Monthly Archives: June 2021

Psalm 53 Reflecting Again on the Unjust

Herny Ossawa Tanner, Sodom and Gomorrah (1920)

Psalm 53

To the leader: according to Mahalath. A Maskil of David.
1 Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts; there is no one who does good.
2 God looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.
3 They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.
4 Have they no knowledge[1], those evildoers, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God?
5 There they shall be in great terror, in terror such as has not been. For God will scatter the bones of the ungodly; they will be put to shame, for God has rejected them.
6 O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

When I was putting together my first collection of poems to publish, Creative Words, I almost included the same poem twice. It made it through several edits by me and two editors who looked at the work. In one of my final times working through edits I discovered the duplication. I share this story because Psalm 53 is a close twin of Psalm 14, which may seem incredible when one considers that these ancient texts had to be hand copied, but in a large collection it is easy to forget what one has previously included in the collection. There are some differences, Psalm 53 indicates that it is ‘according to the Mahalath’ which probably indicates the tune or melody for the Psalm and this Psalm, unlike its twin, uses the generic ‘Elohim’ (God) throughout instead of the name of God (often indicated as LORD in English translations). Even though the poem mainly follows its twin there are some additional subtle changes that make it worth treating independently and its placement within this portion of the Psalter helps give some additional insights into reading the Psalm.

In the worldview of the ancient Middle East there is no concept of a world without God or gods but here we encounter one who functions as a practical atheist. In Hebrew, the heart is the seat of will and decision making, and so the one who says in their heart ‘There is no God’ chooses to live in a way that assumes that God or gods will not intervene in their life. The fool here is not unintelligent but instead acts in a way that does damage to the community. The lack of wisdom here is acting in a way that neglects the commitments to the community as described in the law, and instead choosing a way of life that views people as a consumable commodity that can be consumed as easily as bread. These foolish and perverse ones may be within the people of God, or they may be from other nations who are imposing their practices upon the chosen people, but the damage done by this godless lifestyle calls out for judgment.

This foolish humanity which the Psalmist finds themselves surrounded by creates an inhospitable world. The image of God looking down from heaven seeking the wise ones who live according to justice and finding only fallen, perverse evildoers who practice this metaphorically cannibalistic injustice echoes the story of the LORD’s journey to Sodom and Gomorrah. The LORD encounters hospitality from Abraham but goes to investigate the outcry of inhospitality and injustice from these towns which become synonymous with the judgment of God upon these unethical fools. The story of Sodom (Genesis 18: 16-19:29) is frequently misunderstood as being about God’s judgment on homosexuality, but what the story reflects is a society that does not practice hospitality to strangers and sees those strangers, and even residents, as resources to be exploited. The LORD was willing to accede to Abraham’s request not to destroy the city if ten righteous are found within this community, but the divine figures in the story[2] only find Lot who is willing to practice hospitality in this inhospitable place. Many modern people are uncomfortable with these stories of God judging these communities, but the faith of the Psalmist relies upon a God who does judge and does not allow for injustice to continue forever.

The Psalmist trusts that those who live this foolish life will eventually be shamed, rejected, and experience the terror that they have inflicted on others. Unlike the wise who are buried when they die, these foolish ones have their bones scattered and they lie forgotten in the earth. Perhaps the Psalmist envisions a judgment of those who have ‘eaten the people like they eat bread’ like the one associated with Sodom. Regardless of what form the judgement takes, they believe in a God who is an executor of justice and a protector of the community from these godless ones who corrupt the earth. The times of misfortune for the wise ones who live according to the covenant are temporary. The righteous can commit the judgment of the foolish injustice which dominates their world to their God who will bring about deliverance.

[1] The knowledge here is probably closer to the French word connaître, which refers to the knowing of a person rather than the knowing of a fact. As Beth Tanner notes the word is an active verb and the activity of ‘not knowing’ is active rather than passive. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford 2014, 465) This would be more active than the NRSV’s ‘Have they no knowledge.’ These evildoers actively choose not to enter into the relational knowing of God.

[2] The actors change between men at the beginning of Genesis 18, to the LORD who speaks to Abraham and finally to angels who arrive in Sodom.

Psalm 52 The Wicked Will Not Prosper Forever

Ancient Olive Tree in Pelion, Greece

Psalm 52

To the leader. A Maskil of David, when Doeg the Edomite came to Saul and said to him, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech.”
1 Why do you boast, O mighty one,[1] of mischief done against the godly? All day long
2 you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery.
3 You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. Selah
4 You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.
5 But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
6 The righteous will see, and fear, and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
7 “See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!”
8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
9 I will thank you forever, because of what you have done. In the presence of the faithful I will proclaim your name, for it is good.
The basic question of the injustice that is present in the world when the boastful, deceptive, and wicked prosper while the righteous are persecuted informs the narrative of Psalm 52. This short poem or song which contrasts the wicked ‘mighty one’ and the righteous compares two opposing views of life and the poem pivots on God’s judgment of the mighty one in verse five. Although the superscription of this Psalm refers to a specific incident in the life of David, the big shot boaster who the first four verses describe can be found in any context. The way of the wicked may often appear to provide security in the moment, but the way of righteousness sinks deep roots of trust into the steadfast love of God.

The superscription of Psalm 52 places the words in the context of David’s flight from King Saul and the punishment of Ahimelech and the rest of the priests of the LORD. David, now fully convinced of Saul’s murderous intentions towards him, is fleeing Israel and arrives at Nob, a short journey away, where the tabernacle is. David seeks both food and a weapon from the priest Ahimelech, who is unaware of Saul’s intentions toward David, and after receiving these departs. Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s shepherds,[2] was also at the tabernacle and reports on these actions to Saul. Saul then gathers Ahimelech and the priests, accuses them of treachery, and then orders his guards to kill the priests. When the guards refuse this order from King Saul, Doeg the Edomite carries it out killing eighty-five priests and then putting the city of Nob, the city of priests, to the sword.

