Todd keeps wanting to talk racehorse politics, while Sanders wants to talk about fundamental issues.
20‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; 4and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” 7They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.*10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” 13But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’
Translation: For the kingdom of heaven is like a human housemaster who came out early in the morning to hire workers into his vineyard. And agreeing together with the workers (for) a denarius (per) day, he ordered them into his vineyard. And he came out around the third hour, he saw others standing idle in the place of assembly. And he said to them, "And you go out into the vineyard, and I will give you whatever (is) right." And they went out. And going out again around the sixth (hour) and ninth hour, he did in like manner. Around the eleventh (hour), he went out and he found others standing, and he said to them, "Why are you standing here all day free from labor?" They said to him, "Because no one has hired us." He said to them, "You also go into the vineyard."
When evening happened, the lord of the vineyard said to his manager, "Call the workers and pay them wages beginning from the last just as the first." And the ones going out at the eleventh hour came (and) they took a denarius apiece. And the first came supposing that they would receive more, and they received a denarius apiece. Receiving, they grumbled around the house-ruler, saying, "These last ones did one hour and you have made them equal to us, the ones who bore the burdens of day and burning heat." But he answered one of them, "Partner, I did not act unjustly to you. Did you not agree with me a denarius? Take up (what belongs to you) and go. I desire to give these last the same as you. Is it not lawful to do what I wish with what is mine? Or is your eye evil because I am good? In this manner, the last will be first and the first last."
Background and situation: The passage appears only in Matthew. Immediately preceding our lection, Peter asks Jesus what the disciples will get for having left everything to follow him (19:27-30). Jesus tells Peter that "at the renewal of all things," the disciples will sit on twelves thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Not only that, they will receive "100 fold," and eternal life to boot.
Following this episode is the third statement of the passion of Jesus, the one featuring the mother of James and John who angles to get special treatment for her boys (20:17-28). She wants her sons to be at Jesus' right and left hand when the kingdom comes.
Seen as part of one long discourse, the three episodes highlight the question of reward. The reward will be stupendous, but that is still not quite the whole story. Indeed, "many who are first will be last, and the last will be first" (19:30). Then follows the parable of the laborers in the vineyard in which the last hired receive the same reward as those who were first.
The contrast is between the "first" and the "last." The last hired are clearly paid first so that the first hired will see what has happened. Otherwise, what difference would it make? The "house-ruler" wants everyone to know what he has done.
Grumbling ensues. The "house-ruler" hears the grumbling and responds to one of the grumblers whom he calls etairos--"partner, comrade, friend." The "house-ruler" denies doing wrong. The contract he had made with the "first" is fulfilled. Moreover, the "house-ruler" asserts his freedom to pay the rest whatever he pleases--"whatever is right."
Then, the "house-ruler" asks this strange question: "Or is your eye evil because I am good?" (The NRSV, wrongly, has, "Or are you envious because I am generous?")
The word "good"--agathos--is framed by the words ego and eimi. Ego eimi is the Greek translation of the tetragrammaton, YHWH, the name of God revealed to Moses. In other words, ego eimi is the name of the God of Israel.
That the word agathos--"good"--is placed "inside" of the ego eimi is to confirm what Matthew had just written in 19:17: "One (God) is good." If Matthew means the "house-ruler" to be God, then the ego agathos eimi is not sarcastic. The "house-ruler" is God, and God is good.
One would suppose that God's goodness would manifest itself as justice, treating each according to what they deserve. According to the usual standards of what constitutes justice, the first hired have a strong case against the "house-ruler". They have been treated unfairly.
But, no, God's "goodness" is not revealed as justice, but as mercy. Themes of justice abound throughout the parable, but the fullness of that justice comes to expression as equal treatment for all. The overflowing generosity of God's love ignores all human merit.
Alternative view: That's one interpretation. Obery Hendricks offers another. He notes, first of all, what the story tells us about working conditions in first century Israel. People work from dawn to dusk for a denarius.
This was indeed the "usual daily wage," but it was not a living wage. Compare today's "minimum wage" with a true living wage and you get some sense of the difference. A denarius was just about enough to keep you coming back for another day of work so you (perhaps) can survive to work another day.
Furthermore, there is a sizeable pool of day laborers in the story. At each point of the day, workers are available. Even at 5:00 in the afternoon, some are still in the day labor market. This indicates a sizeable number of unemployed--a sizeable pool, in other words, of people who are reduced to scrambling for any little bit of work they can get.
Clearly, for Hendricks, the housemaster is not God, but more akin to a plantation owner. By offering the pittance of a denarius, the housemaster is exploiting labor. The housemaster apparently has an exceptionally large vineyard. (He keeps coming for more workers.) How could the housemaster have attained all that property if not by foreclosing on peasant debt?
Then, to top it off, the housemaster cops an attitude when talking with the last chosen. "Why are you standing around idle?", he asks, all but calling them lazy. He presumes that they are unemployed because of some choice, as if he didn't know that they were unemployed in the first place because they had been forced off their land.
In paying the last the same as the first, the housemaster insults those who were first hired. When the first "grumble," the housemaster singles out their leader--the text says he spoke to "one of them"--denies doing wrong, and then fires him. "Take what belongs to you and go." The housemaster adopts an all-too-typical strategy: Fire the union organizer.
Hendricks makes a valuable contribution to understanding the parable. We shouldn't automatically assume that the housemaster is God. (The text specifically identifies him as anthropo, a human being.) Nor should we too readily adopt the first interpretation mentioned above without considering that other interpretations are possible.
Etairos: Whichever interpretation one opts for will likely be influenced on how one interprets etairos, which NRSV translates as "friend" in verse 13. Hendricks says that etairos is not a positive greeting. It's on the order of "fella" or "buster." Robert Capon sometimes uses etairos in this way also.
Matthew uses etairos in only three places--here, in 22:12 where it refers to the guest at a wedding banquet who refuses to wear the wedding garment, and in 26:50 where it refers to Judas, the arch-traitor. None would be considered a positive example.
On the other hand, the most common rendering of etairos is as "friend, comrade, partner," particularly as it applies to fellow laborers or servants. Etairos is not so much the designation of a personal friend, but more as a partner in some enterprise.
