Monthly Archives: April 2021

Matthew 27:1-14 Blood Money, The Potters Field, and an Amazed Pilate

Antonio Ciseri, Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) between 1860 and 1880

Matthew 27:1-14

Parallel Mark 15:1-5; Luke 23: 1-5; John 18: 29-38; Acts 1:15-20

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. 2 They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.[1]

3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesuswas condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocentblood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” 7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah,”And they tookthe thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set,on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gavethem for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus has presented the kingdom of heaven as an alternative to the ways of the Roman Empire and the ways in which the religious authorities, who opposed him, had adapted to their place within that empire. Judas may have handed over innocent blood cheaply, but even Judas repents in the end while these religious leaders remain indifferent to the way they have failed to embody the justice that the God of Israel expects of the people in the law. Both the religious leaders and the Procurator of Rome[2] are aligned against Jesus and both participate in the crucifixion of Jesus. Yet, both ironically bear witness to portions of Jesus’ identity, and their words speak a portion of the truth.

The narrative slows down, spending more time on the events of this day, but the timing of the events of the crucifixion happens between the morning and afternoon. The gathered chief priests and elders consult/plot together to bring about Jesus’ death, and for his death to occur within the confines of the civil law they must allow Pilate to sentence Jesus to death. The crucifixion scene shows that something can be in accordance with the civil rule of the Roman empire or the religious leader’s interpretation of the Torah and still be unrighteous. The religious leaders may declare Jesus guilty of blasphemy but here even Judas know he has become the one to hand over innocent blood.

Only Matthew relates the repentance of Judas. Luke, in the book of Acts, will relate the story of Judas’ death and the naming of the field of blood, but Matthew interrupts the fast-moving progress of Jesus’ approaching hearing before Pilate with Judas’ confrontation of the chief priests and the elders. Judas perhaps understands that his fate has been linked to those who have opposed Jesus, and just as the woes of chapter 23 and the woe spoken about the ‘handing over one’ at the Last Supper are heard together, so now Judas now understands that he stands under curse for betraying innocent blood. As the law states, ““Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.” All the people shall say, “Amen.”” (Deuteronomy 27:25)[3] Judas’ agonized confession is met by the callous indifference of the chief priests and the elders. Jesus’ innocence will be emphasized multiple times throughout this scene, and while the innocence or guilt of Jesus is not a concern for the religious leaders, as Matthew portrays them, the propriety of accepting ‘blood money’, money they gave to Judas, into the temple treasury shows the way their use of the law, in Matthew’s view, has been corrupted.

This final explicit reference to scripture is often viewed as garbled since unlike the remaining explicit quotations this text brings together Zechariah 11:13 as well as the theme of Jeremiah 32:6-15, and Jeremiah 18:1-11. Zechariah 11 has the LORD judging the sheep merchants who have sold the flock (Israel) to be slaughtered for their own profit. Zechariah, speaking to sheep merchants (leaders), says:

I then said to them, “If it seems right to you, give me my wages; but if not keep them.” So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver. Then the LORD said to me, “Throw it into the treasury”—this lordly price at which I was valued by them. So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw it into the treasury in the house of the LORD. (Zechariah 11:12-13)

But Matthew, I believe intentionally, links this to Jeremiah’s action of buying a field of Anathoth during the siege of Jerusalem as an action of hope beyond the destruction of the moment. Matthew seems to have access to significant portions of scripture, although it is possible that he would not have a physical copy of Zechariah or Jeremiah or that he would rely upon memory in this quotation. But Matthew has also shown a willingness to pair portions of scripture to bring together two stories in an allusion, and perhaps he again brings together the unfaithfulness of the current shepherds of the temple with the hope beyond judgments of Jeremiah. This is strengthened when you add in the reference to the potter, which evokes Jeremiah 18:1-11 where the potter at the wheel becomes a metaphor for God’s ability to reshape Israel from something broken to something good.

Jesus appears before Pilate the morning after his apprehension, and once more he is handed over to another authority. The silence of Jesus may allude to the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:7-8:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgressions of the people.

On a narrative level, Jesus allows others to ironically give him titles which confirm a portion of his identity. Pilate’s title for Jesus as ‘the King of the Jews’ is not incorrect otherwise Matthew would omit the numerous references to Son of David or Messiah/Christ throughout the narrative, but for Matthew the title only tells a part of the story. Jesus replies that this title, which Pilate uses, are essentially ‘your words.’ They may not be Jesus’ words but that does not make them incorrect. The religious leaders’ accusations may also be their words, which may not be the way Jesus would articulate them but they may also be ironically correct. Pilate’s amazement may be that Jesus does not deny these words and accusations, that he may be willing to accept these titles which the Jewish leaders consider heresy. Matthew has spent much of the gospel giving us words to understand who Jesus is and narrative which help us to understand what these titles mean when referencing Jesus. Throughout the passion narrative, the actions of the crucifixion also give meaning to these words and titles and recast the way terms like Christ/Messiah, Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, and Lord need to be heard by those who follow Jesus to the cross and beyond.