The psalm makes sense within the context of the narrative of 1 Samuel 21-22, as David can see the damage a violent and deceptive one has done to the righteous ones. Doeg could be viewed as one who does violence against the righteous, who plots destruction, whose words are sharp and who loves evil more than good. Doeg’s words and his sword have caused many deaths for those who offered David kindness and served the LORD as priests. In this moment, the suspicion of Saul and the deceptive words of Doeg are creating a world of injustice and violence.

Reading the Psalm in a more universal context, we can find many contemporary examples that fit the description of this ‘mighty one’ who ironically becomes the villain in this story. This ‘big man’ is one prospers at the expense of those attempting to live according to God’s will. They are schemers whose actions undercut the security of others and whose words are weapons that often cut deeper than a blade might. I’ve often parodied the old saying about ‘sticks and stones’ changing it to: ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will send me to therapy.’ When a person desires economic gain or power above the good of the community, deceitful words are often used and may do more damage to the life of the community than any action could. These devouring words once unleashed can seem to take up a life of their own, and the deceitful tongue that bears the sharp lie may produce great evil as it cuts into the trust which is the lifeblood of the communal life. As Beth Tanner can state:

We all know the damage of words. In a media-saturated world, lying words still cut like a razor. Indeed, we are surrounded by a culture that encourages us to be out only for ourselves and believes that our only protection is the wealth and possessions we amass behind gates that lock out the rest of the world. Words of advertisers and terrorists reduce our lives and diminish our delight. Abusive words by one we love and trust can do as much damage as a fist of knife. We know just as these ancient ones do that this way leads only to alienation and death. Any sane person would not choose this way to live, but instead grow slowly and surely as a great tree that flourishes in the house of God. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford 2014, 462-463)

Yet, in our media saturated culture which amplifies the boast of the mighty one and seems to thrive on the blood spilt by razor sharp words there are a plethora of instances where words demonized a group, split a community, and often destroy lives. Yet, the Psalmist states that this way will not stand, that God will not allow the mighty one who speaks evil and plots destruction to escape destruction forever. God will be the one who intervenes and balances the scales by removing the mighty one’s house from the people, who breaks down their defenses and walls, and who uproots them from the ground where the righteous remain planted.

Once God has acted to restore justice by uprooting the wicked, the psalm turns to the response of the righteous ones. Psalm 52 carries similar themes and imagery to Psalm 1 and in both psalms “the way of the wicked will perish.” (1:6) Yet, Psalm 52, instead of ending on the theme of the wicked perishing, now turns to the reaction of the righteous. The righteous see, and fear, and laugh. The righteous ones see and understand that the actions that uprooted the unrighteous one come from God. Fear in this context is the proper response to God, it is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 110:11, Proverbs 1:7) and fear of God is understood throughout the Hebrew Scriptures mainly as reverence and awe. But the reaction to the ‘mighty one’ who has now fallen is laughter. The mighty one who trusted in the power and wealth gained through their deceitful ways and lying words has now become the fool who illustrates that wickedness and foolishness are ultimately the same thing. The way of the foolish may prove successful in the short term but in a world where God’s justice eventually levels the scales they find themselves uprooted while the wise/righteous endure like a green olive tree in the house of God. The wise know that the violence and deception of those who aggregate wealth and power will not endure, instead it is the steadfast love (hesed) of God which proves trustworthy and enduring. The injustices of this world and those who profit from them are real but they are not permanent.

[1] The Hebrew gibborim typically denotes a mighty warrior or hero. Here the context makes clear the ‘mighty one’ may be a big shot at the moment but is not in the Psalmist’s view heroic.

[2] Shepherds in the scriptures may be literally those who watch sheep, but the term is often used metaphorically to refer to a leader.

Reflections on the Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels
Book 74: The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

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.

The Power and the Glory is set an unnamed state where the persecution of the church is similar to the Mexican state of Tabasco in the 1930s. The governor of the state attempting to eliminate the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in his state by either eliminating the priests, closing the churches, eliminating alcohol, and punishing those who aid or hide clerics. The main character is a priest who has been traveling around the province conducting services for the past eight years and is the only non-married and still practicing priest remaining. His antagonist is a police lieutenant who zealously believes in the reforms of the government and spends the book chasing this final priest through the villages and countryside, eventually taking hostages in each village to deny the priest places he can return to.

The priest, who remains unnamed throughout the story, is also dealing with his own broken past where he as a ‘whisky priest’ had numerous sins which he could not confess to anyone: a daughter he had fathered in one of the villages he served, a fondness for alcohol, and his own questions about the church and the pious. Yet, even though the priest does not have a pristine past, he continues to attempt to carry out his ministry and even in the end knowingly walks into a trap to hear the confession of a murder. The lieutenant who has tracked him zealously and has an avid hatred of the church finds he can no longer hate the priest once he is captured and they speak. The book ends on a defiant note with the priest’s death, but in the aftermath another priest appears in town. The church and the priesthood somehow endured.

The land and the crippling poverty that many of the people face become characters in the book. The descriptions of the land with its heat, mosquitos, and beetles and the poverty of most of the villagers in the book make the environment appear almost hellish. The loss of the church has not alleviated the suffering of the people and in the minds of many of the characters it has made things worse. The church is not depicted as perfect nor and the priest has some of his harshest thoughts for the pious of the church. Yet, many people desire the services of the priest even in the midst of the danger until they begin taking and executing hostages from the villages to attempt to capture the priest.

The environment of the book and the slow pace of the priest’s movement from town to town gives the story a bit of an arid feel. It is hard to love the land as it is described, but it does evoke compassion for the people who live in this harsh place. The lieutenant is not an evil man, nor is the priest a saint and I found myself wishing both characters could find themselves in a different story.