If Hendricks is right that the use of "friend" is sarcastic, that would support his argument that the land-owner is haughty and dismissive. If the Gingrich Lexicon is right, the first are considered "partners" with God in the management of the vineyard.
I find Hendricks' thesis plausible, but finally opt for the first interpretation on the basis of the ego agathos eimi, which, to me, clearly refers back to the pronouncement that only God is "good." If the house-ruler is correct, and speaking without irony, that would make God the owner of the vineyard.
In any case, in either interpretation, the parable comes down on the side of subverting class-based heirarchies. "The last will be first and the first last." If the housemaster is God, then God's mercy reigns supreme, and God's mercy is what constitutes God's "goodness." If the housemaster is a plantation owner, the parable is clearly a slam at economic exploitation of the poor by the rich.
Image: 11th century Byzantine
21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Translation: Then came Peter (and) said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin into me and I will forgive him? Until seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not, I say to you, seven times, but until seventy times seven. For this reason, the kingdom of heaven was like a human king who wished to reckon together a word with his slaves. But when he had begun to reckon, one was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents. But, not having (the means) to pay him, the lord commanded him, and his wife, and the children, and all he has to be delivered over. Falling, therefore, the slave was worshipping him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will deliver over all to you.' And the lord of that slave, moved with compassion, released him and forgave him the debt. But, going out, the same slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii and he held (and) was choking him, saying, 'Deliver over what you owe.' Then, falling down, his fellow slave was beseeching him, saying, 'Have patience upon me, and I will deliver over to you.' But he was not willing, but went to throw him into prison until he might pay back the debt. Then, when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and went and told their lord all that had happened. Then his lord called him (and) said to him, 'Wicked slave. I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave just as I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, delivered him over to the tormenters until he might deliver over all the debt. And this my Father in heaven will do to each of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."
Background and situation: The passage appears only in Matthew. The immediate context, beginning in 18:1, concerns conflict in the church. First, the focus is on children and "little ones." Then, the focus shifts to a member of the church who sins against another.
Last week's lection, 18:15-20, spelled out the procedure for handling a case of (presumably) one sin against another person: first, go to the person and discuss the matter between the two of you; if that doesn't work, take witnesses; if that doesn't work and the old coot refuses to listen to the church, he may then be regarded "as a gentile and a tax collector."
Our lection this week, 18:21-35, moves the discussion from the recalcitrant sinner--the one who won't admit he was wrong--to the sinner who keeps repeating sins. Peter, the leader of the disciples, steps forward to ask the question: "OK, now we know how we handle cranky old Uncle Edgar. What about cousin Elroy who keeps on sinning?"
The Old Testament figure of Lamech (Gen 4:23-24) called for vengeance "seventy times seven." Jesus reverses this verdict by calling for "seventy times seven" forgiveness. This is, as is well known, unlimited forgiveness. (The number of completion, 7, multiplied by itself, and that further intensified by taking times ten. Think "beyond infinity".)
The parable of the unforgiving slave: Why unlimited forgiveness? For "this reason," Jesus says (dia touto): It's like a human king who wished "to reckon together"--sunarai--with his slaves. Sunarai means to "take up together, bring together, settle accounts."
The king is a bookkeeper. He wants to "settle accounts" with his slaves. Bookkeeping is concerned with justice, that each person should get what they deserve.
Father Robert Capon, who sees what he considers the bookkeeping heresy in just about every parable (and quite properly so), says the king is one who, like all bookkeeppers, will have high regard for the upright and the solvent, "but for anyone in real trouble, he will have no care at all except to get his money back as best he can."
Bookkeeping is an attempt at self-justification, as if to say: Here's all the reasons I'm a swell person: member of the church council, sing in the choir, pay my bills, and hold out a stray dollar bill every now and then when passing a beggar on the street. It assumes justice.
The point of nearly all the parables is that this is not God's way of doing things. God throws all those account books right out the window on the basis of the death and resurrection of his son. God deals with the world through grace and mercy and not through justice--not through what we deserve, in other words. (Which, though aggravating at times as it applies to other people, is really in our own interests since we're no better).
One of the lord's slaves owes him an unimaginable sum, ten thousand talents. A talent was the largest single unit of that time, and 10,000 the largest number used to count. It is meant to be an incredible number. (Literally speaking, ten thousand talents would be 150,000 years worth of wages in the first century world, and about two-and-a-quarter trillion dollars in today's money.)
The slave can't pay--even Bill Gates couldn't foot this bill--and he, his wife, his kids, and all he has are to be sold so that the king can get less than a penny back on the dollar. (Probably an irrelevant question: How did he run up such a bill in the first place?)
Ten thousand talents was also the tax demanded by Rome when Rome conquered the region in 63 BC. It was an amount so onerous that Julius Caesar eventually reduced it. (I consider it not a coincidence that Jesus mentions an amount that would have been well-known to many: the money Rome said we had to pay.)
The slaves falls to his knees, begs for patience, and promises he'll pay. The slave, keep in mind, is a full supporter of the system which put him in this precarious position. He apparently played fast and loose with a lot of money, and now, that having failed, tries the only manuever left to him: begging combined with an imploring little speech. He's still trying to work an angle.
To the shock of everyone, the king abruptly repents. The meaning of metanoia, a word we usually translate as "repent," means "turning and moving in a new direction." Metanoia does not appear in this text, but that's what the king does. He shifts, turns, repents, does a 180.
The king tosses one worldview out the window and takes up another one--not accounts and justice this time, but grace and compassion instead. The king dropped dead to his old way of doing things, and threw the account books out the window. He "forgave the debt (apheken)."
The slave, however, didn't get the message and did not repent. He thought it was his dramatic little speech that turned the stupid king around. He congratulated himself, no doubt, on his smooth-talking con. The system works!
It's no wonder, then, that when he saw a fellow slave who owed him 100 denarii, he demanded payment. (100 denarii would be about 4 months wages, a not inconsiderable amount, but way less than the national debt.)
The bookkeeping system, not surprisingly, can erupt into violence. The slave seizes his fellow slave, starts choking him, and demands payment. The word "fellow slave" (sundoulone) appears four times in five verses, almost as though mocking the unforgiving slave who can't see that he's in the same boat as his fellows.
