Saturday, July 22, 2017

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 18 in total

I have decided to post all of my thoughts on Matthew 18 at once.  After this I will take a short break from posting about Matthew, not because I have no content but because the notes are in long-hand and I have to type them up.  Eventually the whole book of Matthew will be finished and then I plan to self-publish it as daily readings for a period of six months or more. This is a long post. 

What strikes me is that these verses are about relationship and how we live in community, good or bad.  Part of the problem with discussing such things is that we have, without recognizing it, such a cultural bias against community in favor of individualism.

So where does this start?  It starts by not even thinking in terms of status.  The disciples have the raw hutzpah to ask Jesus who would be the greatest among them.  This may be out of chronological order since there doesn’t seem to be a connection to the previous account (about the fish) .  Maybe it was something they worried about at other times and Matthew just inserted it here. Did they sit around and concern themselves with such a question? 

The answer is not what they want and is pretty enigmatic.  Children had no status, although they were valued to the Jews.  We can look at different translations here.  Truly, unless you change—are converted—turn around—repent—are the verbs active or passive?  The movement is toward that of a child, in some manner.  Like Nicodemus asked, how can I get back to that age?  What is the key characteristic of a child here, since children can be petty and sinful, rebellious and desirous of what they can’t have, just like adults. 

I think the emphasis is trusting, humble, unconcerned about status and one-up-manship.  Perhaps the focus is on the parent; a child runs to the parent and depends on the parent. 

Whichever way one wants to go with the interpretation, I am sure the disciples were a little frustrated about this.  He didn’t answer their question, and he put them in their places.  And he didn’t stop there.  He used the child (we overlook that fact there was a child handy for this object lesson) to start talking about child-rearing.  Didn’t he know they were concerned about the big picture, not the little kids?  No, Jesus said; if you lead a child into sin at a young age, you are condemning them to a life of problems.

A woman in my life group class lost her son, who was homeless, in a building fire where other homeless people were squatting.  It took the police several years to finally close the case and decide what happened to him. It is a tragic story.  He was a drug addict and alcoholic since he was ten years old.  Who gave a ten-year-old access to alcohol?  In Jesus words, this person who thought it was funny to get a child stoned or drunk would be better off with a millstone around their neck. A severe pronouncement.

Interestingly, Jesus is setting up a standard that didn’t really get taken seriously until the mid-1800s with the end of child labor laws.  Of course, we have gone too far in this protection of children from all realities of life.  The media plastered a photo of the Dugger children doing chores and saying, How could she?  What mother doesn’t make her child contribute to the household?  We have gone from the ancient “Ignore children” to “Put your child on the Internet for everyone to see.”    

Matthew 18 is about the spiritual version of and balance to this quote by Hugh Prather:  An argument is always about what has been made more important than the relationship.  Relationship is always balanced with truth in the Christian world view.  Truth and righteousness are more important, except that one of the truths is that relationship is paramount.  How is that for a paradox?  Speak the truth in love.  So whenever there is a relational problem, the solution is the application of truth.  Of course, some things are more important than relationship if the relationship is toxic or sinful.  When the relationship is awry it’s from a deficit of truth. 

So where does this leave us?  Mend and seek to mend all relationships by all means available unless the other person persists in being unwilling to mend it.  They have choice.  The details are how long you let this persistence go on.  I might advocate for a shorter period than others do. 

Friday, July 21, 2017


For the past three summers TCM has offered Massive Open Online courses for viewers, free.  Two years ago was film noir, which I took and enjoyed immensely.  Last year I skipped the one on slapstick comedy because I despise slapstick.  This summer's theme is 50 Years of Hitchcock.  It is well done, although not as interesting to me as the film noir since it's only about one director, and Hitchcock made some great films but he is not my favorite (his world view is dark and he strikes me as creepy). I also don't see what was so great about his putting himself in his movies.  That ruins the whole illusion of the film for me and I don't see it as clever.

However, the courses are well put together and very informative.  Kudos to TCM.

In Old Age We Get to Experience New Things

More visits to the doctors with specialties we haven't used before.

More standing in the doorway trying to remember what we are doing in the room.