Gospel of Matthew

James Tissot, The Lord’s Prayer (1896-1894)

Transitioning into the Gospel of Matthew
Introduction to the Gospel of Matthew
Matthew 1: 1-17 How the Story Begins
From Abraham to David in Matthew’s Genealogy
The Line of Kings compared with the Hebrew Scriptures
Matthew 1: 18-24 The Birth of Jesus
Matthew 2: 1-12 Magi, The Creation and Scriptures Point to Jesus
A Brief Introduction to Herod the Great
Matthew 2: 13-23 Hearing Hope in Tragedy
Matthew 3: 1-12 The Herald of the Kingdom of Heaven
Matthew 3: 13-17 The Baptism and Revelation of Jesus
Matthew 4: 1-11 The Temptation in the Wilderness
Matthew 4: 12-17 The Kingdom’s Foothold
Matthew 4: 18-25 Snagging the Fishers for Humanity and Spreading the Kingdom
Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount
Perfection and Blamelessness in the Bible
Matthew 5: 1-12 The Wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 5: 13-20 A Visible Vocation Connected to Scripture
Matthew 5: 21-32 Law and Relationships in the Kingdom
Gehenna, Tartaros, Sheol, Hades and Hell
Matthew 5: 33-47 A Community of Truthful Speech, Non-Violence and Love
Matthew 6: 1-4 Exploring Righteousness and Justice
Matthew 6: 5-15 Exploring Prayer, Forgiveness and Righteousness
Matthew 6: 16-18 Exploring Fasting and Righteousness
Matthew 6: 19-34 Wealth, Anxiety and Righteousness
Matthew 7: 1-6 Nonjudgmental Righteousness
Matthew 7: 7-12 Seeking God and Right Relationships
Matthew 7: 13-29 Choosing the Way of Christ
The Imperfect Church and the Kingdom of Heaven
Matthew 8:1-4 Jesus Takes our Infirmities and Bears our Diseases, Part 1
Matthew 8: 5-13 Jesus Takes our Infirmities and Bears our Diseases, Part 2
Mathew 8: 14-17 Jesus Takes our Infirmities and Bears our Diseases, Part 3
Matthew 8: 18-22 The Nature of Discipleship, Part 1
Matthew 8: 23-27 What Sort of Man is This, Part 1
Matthew 8: 28-34 What Sort of Man is This, Part 2,
Matthew 9: 1-8 What Sort of Man is This, Part 3
Matthew 9: 9-13 The Nature of Discipleship, Part 2A
Matthew 9: 14-17 The Nature of Discipleship, Part 2B
Matthew 9: 18-26 Never Has Anything Been Seen Like This in Israel, Part 1
Matthew 9: 27-31 Never Has Anything Been Seen Like This in Israel, Part 2
Matthew 9: 32-38 Never Has Anything Been Seen Like This in Israel, Part 3
Faith in Matthew’s Gospel
The Son of David, the Son of God, and the Son of Man Titles in Matthew
Matthew 10:1-23 Summoning and Sending the Twelve
Matthew 10: 24-33 Hope in the Midst of Resistance
Matthew 10: 34-42 Conflict, Wages, and Hospitality for the Followers of Jesus
Matthew 11: 1-15  Jesus and John the Baptist: Identity, Time, and Authority
Matthew  11: 16-30 The Wisdom of Christ in a Foolish Generation
Wisdom, Logos, and a Cosmic Christology
Matthew 12: 1-14 One Greater than David, Temple, or Sabbath
Matthew 12: 15-21 Embodying Israel for the Sake of the Nations
Matthew 12: 22-45 The Spirit of God in an Age of Unclean Spirits
Matthew 12: 46-50 Redefining Community
Matthew 13: 1-23 Parable of the Sower
Matthew 13: 24-43 Parables of Weeds, Seeds, and Leaven
Matthew 13: 44-53 Treasures Old and New
Matthew 13: 54-58 Rejecting Wisdom
Matthew 14: 1-12 The Death of John the Baptist
Matthew 14: 13-21 Bread in the Wilderness
Matthew 14: 22-33 Little Faith One
Matthew 14: 34-36 To Know Christ is to Know His Benefits, Part 1
Matthew 15: 1-20 Piety and Righteousness Revisited
Matthew 15: 21-28 Woman, Great is Your Faith
Matthew 15: 29-39 To Know Christ is to Know His Benefits, Part 2
Matthew 16: 1-12 Demanding a Sign or Needing Instruction
Matthew 16: 13-20 Peter’s Confession
Matthew 16: 21-28 The Way of the Cross, Part 1
Matthew 17: 1-13 The Transfiguration of Jesus
Matthew 17: 14-20 A Little Faith is Enough
Matthew 17: 22-23 The Way of the Cross , Part 2
Matthew 17: 24-27 Something is Fishy with these Taxes
Matthew 18: 1-10 A Community of Little Ones
Matthew 18: 12-14 The Parable of the Lost Sheep
Matthew 18: 15-20 A Reconciling Community
Matthew 18: 21-35 A Forgiving King and Community
Matthew 19: 1-12 Relationships and the Kingdom
Matthew 19: 13-15 Infants in the Kingdom of Heaven
Matthew 19: 16-30 The Life of the Coming Age
Afterlife, Eternal Life, and the Life of the Kingdom
Matthew 20: 1-16 The Good House Master
Matthew 20: 17-28 Greatness in the Kingdom
Matthew 20: 29-34 Opening Eyes on the Way to Jerusalem
Matthew 21: 1-11 The Entry into Jerusalem
Matthew 21: 12-17 Turning Tables and the Temple Upside Down
Matthew 21: 18-22 The Fig Tree and the Mountain
Matthew 21: 23-32 Authority and the Parable of the Two Sons
Matthew 21: 33-46 The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
Matthew 22: 1-14 The Call of the King
Matthew 22: 15-22 Rendering to Caesar and God
Matthew 22: 23-33 One Bride for Seven Brothers
Matthew 22: 34-46 The Heart of Scripture
Matthew 23: 1-36 Woe to the Blind Hypocrites
Matthew 23: 37-39 Lament over Jerusalem
Matthew 24: 1-28 Hope in the Midst of Suffering
Matthew 24: 29-31 Learning to Read Scripture and the Times
Matthew 24: 32-52 Three Parables on Living in Readiness
Matthew 25: 1-13 Wise and Foolish Virgins
Matthew 25: 14-30 Two Wise and One Unwise Servant
Matthew 25: 31-46 The Judgment of Wisdom
Matthew 26: 1-16 Unfaithful Leaders, a Faithful Woman, and Angry Disciples
Matthew 26: 17-30 The Covenant Meal
Matthew 26: 31-35 Scandalized and Scattered Disciples
Matthew 26: 36-46 Jesus and the Disciples in the Hour of Testing
Matthew 26: 47-56 The Handing Over of Jesus
Matthew 26: 57-68 Jesus Before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin
Matthew 26: 69-75 Peter’s Moment of Faithlessness
Matthew 27: 1-14 Blood Money, The Potter’s Field, and an Amazed Pilate
Matthew 27: 15-31 Bloody Words
Matthew 27: 32-56 The Crucifixion of Jesus
Matthew 27: 57-66 The Guarded Body of Jesus
Matthew 28: 1-15 Two Stories of an Empty Tomb
Matthew 28: 16-20 A Sent Community and a Present Lord
Reflections on a Deep Journey Through Matthew’s Gospel