His "fellow slaves", observing all this, were "greatly distressed" and went to the king, who was himself outraged. "Wicked slave," he says, called "wicked" not because he lost money but because he wouldn't forgive. "I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave just as I had mercy on you?"
Not "moved with compassion" this time, but rather "moved with anger," the king tossed the unforgiving servant to "the tormentors." (Basanizo: "one who elicits the truth by the use of the rack, an inquisitor, torturer.") The unforgiving slave sees the violence he had inflicted on others now directed back at himself.
"And this my Father in heaven will do to each of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart," says the Lord Jesus. Of course. We should not be surprised by these words.
If we are unforgiving, we buy into the same worldview as the bookkeeping heresy: What matters are the accounts. We may need violence to protect them. If that's the way we continue to go, which we no doubt will, we will continue to be "tormented."
There is, however, a better way, which is forgiveness, and her sisters grace, mercy, compassion, and peace. It's how God works and what Jesus teaches, which he does forthrightly, directly, and, on every occasion, unequivocally. When it comes to forgiveness, there is never a loophole and never an option. It is always: you must forgive.
This is not a matter of going through the motions. The unforgiving servant was trying to play on his king's sentimental weakness with a manipulative little speech, all the while believing in the principles of the bookkeeping system. He had no intention of changing his worldview, only of working an angle on it to get himself off the hook.
No, forgiveness must be "from your heart." Which means it can only be done in light of the kingdom, in light of the new reality inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Outside of that, it's not possible. Even inside, it's a tall order. But order it is.
With that, this section of Matthew dealing with church conflict is brought to a close. This is the final word on church conflict, the bottom line of which is forgiveness.
Image: The unforgiving servant, Nelly Bube
‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
Translation: But if your brother or sister might sin against you, go refute him between you and him alone. If he hears you, you regained your brother. But if you might not be heard, take with you yet one or two so that upon two or three mouths witnessing each word might be established. But if he might be unwilling to hear them, speak to the church, and if he refuses to listen to the church, he is to you just as a gentile or a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, "Whatever you might bind on the earth, it will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose upon the earth will be loosed in heaven." Again, truly I say to you that if two out of you might agree on the earth about anything they might ask, it will come to them with my Father in heaven, for where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them."
Background and situation: The lection is mostly Special M with a bit of Q thrown in (see Luke 17: 3). Obviously, conflict in the church was an issue in the community around Matthew. Matthew has previously discussed care for children and "little ones" in 18:1-14. In today's lection, he shifts to care for the sinful brother or sister.
The word for "sin" is hamartia. The word came originally from the world of archery and means "missing the mark." "Sin" is not limited to morality, in other words, but involves a failure to hit the target, i.e. a failure to become the people we were created to be. Matthew gets no more specific than that.
Matthew reaches into the Hebrew tradition--Deuteronomy 19, Leviticus 19--for guidelines on how do deal with community "friction." The Qumran community had a similar procedure for dealing with conflict, also based in Deuteronomy 19. Deuteronomy 19: 15ff:
"A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing...Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained. If a malicious witness comes forward to accuse someone of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges...and the judges shall make a thorough inquiry. If the witness is a false witness...then you shall do to the false witness just as the false witness had meant to do to the other. So you shall purge the evil from your midst."
Toward reconciliation: The first step in the process is to go to the person directly. Matthew encourages honest and direct communication.
Sadly, it must be said that most of our conflicts are not handled in this way. Much of our communication is indirect, as in whispers to third parties, and dishonest, as in malicious gossip. This is a very unhealthy way to communicate and almost guarantees misunderstanding and further conflict.
Churches are especially prone to this form of social unhealthiness. People want to get word back to somebody about something or other, but don't want to face them directly, so they put their argument out to third parties who then speak to others--"...a lot of people are saying..."--and then somehow expect the pastor or the staff to make things come out right, i.e. to their way of thinking.
The issue has an amorphous and unspecified source and quite likely becomes distorted, or, more likely, further distorted, in the course of whispered parking lot conversations. This can roil a congregation, yet without anyone's fingerprints being on it.
Contrary to what some people think, Jesus did not call his followers to be children, but rather adults. Adult communication is characterized by responsibility, by having something to say and taking ownership when you say it. This is at least partly what Dietrich Bonhoeffer was talking about when he referred to "a world come of age." In "a world come of age," people act in freedom and with autonomy while also taking responsibility for their actions.
Going to a person directly does several things: The one who is sinned against will be on the turf of the offender. Meeting them on their ground treats the offender with respect. It allows them the possibility of being able to save face.
Taking the initiative and going to the offender also accepts responsibility for the condition of the relationship. Somebody has to be first, for cryin' out loud. The communication itself is likely to be more clear and direct. Misunderstandings may be worked out directly in private rather than exacerbated indirectly in public.
And yes, one is quite likely to "regain" their brother or sister. In the vast majority of cases that I have witnessed myself, reconciliation is nearly always exactly what happens, and reconciliation is the clear goal of today's lection.
On the off-chance that step one doesn't work, however, then the rest of the Deuteronomy 19 process is to be followed. Take witnesses so that "every word" might be verified. If that doesn't do it, go to the church--the ekkesia, the assembly--and, if the "poor miserable sinner" won't listen to the church, the church is perfectly justified in excommunicating that person. "Let such a one be to you as a gentile and a tax collector."
Except...except that Jesus has already expanded his mission to gentiles (15: 21-28), and tradition holds that the author of the very passage we are reading was himself once a tax collector.
Is Matthew writing tongue-in-cheek? That person may be to you, and to the church, "as a gentile and a tax collector," but then again, the assembly of Christ never gives up on anyone and Matthew himself is a good example. (This position is even clearer when seen in light of the following verses where Jesus tells Peter to forgive "seventy times times.")
Leviticus 19: 17 also lies behind this text--"You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself...you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Our lection uses elegxo, translated as "point out the fault" in NRSV. This is the same word the Septuagint uses in Leviticus 19, translated "reprove" in the NRSV.)
Most people are afraid of conflict, and, considering the way conflict is normally handled, it's easy to see why. Unhealthy conflict, the kind characterized by indirect communication, often undermines and tears down. Healthy conflict, on the other hand, is capable of building up in such a way that relationships are not only restored, but renewed and deepened.