[1] Throughout this portion of Matthew, the title used for Pilate is the Greek hegemon where the English word ‘hegemony’ comes from. This word generally means one with authority over others, and while Pilate’s official title was probably Procurator or Prefect, Matthew uses this more general word for his role.

[2] Although many translations render Pilate’s title as governor, Judea once Rome assumed direct control in 6 CE, was viewed as a ‘satellite’ of the Province of Syria with a lower ranking Prefect or Procurator reigning on behalf of Rome. The military might in the region was concentrated in Syria at this time as a deterrent against the Parthian Empire.

[3] The concept of innocent blood is important in the law and several of the places where it is treated in the law will echo in the upcoming scenes: Deuteronomy 19:10-13, and Deuteronomy 21:1-9 This concept of innocent blood also emerges in both Wisdom literature and the prophets including: Psalm 106, Proverbs 1:11, 6:16-18; Isaiah 59, Jeremiah 7, 19, 22, and 26.

Matthew 26:69-75 Peter’s Moment of Faithlessness

Caravaggio, The Denial of Saint Peter (1610)

Matthew 26:69-75

Parallel Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:56-62; John 18:25-27

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71 When he went out to the porch[1], another servant-girl[2] saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

All four gospels report Peter’s denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest. Peter remains a ‘little faith one.’ He is unable to remain faithful under the threat of persecution and death, even though earlier he proclaimed that even if he must die with Jesus he will not deny him. On the one hand, Peter’s lack of faith in this scene is strongly contrasted with Jesus’ faithfulness throughout the passion narrative. On the other hand, one of the underlying concerns of my work through Matthew’s gospel has been to reappraise the negative view of the disciples and the judgmental view of Jesus that underwrites this. Peter, unlike Judas, is not condemned by Jesus for his inability to hold himself to his own high standard of faithfulness. Jesus never expresses that he expects Peter to remain steadfast in this moment or condemns him. Instead, Peter and the rest of the disciples will not be permanently branded by their inability to remain faithful once their shepherd has been taken away. They will all be intentionally regathered in Galilee by their shepherd at the end of the gospel.

Peter will remain the boldest of the disciples throughout the gospels and often he is the voice that speaks for all the disciples. Previously he is the one who utters the confession that Jesus is the Christ, but also he is bold enough to (wrongly) reprove Jesus when Jesus declares that he will go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the chief priests and the scribes. (16:16-23) Peter is the one who speaks at the Transfiguration (17:4) and gets out of the boat and approaches Jesus in the midst of the storm (14:22-33). Peter, unlike the rest of the disciples in Matthew, has followed Jesus as far as the courtyard of the high priest. His proximity is what leads these servants of the high priest to question his relationship to Jesus. Ironically, Peter’s rebuke of Jesus about his initial declaration about what would happen when they come to Jerusalem as well as Jesus’ declaration of Peter’s upcoming denials bear witness to Jesus’ ability to perceive how events will unfold far more accurately than Peter. Jesus’ words have proven to be accurate throughout the story and they await completion as the story ends.

Matthew continues to relate events using the gifts of an oral storyteller, and this continues with his use of the escalating pattern of three. Throughout this reading, I have tried to illustrate how Matthew tightens this pattern, which is already present in Mark, and here in this scene the three-fold denial moves from a statement to an oath, to a curse with an oath. Peter is contrasted with Jesus who often remains silent before the accusations, but when Jesus does speak his words declare who he is even when the religious leaders consider it blasphemy. Peter responds to each accusation quickly but with words that are untrue. Peter does not model the type of truthful speech that the Sermon on the Mount calls for (5:33-37) and not only swears an oath twice but even invokes a curse. Comparing Peter, or any person, with Jesus invites that person to be viewed negatively as Anna Case-Winters can demonstrate:

The contrast of his cowardice with Jesus’ courage is dramatic. At the very time Jesus stands before Caiaphas and makes a bold confession, Peter caves before a serving girl. Peter’s three denials under pressure are the reverse image of Jesus in Gethsemane. Three times he petitions God to be spared the trials ahead; three times he stands fast in his faithfulness to God and God’s will regardless of the outcome. (Case-Winters 2015, 300)

The community of the faithful is comprised of many who are ‘little faith ones.’ In times of crisis, they may fail to ‘acknowledge Jesus before others’ and instead through words or actions ‘deny Jesus before others.’ Peter is confronted by servants, and particularly ‘servant girls’ and although these servants may have had a lower standing in society than Peter as a male, these ‘servant girls’ were also aligned with the power that seemed to be stronger at the moment. In the courtyard of Caiaphas, the kingdom of heaven probably seemed a distant dream as its Messiah is abused. The disciples of Jesus work towards wholeness, but they are not perfect. Leaders like Peter will continue to need their moments of faithlessness forgiven. They will continue to need the blood of the new covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Peter, and the rest of the community of Christ, are not disqualified by their moments of faithlessness. Instead, the covenant of God and the forgiveness it offers remains stronger and Peter along with the rest of the disciples will reemerge in Galilee on the other side of the resurrection.

[1] The Greek pulona is a vestibule which is an antechamber, hall, or lobby next to the outer door of a building.

[2] ‘Servant-girl’ is not present in verse 71, the Greek has simply that ‘another’ saw Peter.