Reflections on a Deep Journey Through Matthew’s Gospel

Barent Fabritius, Saint Matthew and the Angel (1656)

When I began working through Matthew’s gospel in 2019 I had no idea how consuming this project would become. I had ideas I wanted to test, and I knew that both the length of the chapters in Matthew and the wealth of discussions of those chapters would make this a longer project than anything I had done previously, and still I was not prepared for how deep this would take me. I never intended to retranslate the gospel but as I began working through many contemporary translations I found a number of places I found other enlightening possibilities in the original Greek. I did not intend to spend two and a half years on this project, but I am also amazed at it. If you take all the posts together it is roughly 180,000 words and over 270 pages of single-spaced text. This project was a little like a black hole, consuming time that I may have devoted to other projects, but it also was a like a bright light that gave me direction and purpose, especially through 2020 and 2021 with all the changes due to COVID 19.

At this point I will create a table of contents page and print out the document with all the work behind the posts and let it sit for a bit. I think there are some profound and unique contributions to reading Matthew’s gospel and I may attempt to develop this further in the near future. Each book I have worked through has changed me a little, and this project has profoundly impacted the way I understand myself as a ‘little faith one’ attempting to follow the way of Jesus in the world. As Anna Case-Winters could say at the conclusion of her commentary on Matthew:

There is a reorientation implied. A deep engagement with the Lord’s Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount, and indeed the whole of the Gospel of Matthew is a reorienting experience. I commend the Gospel of Matthew to your reading, but it is a powerful text that must come with a warning: read it at your own risk. (Case-Winters 2015, 353)

Many people are content with a passing glance at the gospels. They may admire Jesus from a distance as a wise sage or a loving savior and may puzzle when they are asked to ‘take up their cross.’ For those who are curious, I would echo Anna Case-Winter’s warning to “read at your own risk” for it is a reorienting experience, but it is also a great gift as Matthew attempts to form us as readers of scripture, ones who have been disciples and taught, but perhaps most importantly to Matthew those who can see in Jesus the ‘God who is with us.’

Matthew 28: 16-20 A Sent Community and a Present Lord

Fra Angelico, Fresco in the Cloister of Mark in Florenz (1437-1445)

Matthew 28: 16-20

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted[1]. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,[2] baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [3]

This is Matthew’s unique and well-known conclusion to the gospel narrative, often called the Great Commission. This sending of Jesus’ disciples to all the nations brings together several themes from throughout the gospel of Matthew and puts one final exclamation point on the identity of Jesus for the gospel. These words, which have been influential for the church’s sense of mission and its development of a trinitarian language to talk about the experience of God in both Jesus and the Spirit, come with the expectation of these disciples and those who follow them forming communities that can practice the type of life that Jesus points to throughout the gospel. These communities, like the disciples who form them, will be places where the risen Christ can be worshipped but where doubt can coexist with that worship. These sent disciples remain ‘little faith ones’ who still need Christ’s presence as they go about their mission of making disciples and teaching until this eon ends and the kingdom of heaven is brought fully to earth.

Mountains have in Matthew’s gospel serve as places where the identity of Christ is revealed, the followers of Jesus are taught, and the kingdom of heaven is realized through healing and feeding. Previously on a mountain during the temptation (4:8) the devil attempted to challenge Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, and during the transfiguration (17:1-9) the divine voice affirms Jesus’ identity as, “My Son, the Beloved.”[4] The location of the mountaintop becomes a place where the disciples now learn that Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth and that his identity as Son is now included with the baptismal naming of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The mountain is also a place of teaching in Matthew’s gospel, especially in reference the Sermon on Mount (Matthew 5-7). Now on the mountain these disciples who are sent to make disciples are to take the teaching they received to instruct the communities they will form in obedience to the commands of Christ.  For Matthew, mountains are a place where people come to know the identity, authority and teaching of Christ and at this final sending from the mountaintop Jesus’ identity, authority and teaching are confirmed and to be taught to a new generation of disciples.

The disciples have come after hearing the message delivered by Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. The eleven traveled to Galilee and see Jesus and bow down to worship and doubt at the same time. This is only the second time in Matthew’s gospel where the word doubt has appeared,[5] and doubt and worship were paired in that occurrence as well. In Matthew 14:22-33, when Jesus walks on the water towards the disciples in the boat and Peter comes to Jesus on the water, Jesus says to Peter, “little faith one, why (have you entered) into doubt?” (my translation) As I mentioned in that section, I believe that instead of castigating Peter for experiencing doubt, perhaps he is reassuring Peter (and ‘little faith ones’ throughout the ages) that he indeed is ‘God with us’ in the midst of the storm. Now this is reinforced by the use of the word diatazo here on the mountain in Galilee after the resurrection where the disciples doubt is paired with the encouragement “I am with you always, to the end of the age. When Jesus and Peter returned to the boat the disciples worshipped, and here on the mountain they worship as well. Being a ‘little faith one’ or ‘one who doubts’ does not exclude one from being a disciple who can worship the experience of ‘God with us’ in Jesus. As M. Eugene Boring aptly states,

but they doubted…represents Matthew’s own theological understanding of the meaning of discipleship, which is always a matter of “little faith,” faith that by its nature is not the same as cocksureness, but incorporates doubts within itself in the act of worship. (NIB VIII,502)

Several English translations indicate that ‘some’ doubt, but in the Greek the indication is that all share this doubt. The resurrection event did not generate ‘perfect faith’ among the disciples, but their ‘little faith’ was enough to understand that the proper response was worship and obedience.