The goal is always reconciliation motivated by love. Each church is an "outpost" of the kingdom. The new reign of God is to be modeled in our congregations as a sign to the world of the power of Christ to heal wounds and end divisions. Christ has reconciled the world to himself, and now this "ministry of reconciliation" has been given to us, said Paul.
Bypass the priests: There is a subtle "anti-heirarchical" bent to today's lection. In the Deuteronomy passage, the second-stage appeal goes to the priests and judges. In the Matthean passage, "one or two" of unspecified rank are called to be witnesses. Score a point for egalitarianism.
Likewise, the passage exalts a high Christology. In the time of Jesus, it was believed that whenever even a few Hebrews discussed the Torah, the divine presence--the shekinah--was with them. In Matthew, the "two or three" are not gathered around Torah, but Christ himself. They are gathered "in my name." Further, the shekinah is replaced with Christ himself--"I am in the midst of them."
Lastly, the text says that "if two of you agree about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven." It goes on to say, "for where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." Does this not anticipate the reconciliation of the wayward party?
Image: Loehe Chapel, Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa.
The Republicans have a good ad running against Governor John Hickenlooper--yes, the one featuring the Governor and President Obama playing pool. The content is not that whoopy, but it's watchable and takes a clever angle, so to speak.
The Hickenlooper campaign countered it with this brilliant ad, one that sticks to Hick's pledge not to run negative ads, while at the same time deftly skewering the opposition:
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27 ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’
Translation: From then on, Jesus began to show his disciples that it is necessary (for) him to depart into Jerusalem, and to suffer greatly from the pastors and chief priests and lawyers, and be surely killed, and on the third day be raised up. And Peter, taking him aside, began to censure him, saying, "Mercy to you, Lord. Surely this will not happen to you." He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me for you do not understand the things of God but the things of humanity."
Then he said to his disciples, "If anyone desires to follow after me, let that one deny themselves and raise up their cross and follow me. For if that one desires his life saved he will destroy it, but the one who might destroy his life on account of me will eventually get it. For what will it benefit them if they might gain the whole universe but their life might suffer loss? Or what will a person give in return for their life?"
For the son of man intends to be coming in the glory of his father with his angels, and then he will deliver each according to his doings. Truly, I say to you, some are standing in this place, the ones who will surely not be tasting of death until they might see the son of man coming in his kingdom."
Background and situation: Matthew has three statements concerning the passion of Jesus--16: 21-28, 17: 22-33, 20: 17-19. His source was Mark--the parallels are Mark 8:31-38, 9: 31-32, 10: 33-34.
This section of Matthew's gospel, which began in 14:1, is characterized by increasing controversy, and a darkening mood. The cross, which has been looming in the background ever since Herod's rampage against the innocents (2:16), now comes increasingly to the fore.
The issue of the cross: It seems odd to say, but the cross was an issue for the people of the early church. For Jewish Christians, to be "hung on a tree" was associated with an ancient curse. Paul refers to it in Gal 3: 13: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’" (The reference is Dt 21:23.)
That was one thing. The other was that the Romans used crucifixions as a campaign of domestic terror against anyone plotting against Rome's interests. It was a humiliating and gruesome way to die. No Roman citizen could be crucified. It was only for slaves and political rebels. The message was clear: This is what happens to people who rebel. Do so at your supreme peril.
The cross did not become a popular image for Christianity until the 5th century. The earliest image of Jesus portrays him as the good shepherd, not the crucified. The earliest known image of the cross is a piece of grafitti making fun of the very idea of the divinity dying on one.
The cross needed explanation. Mark and Matthew have Jesus trying to break his own disciples in on the idea. It is said here first, has to be repeated twice, and they still don't get it. (This week's lection says Jesus "began to show" his disciples that the cross was coming, apparently with the idea that it would take some repetition.)
Mark and Matthew say: It was not as it appears. It was not the inglorious and humiliating death of our leader, our master, our lord, and our movement! It was, rather, "necessary" (dei) that this happen. The messiah is the messiah precisely because he suffers and he loses all. (The phrase regarding "suffering" is explicit and emphasized in the Greek text. The Greek "be killed"--apoktanthenai--carries the sense not only of death, but also annihilation and "complete perishing.")
Peter as Satan: In Mark, both Peter's confession and his subsequent rebuke by Jesus are held together closely. Matthew generally follows Mark, but, in this case, softens the anti-Petrine position of Mark by inserting a paragraph on the new name, Peter, that Jesus gives Simon, and then asserting Peter's central role in the church (16:13-20).
When Jesus says that he will suffer and be killed, Peter speaks (unlike in Mark) and says: "Mercy to you, Lord. Surely this will not happen to you." The NRSV has "God forbid it." NIV has "Never, Lord!" The word is helios, which means "mercy"--more specifically, God's mercy. Peter is calling for God to protect Jesus.
In Mark, Jesus is specifically said to "rebuke" Peter. In Matthew, Jesus does not rebuke Peter. Instead, he simply "said" to Peter: "Get behind me, Satan"--yupage opiso mou, satana.
The temptation to power and glory was Satan's idea in the first place (4:8). It was the last of three temptations in the wilderness. The temptation, we remember, was to assert divine perogative in order to make things come out well for Jesus. (He could be the benevolent dictator of the cosmos, which, actually, most of us would favor.)
Already in the 4th chapter, the idea of avoiding suffering and the cross so that Jesus himself would be better off is associated with the "satanic," which is why Jesus refers to Peter as satan here. He "must" (dei) go to Jerusalem (16:21). This is a divine imperative, and he is not to be diverted by appeals on behalf of his personal safety.
While Matthew's view of Peter is, over-all, more positive than Mark's, it should be noted that Peter does not get off the hook in Matthew. As Peter was taking Jesus aside, Jesus "turned" and, it would appear, called Peter a "stumbling block" right to his face--from "rock" (16:18) to "stumbling block" (16:23) in only five verses!
