bible blog 1165

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:


Matthew 9:9-17

New English Translation (NET)

The Call of Matthew; Eating with Sinners

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth. “Follow me,” he said to him. And he got up and followed him. 10 As Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 When Jesus heard this he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. 13 Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The Superiority of the New

14 Then John’s disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?” 15 Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn while the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, because the patch will pull away from the garment and the tear will be worse. 17 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the skins burst and the wine is spilled out and the skins are destroyed. Instead they put new wine into new wineskins and both are preserved.

wineskins-old-newA modern clergyman, accused of spending too much time in the pub and too little time with the church house groups might find that Jesus’ reply didn’t get him/her out of trouble, as the righteous have an unshakeable conviction that anyone labelled “holy” should pay them due respect. But of course Jesus’ reply is completely reasonable; the doctor is needed by the sick, not the healthy; and it is backed up by the words of Hosea (6:6), in which God asks for act s of lovingkindness rather than ritual sacrifice. 

Still, Jesus’ behaviour was a tad offensive. Tax-collectors were collaborators with the Roman invaders, lining their own pockets by adding their generous wages to their fellow citizens’ tax bills.  All decent people thought they were scum. “Sinners” were those who for reasons of carelessness, trade or poverty did not keep the requirements of the ritual law and were considered unclean by the Pharisees. To share food and drink with such people was provocative. Yet the church’s memory of Jesus insists that he did so. Even worse, Jesus stated that his task was limited to restoring these sinners to the community of God’s people. There’s an ambiguity in this remark: did Jesus mean that that in God’s community there would be no place for those who thought themselves “righteous”?

Matthew uses teaching from Mark’s gospel-the parables of the cloth and the wineskins- to set out his own view that Jesus’ way is a completion of Judaism rather than its destruction. The unshrunk patch, “pleroma” in Greek, meaning fullness, cannot simply be added to an old garment or there will be a tear, “schism” in Greek meaning division. This says that Jesus’ way is different from traditional ways and must have its own place. Similarly the new fizzy wine of Jesus’ way cannot be kept in the old brittle wineskins of the tradition, but needs new wineskins, that is a new community. In this way both old and new ways can be preserved. Mark’s version however, ends with the slogan “New wineskins for new wine!” by which the old ways are relegated to the time before the dawning of God’s kingdom. With just a few alterations, Matthew renders Jesus’ words less radical.

It appears that Matthew wants to emphasise the real continuity of Christianity with Judaism, whereas for Mark, the breach between the two communities reflects real differences. 

Today both emphases have their value.

The calling of Matthew

The calling of Matthew

By seeing Christianity as a Jewish faith, believers can pay tribute to the vital inheritance of the Jewish Bible and synagogue, and the memory of the Jewish Jesus. They can therefore acknowledge the churches’ responsibility for past persecution of Jewish people and for the Nazi atrocity.

At the same time, Christian believers may want to insist that Judaism is not the only valid interpretation of the Jewish bible, but that the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Messiah is a radical version of it,  while also a departure, of which the internationalism of Christianity is a vital mark.

Perhaps Jesus moved beyond all religion when he called to his side those whom patriotism and religion had rejected.

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