More new drugs.

More aches and pains in new places.

New ways people are finding to try to take advantage of us.


Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 17:24

--> The account of the temple tax in the fish’s mouth sounds apocryphal, like one of those Gnostic gospel portions.  We’ll assume Peter actually paid the tax after finding the money.  Is this metaphorical—he sold the fish and had enough to pay the tax—or literal, there was really a coin there?  Well, I have no trouble with the raising of Lazarus, so I guess a coin isn’t a big deal, although it comes across like a magic trick. 

But why?  Jesus is meeting Peter’s need.  Jesus paid taxes even though he was Creator!  He is paying the temple tax—not a Roman tax, but a religious one, so “as not to offend.” Not giving offense for the sake of offense or heedlessly, needlessly, has a priority in the Christian life, but that means  we don’t ever offend. The gospel itself is an offense, so let’s not offend in little things so that the major thing—the cross and humility before it—are not missed.  WE must be humble to match the cross message.  So pay your taxes, act right.  Don’t be a nonconformist for the sake of being different.  Don’t rock the boat for things that don’t matter—even if the temple tax was part of the corrupt system (well, they paid it by catching the fish!)  WE have bigger fish to fry (bad pun!)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Open Educational Resource Public Speaking Textbook

If you are looking for one of these, look no further.  I doubt you will find a better one than this:

Also at

Yes, I wrote 80-85% of it.  

Matthew 17:9

This verse is one of the many times that Matthew has us to understand that Jesus told them about he resurrection.  But how did they perceive this?  Did they even have a frame of reference?  For an ultimate resurrection yes (see Job), but for what Jesus was saying, I think not.  They probably could not get past his predictions of crucifixion. 

Neil Simon wrote a play called God’s Favorite, based on Job.  The theme--If you are close to God, you get to go through horrible things.  He was trying to be funny (he doesn’t always succeed, but he still makes money at it).  Simon is a Jew.  Matthew is a Jew.  WE are immersed in the Jewishness of the gospel with Matthew.  It’s not that he has no recognition of the Gentiles, they just aren’t central to his argument.  

We are told that pagans of this time had myths about resurrections and dying kings coming back to life and that was the source of the Christian story (nonsense, of course).  But the Jews did not such stories.  These were not people sunk deep in superstition.  They knew death and that it was final.  We encounter the Jewishness of the gospel of Matthew again in the story of the young man who for reasons both neurological and demonic (and we have to accept some level or kinds of demon possession exist), needs healing.  His Jewish family takes care of him; they do not try to end his life.  They value life. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Fresh Look at Matthew: Transfiguration

Questions I don’t have answers for:

Why did Peter want to put up three shelters?  Was it the time for the Feasts of Booths/ Tabernacles in their culture? 

Moses represented the Law, Elijah the prophets. Jesus represented the completion to which they looked forward.

Did the three apostles obey and not tell anyone until after the resurrection?

What was it about Elijah and the Jews?  Why did he hold such a place?  This is an interesting study and I commend it, because it makes no sense to us as 21st century Christians that Elijah would have pre-eminence over other prophets of the Old Testament period.  But he does.  In terms of “Elijah coming first” it was understood not as a reincarnation but as a prophet with the spirit of Elijah, which was John the Baptist. 

The Transfiguration is one of the multiple times we are told, or someone is told, “Do not be afraid.”  Can we really be commanded to stop being afraid?  It’s not a command.  It is a reassurance, a comfort, not a scold. 

In the next passage the healing of the boy with seizures and demon possession, Jesus is not being unkind, only direct.  Why are they so unbelieving and therefore perverse (wayward from God’s will, not sexual deviant as we mean today).  Was Jesus feeling pressure as a human as the cross approaches?  Usually he is so kind, but here sounds impatient to our ears.  These passages are hard because we want consistent Jesus.  Sometimes being close to God means hearing the blunt message, because we are sensitized to listen to him when others are desensitized and don’t listen. 
He tells them again what will happen, how bad it will get before it gets better. 

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 18 in total

I have decided to post all of my thoughts on Matthew 18 at once.  After this I will take a short break from posting about Matthew, not becau...