The cross is laid on every person: In Mark, Jesus addresses crowds at this point. In Matthew, he addresses only the disciples. If any want to follow Jesus, he says, they should take up "their cross." I interpret ton stauron autou--literally, "the cross of him"--in two ways:
(1) Earlier in Matthew, Jesus had said that his followers can expect no different fate than that of their master. Most of chapter 10 is about the difficulties that will be faced by his followers.
They will "hand you over" (10:16)--the same phrase will be used about Jesus when he is "handed over" to his persecutors. They will "flog" you. You will be hated. "A disciple is not above the teacher," he says in 10:24. His followers can expect the same treatment as Jesus.
Later, in 10: 38-9, Jesus says, "And whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." (Those words will be stated again in this context.)
This is rather classic exhortation to a beleaguered minority. Hang in there. Stay loyal. No matter how bad it gets, keep the faith!
(2) The word "him" (autou) is genitive--literally, "cross of him." "Him" could refer to Jesus, in which case the reference is to the cross of Jesus. On the other hand, the context seems to infer "him" as the individual follower--not Jesus' cross, in this case, but the burdens that come with being a human being. Every person has issues. They are to be dealt with, not swept under the rug.
Take up the struggles of your life, yes, but note as well that Jesus never glorifies suffering simply for the sake of suffering. Life is tough enough as it is. Besides, buying in to that kind of logic is eminently a human way of thinking, to wit: "If it takes suffering to be a great Christian, I'll be the champion sufferer of all time." Suffering is not an achievement. There are crosses enough in life without making them on purpose.
The "things of God" vs. the "things of humanity": Human standards are about striving and achieving, becoming king of the hill, or having the most money. One should resist making a moral judgment about this. The impulse to strive and achieve has at least some evolutionary advantage. The ones who did so tended to survive.
That's one reason a lot of what Jesus had to say went right over peoples' heads. He talked to them about a different way, one that was not, it appeared, in one's social or financial interests, and one that was not, it was sure, in one's survival interests. Who helps the poor? There's no advantage in that.
It took some creative thinking for people to begin to realize that maybe "the way we've always done things" is not really life-giving. It took a real leap of insight--then and (especially) now--for some of Jesus' ideas to even begin to sink in.
In human ways of thinking--the default survival mechanisms embedded in our ways of thinking and acting--the one who saves their life saves it. The one who gains the whole universe gains the whole dang universe, and everybody else has to figure out a way to get their own universe.
Jesus completely upends all customary conceptions of gain and loss. True life is not in getting but in giving. Trying to save your life--looking out for yourself--is the path of destruction. The one who lives like Jesus--one who gives for others--will "receive" life. Where's the benefit if you own everything, but have no life?
The promise: Jesus is going to come with the angels "in the glory of his Father." Power and majesty are on their way--Oh frabjous day!
And when he comes, he will "repay everyone for what has been done." Clunk. (Or better: Lutherans will feel a clunk. We get neuralgic at the merest hint of any reward being given to any human effort.)
This is not about that. Matthew means these words as words of reassurance. There will be a reward for the sacrifice of Jesus' disciples. Even though there may be dark days ahead, calling for every reserve of emotional, physical, and spiritual strength, nevertheless God knows their trials, and God will reward their endurance.
The lection concludes with these puzzling words: "Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Matthew is writing in AD 80, or thereabouts. He knew full well that some people had indeed died before Jesus came in the fullness of his kingdom.
He is not talking about timetables regarding the so-called second coming. He's talking about the transfiguration of Jesus, which immediately follows, and, more broadly, the resurrection itself. "Some standing here" would have included Peter, James, and John. In six days--and in the very next verse!--these three of the disciples will see Jesus in his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Image: Follow me, Anthony Falbo
Andrew Romanoff accepts the cheers and well-wishes of his supporters at his 48th birthday party last evening. His race against incumbent Mike Coffman in the 6th congressional district is one of the most-watched across the country.
The 6th congressional district is, basically, the city of Aurora, CO. It includes a bit more than that--Centennial, for example--but the district could well be thought of as "Aurora's seat" in Congress.
The old 6th CD was only about 2% hispanic and was one of the most solidly red seats in the history of the world. With the change in district boundaries following the 2010 census, the district became much, much more competitive.
The current 6th is 22% hispanic, which is why the words "immigration reform" have been spoken, apparently for the first time, by Cong. Coffman.
I haven't seen any polling, but I would imagine that only a point or two separate the two candidates. This itself is a remarkable achievement for Romanoff, who is likely running even, or better, against an incumbent congressman, and doing so without taking any PAC money. (Coffman has raised nearly a million through PAC sources, so far.)
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Translation: But when Jesus came into the region of Caesarea of Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, "Who do the people say the son of man to be?" But they said, "Certainly John the Baptist, but others Elijah, but yet others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say I am to be?" But Simon Peter answered, saying, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God." And Jesus answered him and said, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father in the heavens. And I say to you that you are Peter and on this rock, I will build up my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you might bind on the earth will be bound in the heavens, and whatever you release upon the earth will be released in the heavens." Then he distinctly instructed the disciples so that they would surely not say that he is the Christ.
Background and situation: Caesarea Philippi is at the far north of the land of Israel. It was originally named Paneas, after the Greek god Pan, the god of music. This far northern region was known as "the panion"--the region of Pan.
In 198 BC, the Seleucids (the Greeks of the middle east) defeated the Ptolemies (the Greeks of Egypt) at the Battle of Panian. This re-established Seleucid control over the region, which lasted until the Maccabean revolt about thirty years later. The Seleucids built a monument to Pan in the city.
Rome, of course, later conquered the entire region. In 20 BC, Caesar Augustus gave the town to Herod the (so-called) Great. Upon Herod's death in 4 BC, his son, Phillip, inherited the city and renamed it after Caesar and himself. With this Roman city mentioned in the introduction to the pericope, Matthew intends the following story to be read and heard in light of Roman power.
The main source is Mark, but Matthew adds several Matthean touches. Where Mark has, "Who do people say me to be?" Matthew has "Who do the people say the son of man to be?" The more formal-sounding "son of man" adds a bit of gravitas to the question. The phrase "son of man" comes from Daniel 7--"...one like a son of man..."--which adds a typically Matthean touch of eschatology and apocalyptism.