Throughout the gospel we have seen people bow down and worship Jesus. While the word here can simply mean to bow down and pay homage, Matthew often uses this term in scenes of “epiphanic self-manifestation” (Hays 2016, 167) which highlight the ways in which Jesus is revealed as ‘God with us’ throughout the gospel.[6] In addition to the times when the disciples worshipped after Jesus saved Peter in the storm mentioned above and the multiple approaches of people coming to Jesus to seek healing or an honor to be bestowed by Jesus[7] it is enlightening to see how Matthew uses the act of worshipping Jesus to bookend the gospel. The first to worship Jesus are the Magi (2:2, 11) and the gospel closes with both Marys worshipping Jesus (28:9) and now the disciples. As David Garland can illustrate the way Matthew uses this worship to bracket the gospel’s response to Jesus,

Their worship means the story has come full circle. The magi came to worship him as the king of the Jews in the beginning (2:2,11). At the conclusion, however, Jesus declares to his disciples that he is the supreme sovereign of the cosmos and owed unconditional obedience. Satan had only pledged to give Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world,” but Jesus grasped after nothing and has received much more through his faithful submission to the will of his heavenly Father—all authority in heaven and earth (see Ps. 2: 7-8) (Garland 2001, 270)

The commissioning of the disciples for their mission in this age has echoes of the commissioning of Joshua to lead Israel into the promised land. Jesus has already appeared as one who can on the mountain speak the law of God, and now the disciples are to carry forward all these teachings. Joshua has two separate commissions in the scriptures, and both are resonant here. First in Deuteronomy 31:23:

Then the LORD commissioned Joshua son of Nun and said, “Be strong and bold, for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them; I will be with you.”

Also, Joshua 1:7:

Only be strong, and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go.

Like the divine commissions of Joshua, now the disciples are commanded to teach new disciples obedience to the commands of Jesus, but they are also promised the presence of their Lord in their mission.

Matthew’s gospel does not have a developed “Trinitarian theology” like the later church, but the seeds that would grow into that theology are present here. Matthew’s baptismal formula which links together the identities of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit reflect Matthew’s continued invitation to see how the actions of Jesus and the Holy Spirit are linked with God’s revelation. Central to the development of the church’s later doctrine of the Trinity was the question of how to talk about the identity of Christ. Matthew’s continual use of scriptural images previously reserved for God to talk about the actions of Jesus have continued to point to a rich unity in identity between Jesus and the God of Israel. As Richard B. Hays speaks forcefully,

Matthew highlights the worship of Jesus for one reason: he believes and proclaims that Jesus is the embodied presence of Gad and that the worship of Jesus is to worship YHWH—not merely an agent of facsimile or an intermediary. If we read the story within the hermeneutical matrix of Israel’s Scripture, we can draw no other conclusion. (Hays 2016, 175)

Matthew’s gospel announces the upcoming birth of Jesus with the title Emmanuel (1:23, citing Isaiah 7:14) and Matthew’s gospel concludes with an echo of this title. The gospel is bookended with the claim that in Jesus, “God is with us.” This has been pointed to throughout the narrative and is also present in the promise that, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (18:20) This promise that I will be with you to the end (Greek sun-telos) of the eon is where the words and images and promises of Matthew’s gospel reach their telos.[8] As Hays again can state,

beyond the simple logical implications of Jesus’ parting promise, its significance is amplified by the extensive network of scriptural intertexts it evokes. In the MT and the LXX[9] there are atleast 114 instance[10] of a formula declaring God is “with” an individual, group, or the nation of Israel. (Hays 2016, 171)

This short conclusion to Matthew’s gospel brings together several central themes to instruct the disciples in their formation of the community of Christ. They once were commanded to go only to the lost sheep of Israel, but now their commission by their risen Lord is to go to all the nations. The story of Jesus has come full circle as the disciples worship the one who is God with them as they fulfill their commission until the completion of the eon. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus has only talked about the completion of the eon in parable form (13:22, 33, 39, 49) and the disciples ask Jesus about this again in relation to the destruction of the temple (24:3). The disciple of Jesus are not given signs which will herald the ending of the age, but they are given the promise of their Lord’s presence both in their mission and the sufferings that will come. As these ‘little faith ones’ now go out making disciples, baptizing, teaching and forming communities that can hand on the practices and faith which sees in Jesus the presence of God with us. Communities that can worship even in the midst of their doubts and questions as they, like Matthew, search for language that can bear witness to experience of the God who meets us in the crucified and resurrected Christ. Matthew has, like a scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven, brought out of the storehouse of scripture treasures old and new (13:52) for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. His act of handing on this gospel to us is a gift to teach disciples who now approach this text how to read the scriptures in light of Christ, how to practice obedience to the way of Christ and how our lives continue in the promised presence of the God who is with us.

[1] The Greek simply states that they doubted (oi de edistasan) there is no differentiation between those worshipping (proskuneo) and the doubting ones.

[2]Greek ethnos can mean either Gentiles or nations. I would agree with the translation of all nations instead of all Gentiles here (Matthew does not see an exclusion of the Jewish people from the ongoing mission).

[3] The Greek suntelieais tou aionos brings together two important words in Matthew. The first word is telos with the prefix sun attached, telos being a word of goal or end point and the combination with the prefix gives the idea of completion, closing. The translation of aion as age is appropriate if you are referring in the sense of ‘the age of man.’ This is the closing of the current eon and the initiation of the eon of the kingdom of heaven.

[4] This same title was also used in the baptism of Jesus (3:17). Although Matthew does not develop a baptismal theology for the early Christians he points to this as an activity of this community of Christ and the practice of baptism is linked to the narrative of Christ’s baptism.

[5] Matthew 21:21 in the NRSV is translated doubt, but it is the Greek diakrino instead of distazo used here and in 14:31.

[6] Matthew uses the Greek proskuneo (bow down, worship) a total of thirteen times in his gospel and almost always as an act of worship towards Jesus. In comparison Mark only uses this word twice and Luke three times.

[7] 8:2, 9:18, 15:25, 20:20

[8] Telos means goal, end, destination, or completion.

