Lectionary Year A
June 30, 2002
Matthew 10:40-42

IV: Broader Context


Christianity in the final third of the first century CE was very young, possibly naive and certainly in need of elementary instructions. Matthew's Gospel teaches through discourses, sayings and examples Jesus does and comments on to interpret as advisable, recommendable and expected of followers. Paul's epistles had been written and were circulating some by this time. Nevertheless, much more specifically about Jesus and His followers needed to be said, written and exemplified. Matthew does accomplish these ends. Surely, by now, questions had arisen and confusions must have begun to run rampant. Matthew's Gospel addresses such needs for answers, clarifications, explanations and even definitions. In light of the persecutions of Christians, the sayings in the pericope at hand sound particularly significant.


It is well known that Mathew's Gospel relies heavily on the Old Testament. It is addressed to Jewish readers and hearers. Marginal notes in the Nestle-Aland text refer us to Old Testament (I Kings 17:9-24 and 18:4 and II Kings 4:9-37) stories of Elijah and Elisha finding hospitality on their travels from home. God tells them to expect such hospitality. It happens, too.

Matthew's Gospel has similar expectations. Pre-Christian Judaism celebrated fellowshiping events like festivals, rituals, rites and similar observances. In Jesus' time, they continued these celebrations. They anticipated visitors in their midst and were willing to exercise responsibility for travelers' room and board. In Matthew especially among the synoptics, Jesus observes and respects the Law of old.


Greek speaking Jews might hear this passage with listening ears. Since Jesus reportedly here makes no mention of the Law, Hellenists might appreciate what He predicts. The ethics this saying conveys might appeal to their values. They appreciated inclusivity. The Hellenists would naturally have been accepting of others, even and especially of foreigners. These words are somewhat less than philosophical and intellectual, so, it is very likely Hellenists would attend to its teachings only briefly at best. Still, knowing our Lord, He just might be trying to get their attention with such a saying. It smacks enough of Jewish traditionalism to arrest their attention somewhat, surely. Consequently, Jesus might well have been speaking their language.

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