The parallels for Matthew 16: 13-16 are Mark 8: 27-30 and Luke 9: 18-20. The latter portion of the reading, verses 17-20, is Special Matthew.
Who do the people say the son of man to be? John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah are specifically named. Jesus had obviously attracted a lot of attention and people were searching for ways to think of him. To whom can we compare the extraordinary Jesus of Nazareth? He is like John the Baptist or Elijah!
The mention of John the Baptist is quite clear. His name is preceded by the Greek word men which means "truly" or "certainly," hence my translation: "Certainly John the Baptist." (In 14: 2, Herod Antipas--Philip's brother--had said that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead.)
This again underlines Jesus' continuity with the ministry of John the Baptist, this despite the fact that the actual message of Jesus was quite different from, though not necessarily in conflict with, the message of John.
In political terms, one suspects that Jesus was an early follower of John's, but branched off at some point, drawing some supporters away from John--Andrew, for example. When John was killed, many of his followers moved to Jesus. (Some of John's supporters continued in John's name. To this day, there is a group called the Mandeans, located now in southern Iraq, who trace their "religious lineage" to John the Baptist.)
Elijah was the classic prophet, and, like Jesus, was from northern Israel. Elijah is also an eschatological figure. In fact, the very last two verses of the Old Testament, Malachi 4: 5-6, say: "Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes."
Matthew adds "Jeremiah." (Jeremiah is not mentioned in Mark or Luke.) The inclusion of the "suffering prophet" makes sense. Jeremiah and Jesus have some important connections. Both opposed the religious and political establishment of their day, and both suffered for it.
Jesus says, "OK, that's the talk at the filling station and the grocery store, but what do you think?" Peter answers, "You are the Christ." For a more complete identification of Jesus as "son of man" and "messiah (xristos)," Matthew adds to Mark, "the son of the living God."
The phrase "living God" asserts God as the source of life and the Life Principle itself. (See Hosea 1:10: "...in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people’, it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.’")
Peter's "confession" is not the first. The disciples had proclaimed Jesus as "son of God" when Jesus stilled the storm, and saved Peter from a dose in the drink. Then, all the disciples had said, "Truly, you are the son of God" (14:33). Peter's "confession" is the first to be made by a named individual in Matthew.
"Blessed" Peter: In the first use of makarioi since the beatitudes, Jesus calls Peter "blessed." (Don't get too excited. He calls him "satan" in just a few verses.) Jesus also identifies him as "Simon, son of Jonah." In the fourth gospel, however, Simon is called "son of John." Perhaps bariona (son of Jonah) is a variant of ioannes (John).
More likely, in my view, is the use of "Jonah" as an image of resurrection. As Jonah was three days in the whale, so Jesus would be three days in the earth (12:40). To call Simon Peter the "son of Jonah" was another way of calling him a "son of the resurrection." It is with eyes informed by God's power that Peter is able to make his confession. Jesus says as much when he says that "flesh and blood" has not informed Peter, but rather direct revelation from God.
On this basis, Jesus gives Peter another name and title, that of "Petros," or "rock." This recalls Old Testament figures, such as Abram and Jacob, who were likewise given new names. As God can give new names, so can Jesus. This is yet another way that Matthew affirms Jesus' equality with God.
"Petros," incidentally, was not used as a person's name in those days. It was simply the name for "rock." The word is not so much as a name but as a title. "You are rock, and on this rock, I will build my church."
Roman Catholics say that Jesus means to confer primacy upon Peter. They then go from that to saying that Peter was the first Pope, and that all subsequent Popes are "Peter" as well--all of them "vicars of Christ" on earth, as Jesus himself said.
Protestants counter that Jesus was not referring to Peter the man, but rather to Peter's "confession." That "confession"--not Peter himself--is the "rock" upon which the church is built.
As to Matthew's intent, I agree with the Catholics. The plain sense of the passage is that "rock" refers to Peter, not his supposed "confession." Frankly, you'd have to go through some serious mental paroxysms to make "rock" refer to Peter's words and not himself.
On the other hand, the primary source, Mark, has nothing about Peter being a "rock." Considering Mark's view of the disciples as a whole, and Peter in particular, such an assertion would be laughable. All the disciples are clueless in Mark's gospel, and Peter is the most clueless of all.
The section is Special Matthew. Matthew clearly added it in. Why? My view: The church to which and for which Matthew was writing felt threatened on two fronts: the rise of gentile Christianity (Paul), and the increasing friction between Christians and Jews.
Jewish/Christian conflict was minimal prior to the Roman-Jewish War. Then, most Christians were Jews. After the war, however, each side tended to blame the other and relations began to break apart.
This was especially true in the north of Israel where many refugees from the war settled, and local pharisees took the lead in organizing their communities. It was in this region, and during this time, that followers of Jesus were kicked out of synagogues. (Matthew's church is likely in this region, and these evictions began to happen during the time of his writing. One notices that Matthew had nothing good to say about pharisees.)
Matthew may be promoting Peter because Peter was associated with what you might call "the Jewish wing of Christianity." As leader of the disciples, and thoroughly Jewish, Peter might have had special appeal for Matthew's Jewish Christian community. (Moreover, Peter, Jesus' right-hand man, is more than a match for Paul.)
There were several major factions within the early catholic church--the gentile Christians associated with the ministry of Paul, the community of the Beloved Disciple, the "Jewish Christians," another "dissident" faction represented by the community around "Mark," and the "head office" in Jerusalem. (That's for starters. Several other groups, some now considered heretical--the ebionites and the proto-gnostics, for example--also considered themselves followers of Jesus.)
There was some friction in all of this. This is not to say that these factions were enemies of each other. That would be too strong. The Beloved Disciple, for example, has some things to say about Peter, but never is there a sense that relationship had been broken between the two. Mark is likewise quite critical of Peter, but nevertheless always recognizes Peter as the leader of the disciples--(not that that's particularly a good thing, in Mark's view).
The "gates of Hades": The word ekklesia--"church"--literally means "the called-out gathering." It recalls the worshipping community at Mount Zion at the end of time. Precisely because it is an end-times image, and because Jesus identifies the church as "my church," death has no power over it. "Church" assumes resurrection.