[9] MT is the Masoretic text or the Hebrew scriptures behind the English translation of the Old Testament, the LXX or Septuagint is the Greek text of what we refer to as the Old Testament.

[10] In addition to the commission of Joshua mentioned above Hays focuses on three particular examples: Genesis 28:12-17 (God in Jacob’s dream), Jeremiah 1:8-9 in the commissioning of the prophet Jeremiah and in the hopeful message of the Prophet Haggai (Haggai 1:13).

Matthew 28: 1-15 Two Stories of an Empty Tomb

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Piero della Francesca (1463)

Matthew 28: 1-15

Parallel Mark 16: 1-8, Luke 24: 1-12, John 20: 1-18

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” 11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened.

12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

 Matthew’s description of the empty tomb shares significant elements with the other three gospels, but Matthew’s narration also includes several distinct elements that illuminate Matthew’s message in this critical scene. Matthew continues to integrate elements that highlight this story’s connection to the imagery and narrative of the people of Israel in the scriptures. Matthew also continues to use imagery that indicates the impact of the resurrection on the creation itself. Finally, only Matthew continues to pay attention to the continued resistance of the religious leaders to the message of the resurrection as they continue to peddle false narratives about Jesus.

The two Marys who sat opposite the tomb at the entombment of Jesus now return on the morning of the third day to see the tomb. Gone are the anointing spices in Mark’s gospel and the mission to anoint the body, in Matthew they merely come to see the tomb. Perhaps Matthew wants to have these women coming in expectation of the resurrection and have these women disciples understand, or perhaps better for Matthew’s language have faith, where the male disciples did not. Matthew is the only gospel that narrated an earthquake at the end of the crucifixion scene and now Matthew again narrates an earthquake as the angel of the Lord descends. In Matthew the crucifixion and resurrections are cosmic events that impact the creation and again the creation reacts to the movement of God in the resurrection of Jesus.

Matthew continues to narrate the story of Jesus in a way that links this story to the Hebrew Scriptures. While Mark and Luke narrate the messengers as men and John has two angels that sit where the body of Jesus was laid, in Matthew the messenger is an angel of the Lord. Throughout scriptures the angel of the Lord is used as a mouthpiece of God, a mediated way for God’s message to come to God’s people. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph multiple times in a dream to direct him at the beginning of the story, and now at the end this angel directs the women with a message for the disciples of Jesus to gather in Galilee. The description of the angel also echoes the description of the Ancient One in Daniel 7:9 or the description of Moses’ shining face in Exodus 34:29-35 but is more subdued than the description of the Transfigured Jesus in Matthew 17: 2.

Only Matthew narrates the presence of the guards at the tomb, and their reaction to the appearance of the angel of the Lord forms a paradox for this scene. The guards placed by the religious leaders to ensure the crucified one remains entombed now become ‘like the dead’ themselves. The brute force that the religious leaders can muster and the power of death that Rome can wield are now inverted as the crucified one is announced as alive and the emissaries of the ones who called for Jesus’ death now find themselves paralyzed by fear. Some of these guards, though not all in Matthew’s narration, will later report to the chief priests what has occurred at the tomb and this will require another false narrative and another payment of silver and promise of protection to the guards. Perhaps those in Matthew’s community have heard this false explanation from other Jewish people who do not have faith in the resurrection and Matthew felt compelled to include this second story in his narration of the resurrection.

The women in Matthew, unlike in Mark’s strange ending, obey and depart to spread the message to the disciples. These women who came with the sad purpose of confirming the entombment of Jesus and perhaps paying honor to him now depart running for joy with the purpose of announcing his resurrected life only to have the joyous interruption of encountering the resurrected Jesus. The grab hold of his feet and worship him. They are told a second time not to be afraid and to depart to the brothers (disciples) of Jesus and to have them journey to Galilee where they will also see him. These two women become not only the first messengers of Jesus but also the first to worship their risen Lord. The story ends with two different groups telling two different reports of what occurred at the tomb of Jesus. The two women tell a joyful story relayed to them by both the angel of the Lord and the risen Jesus about life.  Jesus said to the Pharisees and the scribes that the only sign this generation would receive would be the sign of Jonah.[1] The guards, after being paid in silver, tell a story that comes from the religious leaders and attempt to hide this sign for their generation. These chief priests, in Matthew, who feared Jesus’ disciples coming to steal the body and providing a greater deception than the first now once again prove to be deceivers and unfaithful shepherds of the people.


[1] Matthew 16:4

Matthew 27: 57-66 The Guarded Body of Jesus

Wall Mosaic of the Entombment of Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Photo shared by Antan0 under CC.

Matthew 27: 57-66

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir,[1] we remember what that impostor[2] said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guardof soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

The conclusion of the crucifixion scene brings before Pilate two very different appeals: one comes from a rich disciple of Jesus requesting the body and one comes from the religious leaders to ensure that the elimination of Jesus’ power is completed. Ironically, it is the chief priests and the Pharisees who have understood the words that Jesus speaks about rising up while many of his disciples remained unable to hear and understand these predictions. Also, the religious leaders’ actions to prevent a deception by the disciples of Jesus will require their own deception after the resurrection.  Now a rich male disciple, two women, and a guard of soldiers will witness a sealed tomb with the body of the crucified Jesus placed inside.

Joseph of Arimathea is both a disciple of Jesus and wealthy. The challenge to the rich young man in 19:21 is not universalized in the gospel for all followers of Jesus. Yet, like the woman who anoints Jesus at Bethany with a very costly ointment (26:6-13), Joseph uses this wealth in the service of preparing Jesus for his death. He provides the clean linen cloth and his own new tomb in service of Jesus. As Warren Carter notes, Joseph’s act is a courageous one. The eleven disciples presumably fled to avoid guilt by association with Jesus as he is crucified and Joseph’s request for the body to provide a proper burial could stain him with association with a crucified criminal. (Carter 2001, 539) Like Joseph the son of Jacob in the Egyptian court he refuses to be swayed by the imperial power and like Joseph, who fulfills the role of an earthly father to Jesus, he seeks to be faithful to God’s ways rather than the ways of those reigning at the time.

