Monday, February 13, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 12 Again

I do seem to be stuck here, but there is reason to be. There are several indisputable claims to uniqueness here that, as Lewis says, you can dismiss as the ravings of a nut or take very seriously:

“I’m greater than the Sabbath.”  “I decide who is guiltless.”  “I interpret Old Testament Scripture.”   
One also gets the sense that Jesus is being followed around by the Pharisees. He doesn’t stop there, but heals a man after asked.  Their type of adherence to tradition, culture, and law had put moral blinders on them. If our version of God’s law hinders us from doing good, from showing compassion, we have misunderstood it. 
I have been so guilty of this, so focused in decorum versus freedom to serve.  The two are not enemies in God’s universe, just in our own application.  My son told me an interesting story last night. He was late for a meeting at work and found himself rationalizing why he had not helped a homeless man on the street in Dalton.  He said, “How messed up is that?”  Indeed; he had  a responsibility to his employer to be on time but a human responsibility to offer help, at least to make the offer.  These are not easy choices, but our faith is one of choices and intentionality and thinking through these matters, not rote obedience.

Why did the Pharisees in this passage decide to destroy Jesus?  Well, he made them look bad—not just unauthoritative, but mean.  “Is it lawful to do good (and give this man a working hand) on the Sabbath?”  They would have said no.  But—they started the conflict!  They lost at their own game.  Pride, control, fear of loss of position—this was part of why they opposed him.  They saw the future, at least as far as their own political and social situation was concerned.  Jesus did the healing also knowing what would happen.  He did not just make it a theoretical argument but acted upon the question about the Sabbath.  WE can talk about service to those on the margins but not follow through (which I think we do more than we get credit for, but there is plenty more to do). 
(Those on the margins may be a better term than "marginalized" because the past perfect makes them victims—being there was done to them by someone rather than just a statement of where they are.)

Verse 15 shifts it all, though.  BUT JESUS KNEW IT.  Is the imperfect or preterite?  He always knew it, not just in that moment. 

In Matthew 12:15-21:  Knowing the Pharisees’ opposition and plans to destroy him (not news but the five words say a lot), Jesus did not stop his ministry, he just moved to a place where they would be less likely to find him.  Perhaps there were “local chapters” of Pharisees United, since he’s out of Jerusalem and up in the Decapolis.  He warned the people not to reveal his whereabouts, and then Matthew cites one of the Servant passages in Isaiah, all of which are used to refer to Jesus in the Testament.

Two of the lines refer to Gentiles.  This may be why dispensationalists say there is a change in his ministry here.  Even though I’m not totally buying that, we can’t overlook the Gentile angle.  The other angle is that the Servant is not raucous, self-promoting, quarrelsome.  Like in Isaiah 53, as a lamb before her shearers is dumb, Jesus is silent.  His questioners prevail and yet the Gentiles will trust in him.

Matthew 12:18-21.
There is probably a whole book to be written about how Matthew uses prophecy from the Old Testament.  This is a prime example.  We would look at a phrase “and he warned them not to make him known” in v. 16 as of minor importance, but Matthew shows us it is a much bigger idea than that.  It ties Jesus to the Servant of Isaiah who “will not quarrel or cry out and of whom no one will hear his voice in the street . . . till he sends forth justice to victory.  It’s not just a parallel for Matthew; it is the fulfillment of prophecy.  Until the cross, when justice is sent forth to victory, he is not to be a ma of popularity or acclaim. 
He will be gentle, not putting out struggling fires of breaking things hat are already weak.  MacLaren, the Scottish preacher from the 1800s, says it is more; he will not just refrain from these actions, but he will bring the weak and struggling things to life and fullness and fruition.  The bruised reed will be restored and healed and the smoldering flame will come to full flame. 

The day before I read this, I had an experience of “looking down” on a group of Christian people.  Not only was I not bringing the flame to fullness, I was indirectly putting it out.  I can’t help everyone, but I can get out of the way.

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