"Hades" was the Greek god of the underworld. It sometimes translates the Hebrew word sheol, which was a vague and shadowy place that was the abode of the dead. In general Biblical usage, it refers to the grave, or even hell. In Greek mythology, Hades, along with Zeus and Poseidon, claimed to rule the cosmos.
Jesus isolates Hades in the underworld, however, and asserts that its "gates" will not prevail against the church. We often take this to mean that the assaults of hell cannot doom the church. Gates, however, are a stationary image. They do not attack; they defend. Pardon the martial language, but, in the power of the resurrection, the church does not defend against hell, but rather attacks and defeats it.
The reference to "keys" recalls Isaiah 22: "...and I will place on his shoulder (Eliakim, in this case) the key of the house of David." Binding and loosing also recalls Isaiah: "...he shall open, and none shall shut; he shall shut, and none shall open (22:22)."
John Meier says that "binding and loosing," seen in the context of rabbinic sources, means the authority to decide between what is permissable and not permissable, or also even to include or exclude people from the community. It may indeed have been Matthew's agenda to devolve that authority onto Peter.
The "messianic secret": Why would Jesus tell people not to say anything about him? Why the so-called "messianic secret"?
It could have been what we call "reverse psychology," i.e. tell people not to something, and they'll fall all over themselves to try to do it. This is indicated by Mark 7:36: "Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it."
Another reason may be that, as of yet, we only know part of the story. We have heard authoritative teaching from Jesus--the Sermon on the Mount!--and have been told of his miracles and majestic power. We have not yet been through his death and resurrection. Then, his authority and ministry will be affirmed and ratified by God himself in the most powerful way possible. (Indeed, then he will have "all authority".) Until then, better not to say anything at all than to tell only half the story.
Yet another possibility is that Jesus was opposed by the various authorities of the day, and just maybe he didn't want them to know what he was doing or where he was going.
Image: St. Peter the Aleut, Fr. Ray Bucko
Congressional candidate, Mike Coffman, blows a question on womens' reproductive rights during yesterday's debate with Andrew Romanoff.
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.’3He answered them, ‘And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, “Honour your father and your mother,” and, “Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.”5But you say that whoever tells father or mother, “Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God”, then that person need not honour the father. 6So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. 7You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:
8“This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
9in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.” ’
Translation: Then pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem to Jesus, saying, "In this, why do your disciples go by the side of the instruction of the elders, for they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." But he answered them saying, "And in this, why do you go by the side of the commandment of God because of your instruction of elders, for God said, 'Honor the father and the mother' and 'The one speaking evil of father and mother will die completely.' But you say that whoever says to the father and the mother, 'A gift from me by which you might have been assisted,' that person will not honor his father; you have rendered void the word of God because of the instruction of your elders. Hypocrites, Isaiah prophesied beautifully about you, saying, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. In vain they worship me, teaching precepts of men.'"
Background and situation: The context for understanding the story of the Canaanite woman's encounter with Jesus is contained in the first twenty verses of the text. In this section, Jesus counters a pharisaic argument, goes them one better, then abrogates all food laws, the major barrier to inclusion of gentiles. With exquisite timing, the (gentile) Canaanite woman then bursts upon the scene.
The original source is Mark (7: 1-12), though, as John Meier puts it, "Matthew abbreviates, adds to, and inverts the Markan text." That's because Matthew has similar priorities, but takes a somewhat different tack to advance his argument.
Rabbinical argumentation: Chapter 15 begins with an investigative team which has been sent out from the head office in Jerusalem to look into the "transgressing"--parabainousin--of the oral law. An "oral law" is a law not contained in the scriptures themselves but rather one that was formulated by the early pharisees. The particular one mentioned here stipulated that hands should be washed before eating in order for people to purify themselves from any object they might have touched that was unclean.
The pharisees, incidentally, claimed that, in addition to the written law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, God had also given an "oral law" to Moses, an "oral law" which only they, the pharisees, knew.
In true rabbinical style, Jesus counters their argument by accusing them of "transgressing"--same word--not merely oral tradition, but the very "commandment of God". These pharisees are not breaching some "oral law" of the pharisees' own definition, but breaking a commandment of God, a commandment recognized by every faction within Judaism as being part of the "ten words," what we call the "ten commandments."
The specific commandment Jesus has in mind is the injunction to honor father and mother. Jesus then refers to the practice of someone dedicating property to the temple, and thus withdrawing it from 'secular' use." This would have the effect of not letting your parents benefit from its value. (The Greek phrase is difficult, but it means something like: "A gift from me (to God) by which you (the parents) might have been assisted.")
It is a deft argument. Who would not put the needs of their parents above the financial needs of the already rich Temple? Moreover, it puts the pharisees on the side of the argument that must have made them uncomfortable. The pharisees, too, were critical of certain practices of the Temple. Jesus' rejoinder has manuevered them onto the same side as the Sadducees and the wealthy families of Jerusalem.
This is yet another variation on a common theme of Jesus, namely: That ritual and religious actions are, or should be, trumped by compassion and mercy. In this case, the compassion and mercy is on behalf of one's own parents.
Matthew ups the ante from Mark. Mark says that the commandment about honoring parents comes from Moses, but Matthew says the pharisees, by making mere oral traditions more important than the law of God, have "voided" the word of God in scripture.
Then, Jesus launches into a rousing condemnation of the pharisees--"hypocrites," he called them, and topped it off by citing the prophet Isaiah about the nature of hypocrisy, which is saying one thing while their heart, their understanding of reality, is in a different place. Their worship means nothing--mere "vanity"--because they teach human traditions. Matthew has found the pharisees wanting both in terms of law and prophets.
Preparing the way for inclusion of gentiles:
10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ 13He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ 15But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 16Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’
Translation: And he called the crowd to him and said to them, "Hear and comprehend: It is not what goes into the mouth that renders a person unclean, but what comes out of a mouth that renders unclean." Then, drawing near, the disciples said to him, "Do you know that the pharisees, hearing the word, were scandalized?" But he answered, saying, "Every plant which my father in heaven has not planted will be uprooted. Forgive them. The blind ones are leaders of the blind. If a blind one might lead another blind one, both will fall into a pit." But Peter answered him saying, "Explain to us this parable." But he said, "And you do not have understanding? Do you not perceive that all that goes into the mouth proceeds into the belly and is cast out into the toilet? But the things that come out of the mouth come forth from the heart and this makes the man unclean. For out the heart comes evil intentions, murder, adultery, illicit sex, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man."