Two women disciples also remain keeping watch, and their mention on either side of Joseph of Arimathea strengthens the link in Matthew that these women are considered disciples as well. There is the possibility that Matthew understands these women as awaiting the resurrection, but they may also, like Joseph, be giving a final offering to the one they have followed since Galilee. Their position at the tomb at the time of Jesus’ entombment prepares for their arrival after the sabbath going to the tomb.

Even if the women are not waiting in expectation of the resurrection, the religious leaders are anticipating some action by the disciples of Jesus to fulfill their leader’s words. The chief priests are now rejoined by the Pharisees who have been absent since Matthew 22-23. Both groups of religious leaders have dealt with Jesus at various points in his ministry and attempting to ensure his legacy is ended brings these often-opposed groups together. Although the main disciples of Jesus have scattered, the religious leaders fear some or all of them returning to perpetuate the legacy of Jesus. As mentioned above, their actions to prevent deception require a new deception and their guards will prove one more witness they will need to silence. The tomb is sealed, the body prepared, and the guards and the women will wait with all of creation for the first day of the week.

[1] This is the Greek kupios which is translated Lord throughout Matthew when referring to Jesus. Although it can be the simple honorific ‘sir’ it is significant that the religious leaders now use this same address for the representative of Rome.

[2] In vs. 63 and 64 the Greek planos as a noun means deceiver or deception. It is the same word in both verses and instead of imposter I would translate vs. 63 as deceiver.

Matthew 27: 32-55 The Crucifixion of Jesus

Reproduction of Carl Heinrich Bloch’s, Christ on the Cross (1870)

Matthew 27: 32-55

32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided[1]him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself.He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.'” 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole landuntil three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

55 Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Matthew’s description of the crucifixion resonates with the poetic language of the Hebrew Scriptures which help provide words that begin to make sense of the seemingly senseless violence committed against Jesus. Matthew wants the hearer of this narrative to understand something larger than the death of an innocent man is occurring here. Matthew is not looking to provide a theological explanation of the cross or an apologetic for a crucified Messiah. Instead, Matthew narrates the scene with the language of lament in the Psalms and Lamentations hovering in the background providing a rich set of words to bear witness to the moment as scripture and all of creation responds to the death of Jesus who is sentenced to die as the King of the Jews.

Jesus, perhaps weakened excessively by the flogging which was mentioned as a passing comment in verse 26, does not carry his own cross, instead Simon of Cyrene is compelled to take up Jesus’ cross. Matthew deletes the relationship of Simon to Alexander and Rufus which is present in Mark’s gospel and these names probably do not have connection to Matthew’s community. What is significant in Matthew’s narration that Simon of Cyrene is there to take up the cross of Jesus while Simon renamed Peter is absent. Peter and the remainder of the 11 male disciples are absent from this scene and have been unable to pick up their crosses in this moment. Even if Jesus is not physically unable to carry the cross, the transferring of the cross to Simon of Cyrene may be another way to humiliate Jesus by mocking him for weakness.

On arriving at Golgotha, Matthew now indicates Jesus is given wine mixed with gall to drink. The change from myrrh in Mark to gall in Matthew brings about two changes. First, as M. Eugene Boring can state, “Mark’s helpful narcotic becomes in Matthew a cruel joke.” (NIB VIII:490) and while it is one more humiliation in the process of crucifixion it also now echoes Psalm 69:21: “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they give me vinegar to drink.”[2] Psalm 69 is one of the lament psalms calling on God to answer the petitioner in the midst of persecution by one’s enemies, and these psalms move beyond the polite language of a worship space to the vulnerable cry for help in the midst of trouble. Perhaps in hearing in the crucifixion echoes of the Psalms of lament, Matthew is helping his community to access these powerful cries out for God’s action in the midst of persecution.

The following sentence introduces us to the dominant echo throughout the crucifixion scene, Psalm 22. The act of crucifying Jesus is merely referred to as a comment, but then the act of dividing clothing echoes Psalm 22:18: “They divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” A common question, that cannot be answered historically, is whether Matthew (and Mark) are bringing the narration of the crucifixion to echo Psalm 22, and for Matthew Psalm 69, because they are looking for a scriptural citation or whether the events themselves resonate strongly with the wording of these psalms which provide familiar phrases which help the author describe the event. My own opinion is that Matthew views the world in light of the imagery of scripture and as a scribe trained in the ways of the kingdom of heaven, he goes into the rich storehouse of scriptural images pulling out these treasured words which help him to adequately narrate this pivotal event in the story of Jesus.

The charge against Jesus, that he is ‘the King of the Jews,’ indicate that Rome mocks him as a political threat to the power of Pilate and, by extension, Rome. Jesus is just one more ‘messianic pretender’ in Rome’s view who continues to fan the flames of the rebellious elements of the population who are looking for God’s intervention through a kingly figure to end Rome’s imperial rule over Jerusalem and the provinces that once were the kingdom of Israel. For Matthew the identity of Jesus as the Son of David, Son of God and the Messiah/Christ are important to understanding Jesus, but the manner in which Jesus embodies each of these titles is more important than the title itself. Jesus is not the Christ/Messiah that many, even some of his own disciples, are expecting. The charge against Jesus ironically will echo many of the claims of Matthew’s gospel, but those terms have to be oriented around the life and words of Jesus.

Throughout the gospel of Matthew we have seen what Rowan Williams would describe as a “reorganization of religious language,” or Richard B. Hays would argue is a “’transfiguration,’ with emphasis on the figural dimension of Matthew’s interpretive vision.” (Hays 2016, 187) Matthew continues to pull together images from throughout the Hebrew Scriptures which both, in Matthew’s view, prefigure the events of Christ’s life but also are read in new, and often surprising ways, in light of the witness of Christ’s life. The plethora of imagery and scriptural references may be overwhelming for some readers, and many readers will engage the narrative without catching all the echoes in Matthew. Yet, Matthew in his transfiguration of the religious language of the Hebrew Scriptures is attempting to train new followers how to read the scriptures through the lens of the encounter with the God who is with us in Jesus.

