perceive only a portion of Jesus’ identity and path.

There is no location for the impending betrayal of ‘the Son of Man into the hands of men[1] unlike the previous prediction where Jerusalem is both their destination and where Jesus will encounter suffering. This statement of Jesus’ death in heard by the disciples and they understand that Jesus’ use of the title Son of Man is a reference to himself and they grasp enough to be greatly distressed about his upcoming betrayal and death. They are unable to understand his message about the resurrection. Even Peter, James and John who heard that the Son of Man was to suffer while coming down the mountain, even after experiencing the transfiguration of Jesus and the overwhelming presence of God on the mountain, share with the rest of the disciples the inability to consider the resurrection after three days as a possibility. Those hearing this narration are being prepared to make sense of the upcoming crucifixion and resurrection and this foreshadowing helps upcoming generations of disciples to make sense of the seeming senselessness of the cross and to anticipate the amazement of the resurrection.

[1] The Greek word anthropos lies behind the Man in Son of Man and human in human hands. The NRSV is correct in the translation of the term as Son of Man and humanity but it misses the world play between the two terms in Greek and how the betrayal of the ‘son of humanity’ is accomplished by ‘human hands.’

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