bible blog 1348

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


Matthew 9:9-17

J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)

9 Jesus left there and as he passed on he saw a man called Matthew sitting at his desk in the tax-collector’s office. “Follow me!” he said to him—and the man got to his feet and followed him.

10-13 Later, as Jesus was in the house sitting at the dinner-table, a good many tax-collectors and other disreputable people came on the scene and joined him and his disciples. The Pharisees noticed this and said to the disciples, “Why does your master have his meals with tax-collectors and sinners?” But Jesus heard this and replied, “It is not the fit and flourishing who need the doctor, but those who are ill! Suppose you go away and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’. In any case I did not come to invite the ‘righteous’ but the ‘sinners’.”

14 Then John’s disciples approached him with the question, “Why is it that we and the Pharisees observe the fasts, but your disciples do nothing of the kind?”

15 “Can you expect wedding-guests to mourn while they have the bridegroom with them?” replied Jesus. “The day will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them—they will certainly fast then!”

16-17 “Nobody sews a patch of unshrunken cloth on to an old coat, for the patch will pull away from the coat and the hole will be worse than ever. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins—otherwise the skins burst, the wine is spilt and the skins are ruined. But they put new wine into new skins and both are preserved.”

Caravaggio: The Calling of Matthew

Caravaggio: The Calling of Matthew

Tradition identifies this Matthew with the author of the Gospel but this is mere conjecture. What is certain is that Jesus assocaited with “unclean” people, that is, Jews whose occupation or poverty meant that they did not observe the Torah as Pharisees taught it. Small business folk from Galilee may have come under this description. Tax-collectors who collaborated with the Roman enemy were generally despised. Those who gathered around Jesus at dinner table, that is, as his honoured guests, were people who would have acknowledged their sinfulness.

Jesus’ reply to criticism is at first lighthearted: what’s the point of a doctor who doesn’t deal with the sick? Then it becomes more serious: surely mercy is what God commands rather than well-oiled ritual. Finally he confesses the appalling truth of his mission: he is summoning the honest sinners rather than the hypocritical righteous.

He meets the criticism about his disciples’ lack of fasting with similar frankness: his disciples are like wedding guests celebrating with the bridegroom; it would be out of place to fast. Pharisees would have been familiar with the image of God (or his Messiah) as the bridegroom of Israel. Jesus makes a veiled reference to his own death by mentioning that the bridegroom will be taken away. Then “mourning and fasting” will be needed.

The parables of the patches and wineskins, which Matthew takes and alters from Mark Chapter 2, uses the Greek word pleroma (fullness) for the patch and schisma (tear) for pull away, perhaps his own oblique reference to the schism between followers of Jesus and orthodox Judaism after 70 CE, and his view that Jesus way is the “fullness” of God’s revelation. But whereas Mark simply points to the new cloth and the new wineskins as meaning the new gospel and customs of Jesus, which cannot be contained in the old ways of Judaism, Matthew adds that keeping them separate may allow both to survive.

The section of the gospel points to the memory of the church that Jesus’ mission was characterised by the joy of sinners who got a new chance in life through accepting Jesus’ offer of God’s forgiveness to all while  the religious establishment was unwilling to accept it. Mattew wants to insist that in Jesus, God’s presence brought a robust joy, just as his and his followers’ sufferings would bring serious sorrow and the need for discipline.

Jan Van Hemessen: Calling of Matthew

Jan Van Hemessen: Calling of Matthew

The parables of the patches and the wineskins, which perhaps Jesus intended as a justification of the new ways of the Kingdom and a repudiation of the old ways of Israel, are used by Matthew to emphasise the necessary separation of Christianity from Judaism, while allowing that the latter should be preserved.

All sinners, that is, neither those who take pride in their own moral achievement nor those who comfort themselves they’re as good as the next man or woman, but those who know how much hurt they’ve done, should be encouraged by this passage to accept the invitation of Jesus with joy.

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