READ THE SCRIPTURE FOR THIS LESSON MATTHEW 16-20
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MATTHEW CHAPTERS 16-20
Religious Leaders Seek a Sign chapter 15:1-12
The first 12 verses of chapter 16 are a condemnation of the religious leaders. First Jesus rejects the request of the leaders for a sign, pointing out that the only sign God will give is the sign of Jonah—the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus then walks away from the Jewish leaders and will not confront them again until chapter 19.
Then even his own disciples don’t understand his teaching about yeast. Finally they get it—yeast represents the leaders’ corrupt teaching. The leaders misinterpret God’s will and shape an excluding, hierarchical, unjust society.
The Disciple’s Confession and the New Community chapter 16:13-28
Verses 13-20 are the focal point of this section. In the midst of a blind and unrepentant Israel, Jesus forms a new community of those who perceive and confess his true identity. Caesarea Philippi was the site of a Roman temple. It is no accident that Matthew brings the scene of Jesus’ confession as the Jewish Messiah into the shadow of a Caesar temple, emphasizing the difference between God’s Kingdom and that of the Romans. Here we have the promise of Christ to build his church despite the forces of death arrayed against it; a promise that abides with us today.
In verses 21-28 Jesus teaches his disciples for the first time that God’s purposes involve his death and resurrection. The purpose of this scene is to make the claim that Jesus’ death occurred as part of God’s plan of salvation. Jesus’ violent death is not a meaningless accident of history but is part of God’s plan. Jesus is not a hapless victim but a knowing and willing partner in the divine plan. Jesus follows his revelation about his future with a challenge to his disciples. This call to discipleship is a matter of confession, which means declaring one’s faith in Jesus as the Christ. The word used to mean “confession” also means “martyrdom” in the sense that we are to give all of ourselves to the act of witness. The result may be literal martyrdom, but it may also mean the daily giving of oneself away in commitment to Christ. This call to discipleship is a matter of community. This is not an individualistic ethic but the ethic of a community of disciples that confesses Jesus to be the Christ and lives toward the full coming of the kingdom of God for which it prays. We must ask ourselves continuously, are we being martyrs for Christ?
The Transformation and the New Community chapter 17
The transfiguration of Jesus follows Jesus’ revelation of his coming death and resurrection by 6 days according to the first verses of Chapter 17. It confirms Peter’s confession in chapter 16 that Jesus is the Messiah. But then Jesus, Peter, James and John descend back down into the world dominated by the evil of this world. Jesus finds his disciples baffled and frustrated. In the absence of Jesus they find themselves without the faith to perform their task. We are reminded that as disciples we are agents of the church in which Christ himself is always with us. With God nothing is impossible and we must guard against fitting God into our idea of what is possible and coming to terms too quickly with things the way they are. Verses 22-23 give Jesus’ second passion prediction, followed by his payment of the Temple tax. Taxes and tributes are the means by which the empire’s elite gained wealth, power, and status as the expense of the rest. Just as earthly kings tax others, not their own children, so God’s children are free from paying tax. However, Jesus teaches us here not to exercise our freedom in a way that places stumbling blocks in the way of others.
Life Together chapter 18
Chapter 18 is Jesus’ fourth teaching discourse, with an emphasis on our life together as Christians. Children in Jesus’ time were excluded from adult male society. They were powerless, without economic resources, vulnerable and submissive. Matthew shows them to be endangered (chap. 2) hungry (14:21), sick (8:6; 9:2), and dead (9:18). Being a disciple means renouncing values of greatness and taking up the humble ways of children. Disciples do not cause one another to stumble. We diligently care for one another. We actively seek reconciliation with one another. Gentiles and tax collectors are looked upon in the Gospel as objects of mission. The disciples follow the shepherd’s example of guidance and inclusion.
Instructing the Disciples En Route to the Cross chapters 19-20
Chapter 19 concerns Jesus’ teachings about household structures. He resists the conventional patriarchal and hierarchical household patters of male rule by teaching more egalitarian relationships appropriate to God’s empire. The parable of the rich young man emphasizes that those who gain wealth and status by exploitation cannot be part of God’s kingdom. In contrast to the rich man’s world view, the disciples have left family and work to follow Jesus. They will be rewarded with a new community and a shared life with God that reverses present hierarchical structures.
In chapter 20 Jesus continues to instruct his disciples on the life of a disciple. The first 16 verses speak against envy and greed. The landowner did not owe the first laborers more than he had promised them. He was being generous to the others, but not unfair to the first. Jesus then reminds the disciples why they are traveling to Jerusalem. The request by the mother of James and John is here to underline the fact that God’s kingdom is marked by life-giving service and rejects ambition, power, prominence and domination.
Finally, the healing of the blind men is a call to discipleship, showing persistence in the face of opposition, powerful transforming mercy, new sight, and following on the way to the cross. The most difficult part of this for us to understand about this section dealing with marriage, divorce, children, money, success, and ambition is not the individual teachings, but that such matters are more than individual concerns to be decided by each person. Matthew calls for Christians to understand themselves as belonging to a community, so that no decision is purely personal and individual. Together we are manifesting the kingdom of heaven—or kingdom of God—to others.
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