Lectionary Year A
March 24, 2002
Step III: Composition
A. Immediate Context
(JFC) Pre - Matthew chapter 20 begins with Jesus telling the parable describing the
Kingdom of heaven being like the landowner who hired and paid the laborers in the vineyard according to his desires and ended by saying, "The last will be first and the first will be last." Then Jesus predicts His death and resurrection. Next, James and John's mother asked for her sons to sit with Jesus in His Kingdom. Jesus asked them if they were able to do so and they affirmed that they were, to which He told them they would suffer with Him but that God alone grants positions in the Kingdom. After that Jesus noted, again, that the orders of first and last will be reversed in the Kingdom and said, "just as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many." The last paragraph in this chapter reports Jesus' healing two blind men on the road they traveled from Jericho. Thereafter, the two men followed Him. It is a chapter full of opposites and of turning things upside down.
Post - Verses 12-45 of Matthew 21 begin with Jesus' clearing the temple. Next, He healed the blind and the lame and sick children there in the temple, which angered the chief priests and the scribes, to whom He quoted, "Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have prepared praise for yourself." The next day He returned to the city hungry and encountered the barren fig tree and sentenced it to die right there and then. The disciples wondered how He did that and He told them that whatever they ask in prayer believing they would receive. Then the chief priests and the elders challenged Him about the authority by which He did what He did there. He challenged them to say whether John's baptism was by human or divine agency. They decided not to answer and He said He wouldn't identify the source of His authority. Thereafter, Jesus posed the question about righteousness, re: two sons of a father who asked them to go into the vineyard. The point of the story is that wicked people go into the Kingdom of Heaven earlier than assumed. Another parable of a vineyard comes next where the stewards of it kill the servants and the landowner's son and Jesus concludes this one by declaring that God's Kingdom is for all, the righteous as well as the evil. The chief priests and the Pharisees, fearing their standing, decided not to arrest Him then. These verses tell of the Kingdom's conversion.
B. Organization of the Compositional Whole
(JFC) As previously noted, Albright and Mann, observe (Anchor Bible), "Matthew
has two principal interests: the fulfillment of God's purposes in and through Jesus, and how this fulfillment will find its expression in the community which Jesus founded." Although the most concise outline of this Gospel is in Reginald H. Fuller's article in Harper's Bible Commentary, a more nearly complete summary might be: the first two chapters of Matthew's Gospel tell of Jesus' birth. 3:1-12 relate John the Baptist. 3:13-4:11 give accounts of Jesus' temptation and baptism. 4:12-18:35 tell of His teachings and preaching in Galilee, including the Sermon on the Mount (5-7), the calling and instructing the twelve (10), parables on the Kingdom (13), life in the New Israel (14-17) and Jesus' journeying to Jerusalem for His last week on earth (21-28). Through these segments, Matthew's Gospel seems to intend to depict Jesus as the Messiah the Old Testament Jews longed for. They report Jesus' fulfilling more prophecies than the other Gospels do. They clarify that the New Testament people are the true Israel (16:17-19), actually replacing the former Israel. Several commentaries give "five discourses in chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 24-25, that Matthew intended his work to serve as a foundation book for his community, . . . In fact, Matthew came to serve as the preeminent Gospel for the church as a whole." So states Fuller.
C. Issues of Authorship
(JFC) As previously stated in these pages, since early in the second century CE, when
Papias, a bishop of Hierapolis, referred to Matthew, the tax collector, one of Jesus' disciples (Matt. 9:9 and 10:3), it has been thought he wrote this Gospel. However, Papias says the work to which he refers contains only sayings of Jesus and that it was written in Hebrew. Matthew, as we have it, tells of actions and events, as well as sayings of Jesus and it was written in Greek, not Hebrew. So, evidently, Papias means another document, one now lost. This Gospel seems to have been written anonymously between 70-85 CE, since it is mentioned by Ignatius of Antioch in 115 CE and relies on Mark's Gospel, which was written about 70 CE. Ignatius also says it was written in Syria. Suzanna de Dietrich (LBC) notes that the community addressed by this Gospel is "experiencing persecution. Certain passages without doubt reflect this situation. The writer was concerned to fortify the faith of the Christians - to remind them that Jesus had foreseen these struggles and that He had foreseen the apostasy of some, the lukewarmness of others (5:11-12; 10:16-23; 24:9-13)." And, Eduard Schweizer (The Good News According To Matthew) says, "Above all, the method of learned interpretation of the Law, which 'loses' and 'binds,' was still central for Matthew and his community. . . Preservation of sayings such as 23:2-3, which support the continued authority of Pharisaic teaching, and above all the special emphasis placed on the requirement not to offend those who still think in legalistic terms (17:24-27) show that dialogue with the Jewish Synagogue had not yet been broken off. On the other hand, a saying like 27:25 shows that the Christian community had conclusively split with the Synagogue, even though hope for the conversion of Jews was not yet totally dead."
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