Lectionary Year A
September 1, 2002
Matthew 16:21-28

IV: Broader Context


Here Jesus’ choice of vocabulary and debate tactics surely arrests the disciples’ attention. The first century believers were naive, uncertain, inexperienced and afraid, as well as probably being persecuted. Remember they were the first community in history to meet the Messiah face to face. Then He proceeds to predict His death. Their confusions and questions about His death must have been many. So, Jesus recognized their situations in life and tried to address them in terms they could easily comprehend or, at least, remember long enough to ponder upon His leave taking. Here, in the passage at hand, we find another indication that Matthew is addressing a community of neophytes. He is trying to broaden their appreciation from ancient instructions at the hands of the rabbis of Old Testament tutelage. He illustrates the contrast between the rabbis’ teachings and Jesus’ by mentioning the “savings” and the “losings”, terms with which they would naturally be conversant. He has a message that might broaden them.


Jerusalem gets established by God with David’s reign, I Kings 15:4. The few days or healing, renewal and resurrection might be cited in Amos 6:2. Isaiah (8:12-14) calls God a rock to be stumbled over. This statement is in a context that diverges God’s ways of thinking form peoples’. Similarly, such a stone can become a cornerstone in Zion, as Isaiah 28:16 indicates. “Elsewhere, too, the same quotations and images are applied at one point to Jesus, at another to the disciples (cf. I Cor. 3:11 & I Peter 2:6 . . .) . . . Thus the image in verse 18 (Peter as rock) has probably influenced the image in verse 23 (Peter as stumbling stone) just as Christ himself is both a foundation-stone and a stone of stumbling,” according to Schweizer, p. 345. Proverbs 24:12c characterizes God as One who repays according to deeds done. These Old Testament passages show us how Jesus uses terms familiar to His disciples and Matthew to his readers.


As with last week’s gospel lesson, we might hope the Hellenists’ appreciation of duality in arguments could motivate them to consider how saving or losing one’s life for Jesus’ sake might give them insight into Jesus’ life as lived and responded to. These Greek speaking Jewish philosophers could, however, possibly, appreciate that Jesus’ life and death revealed a dynamic rather than a static God. They liked those images’ referring to God. Since they favored a “flight from the world”, as Bultmann calls it (TNT, vol. II, p. 171), we might as “were they more or less materialistic than the average believer in their times?” We might suspect Jesus’ differentiating between thoughts of things human and things divine would resonate with Hellenists who seemed to like dualism in thinking and philosophizing. When Jesus speaks of things to be gained, saved or relinquished on earth, would they think of material wealth? Or would their sharp differentiation between spirit and matter enable them to differentiate?

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