The presence of the two bandits who are crucified on his left and right again call attention to the absence of his disciples, this time John and James the sons of Zebedee. In 20:20-23 the mother of James and John boldly comes to Jesus asking for her sons to occupy the place at the right and left when Jesus comes into his kingdom. James and John state they are able to drink the cup that Jesus will drink, but as the new covenant is initiated by his blood James and John are absent while two bandits who taunt Jesus, like the surrounding crowds and the chief priests and elders, now occupy the positions they claimed to be able to fill. Like Simon of Cyrene these two unnamed bandits now occupy the spots left vacant as the male disciples of Jesus fled after Jesus was handed over to the chief priests.

Matthew loves patterns of three, and this continues with the three groups that mock Jesus while ironically bearing witness to scripture’s witness to Jesus. First the passersby blaspheme Jesus, and the action of blaspheming Jesus while ‘wag their heads’ echoes Lamentations 2:15-16

All who pass along the way clap their hands at you; the hiss and wag their heads at daughter Jerusalem; “Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?” All your enemies open their mouths against you; they hiss, they gnash their teeth, they cry: “We have devoured her! Ah, this is the day we longed for; at last we have seen it!”

Now the language that lamented, in Lamentation’s poetry, the destruction of Jerusalem in now applied to the death of Jesus and in a daring reframing on this language ‘those who pass along the way’ are the people of Jerusalem who mock the one who is now standing in their stead. Also standing in the background in Psalm 22 which continues to echo throughout this section. In both the taunts of the ones passing by and the chief priests, scribes and elders:

All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; “Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver—let him rescue the one in who he delights!” Psalm 22; 7-8

 Just as the passersby and the leaders are now recast to be those who rejoice over Jerusalem’s destruction (Lamentations) or the suffering of the righteous one (Psalm 22) they also echo Satan in the temptations. (4:1-11) Once Jesus was accused of being in league with Beelzebul by the Pharisees, (12:22-32) now Matthew places the mocking words when Satan challenged Jesus to come down from the temple are echoed by these leaders calling on him to come down from the cross. They continue to blaspheme the activity of the Spirit of God through Jesus, and they unknowingly find themselves echoing the demonic forces they once accused Jesus of being in league with.

The cry of Jesus from the cross, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” again echoes Psalm 22:1. The misunderstanding of the cry for Elijah is smoothed over by Matthew’s transliteration of the Hebrew ‘Eloi’ to a closer approximation of Elijah in Greek. Although Matthew may be the most Jewish of the gospels he is writing for a Greek speaking audience. Matthew has continually used the Greek Septuagint as his scriptural reference. We don’t know if Matthew had access to Hebrew scrolls of the scriptures or whether members in his community spoke in Hebrew, but his continued referencing of Greek and smoothing out of Hebrew words used in Mark indicates that the gospel was written to be spread through the Greek speaking world.

Throughout Matthew’s gospel Jesus has referred to himself as the Son of Man, and one of the expectations of the time was that Elijah would appear again to herald the Son of Man. Matthew understands that John the Baptist fulfilled this roll, but some of those at the cross understand this cry of desperation directed to God as an appeal for Elijah to come and initiate the coming of the kingdom of Heaven. There may be mixed opinions in the crowd, some may be continuing to mock Jesus as he remains on the cross, while others may have enough hope for the kingdom of heaven that they may be open to possibility of Elijah’s sudden appearance and vindication of Jesus’ claims. If they entertained a hope that Elijah would be the one to come and rescue Jesus, they are disappointed when he breathes his last without the prophet’s return. But this one sign that does not materialize as the crowd hopes, just like Jesus’ inability, or unwillingness, to come down from the cross, are not the only signs that point to what is occurring in this crucifixion.

Matthew wants his readers to understand that in the death of Christ they are witnessing a cosmic event. The heavens react to the crucifixion of the one who proclaimed the kingdom of heaven by becoming darkened for three hours while Jesus remains on the cross. The earth react to the death of the Son of Man by shaking and breaking open. The temple reacts to the death of the one who is ‘God with us’ by the veil of the temple which separates the Holy of Holies from the remainder of the temple is rent from top to bottom. Even the dead react as the Lord of life dies, and they emerge from their broken tombs to bear witness to many in the city. Even Rome’s emissary at the crucifixion can observe the signs at the death of the King of the Jews and declare, now without irony, “Truly[3] this man was God’s Son!”

The male disciples of Jesus are not present at the crucifixion, but women who had followed him from Galilee are. Although James and John are not present on the right and the left of Jesus, their mother is there looking on from a distance along with Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph. Many people assume that Matthew, being the most Jewish gospel, by definition adopts a patriarchal and hierarchical attitude towards women, but the text of Matthew’s gospel points to a different reality for the women who were in proximity to Jesus. Matthew has included women, particularly women of questionable character in a patriarchal worldview, in the genealogy of Jesus, is the only gospel to portray women reclining at the table with Jesus and in Matthean church gatherings, often matches a masculine parable with a feminine parable, can commend a Canaanite woman as the example of ‘great faith’ in the gospel, and commend the activity of the woman who anoints him at the meal in Bethany as one whose good dead will be told in remembrance of her. (Corley 1993, 147-179) These women who have followed Jesus,[4]now take their place at the crucifixion in the absence of the male disciples. These women who have also been present at the table with Jesus, who have heard his words and seen his actions now bear witness to the crucifixion. These women disciples will also be the first to hear the message of the resurrection and will be charged with carrying this message to the male disciples to regather them to encounter the risen Christ in Galilee.

[1] Literally blasphemed (Greek blasphemeo) same word as in 26:65

[2] The connection is stronger in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Bible that Matthew quotes). The numbering in the Septuagint is slightly different than the Masoretic text (Hebrew) which English translations are based on. In Greek the Psalm reads, “And they gave gall in my food and for my thirst they gave me sour wine.”

[3] Frequently behind the word truly in Matthew is the Hebrew word amen, but here the Centurion uses the Greek altheia which is makes sense in the narrative since the Centurion would likely not be a Hebrew speaker.

[4] Had followed is the Greek akoloutheo which is often in Matthew a technical term for the activity of disciples. (Corley 1993, 173)