At this point, Jesus summons the crowds, saying, "Hear, and bring this together in your minds: Not food going in, but evil coming out is what defiles a person." Defilement meant being unfit for fellowship with God and his people. Only evil can do this, Jesus says, and certainly not food.
The disciples came to Jesus and told him that the pharisees had totally freaked when they heard what Jesus had just said. One senses worry on the part of the disciples. After all, Jesus has just said that what you eat doesn't matter. The pharisees would have been stunned at the very idea. The disciples themselves must have considered this exceedingly dangerous territory upon which to tread. They report that the pharisees are "scandalized."
The pharisees were indeed "scandalized" because they immediately, and correctly, understood what Jesus had done. Not only had Jesus undermined the necessity of washing hands as mere oral tradition, which, from their perspective, was bad enough, but he seemed to use that as a swingboard for something far more sweeping, the setting aside of all the food laws.
The food laws, unlike oral tradition, were actually in scripture. Not only that, the food laws were among the most central aspects of Judaism.
This was a necessary step, however, because the food laws created an absolute barrier to contact with gentiles. In order to reach out to gentiles, something would have to be done about the food laws, so Jesus cancelled them out entirely. Having done this, the stage is now set for outreach to gentiles.
In response to the worry of the pharisees (and disciples), Jesus, cryptically, tells the disciples not to worry too much because what God plants will last, and what God doesn't plant will be uprooted. The church at the time of Matthew's writing (c. AD 80) would have understood this to mean that the church, the community of Jesus, was the planting of God, but pharisaic rabbinical Judaism--the tradition that won the power struggle in Judaism after the fall of the Temple in AD 70--was not the planting of God.
But don't worry about it too much, Jesus says. In fact, "forgive them." (The NRSV translates aphete as "let them go," which is probably about right, but I'm of the view that aphete ought to be translated as "forgive" where possible.) Let them go. Forgive them. They are merely the blind leading the blind.
Peter wants an explanation. Matthew changes Mark again here. Where Mark says the disciples ask the question, Matthew makes it Peter, which is consistent with the generally prominent role played by Peter throughout Matthew's gospel.
Jesus focuses on the mouth. What goes in the mouth proceeds on through the body. What comes out of a mouth comes from the heart and proceeds out into the world where it does evil. (Jesus appears to anticipate Freud's formulation of the id by about 1800 years.)
The sins Jesus ticks off basically follow the order of the Ten Commandments, except that illicit sex and lying both get mentioned twice. These are real problems and real offenses, says Jesus, not like something as insignificant as whether or not you washed your hands.
Inclusion of the gentiles:
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
Translation: And leaving that place, Jesus went back to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came forth (and) cried out, saying, "Have mercy for me, Lord, Son of David, my daughter is possessed by a bad demon." But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came requesting him, saying, "Send her away for she cries out after us." He answered, saying, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt to him, saying, "Lord, help me." He answered saying, "It is not excellent to take the bread of children and throw to the dogs." But she said, "Yes, Lord, and for the dogs eat from the crumbs, the ones falling from the table of their lords." Then Jesus answered and said to her, "Woman, your faith is great. Let it happen for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed from that hour.
Having cleared the way for contact with gentiles by removing the largest barrier toward their inclusion, Jesus went to gentile territory. Tyre and Sidon were both ancient phoenician ports. After Alexander's conquest, c. 332 BC, Tyre became a predominantly Greek city.
"Behold!" says Matthew. A woman seems to burst on the scene, crying out the correct liturgical words: Kyrie eleison, "Lord, have mercy on me." She even tops it off with "Son of David," an acknowledgement that she recognizes Jesus as Jewish, perhaps even the Jewish messiah.
Mark has "syrophoenician" woman, which Matthew changes to "Canaanite." The Canaanites were the ones living in the land of Israel when Joshua led the Hebrews into what, for them, was the Promised Land. For the temerity of resisting this intrusion, the Canaanites became bitter enemies of the Hebrews.
But that had been long before. Several centuries had passed since the Canaanite-Hebrew struggles. The word "Canaanite" had long fallen out of general use. Matthew deliberately resurrects that word in order to underline the outsider status of the woman--not only is she a woman, not only a foreigner, not only unclean, but an ancient enemy besides!
Jesus did not answer her a word--nothing, zip, nada. (In the honor/shame culture of that time, acknowledging the woman would also acknowledge that she had some kind of claim on you.) The disciples are often troubled by these kinds of interruptions and their default position always seems to be to get rid of the interruption. Naturally, they want to send the woman away.
Jesus responds with a statement that sounds formulaic: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." It reads like a formal statement of self-understanding. The woman replies with a plea from the heart. She falls to her knees and begs, "Lord, help me!"
Jesus is not yet moved. Jews of the day often referred to gentiles as dogs, and Jesus does so here. "It is not good--kalos--to take the bread of children and throw it to the dogs." Ouch!
In his version of this story, Mark says, "Let the children be fed first," which implies that maybe, just maybe, there might be some bread for others. Matthew drops this introductory sentence, which makes Jesus' remark come across even harsher than in Mark.
The woman, however, will not be dismissed so easily. "Yes, Lord," she says, appearing to agree with Jesus. She even appears to grant the primacy of Israel. Then, however, she moves beyond that to turn Jesus' analogy in her own direction. Let's go with that table image, she says. Eventually, some crumbs are going to fall to the floor. We'll take those.
Jesus responds. For the first time, he is now said to be speaking directly "to her". He says, "Woman, great is your faith." This is the only time in Matthew's gospel where anyone's faith is termed "great." The disciples (read: the church) are quite regularly informed that they are people of "little faith." But the Canaanite, the ancient enemy, the foreigner, the woman--her faith is megale, "great." Her daughter was healed "from that hour."
It is the only time in scripture that Jesus loses an argument, and he loses it to a woman who was a triple loser herself--woman, foreigner, and ancient enemy.
Image: Young Canaanite Woman, Abdel Rahman Al Muzain, 1979.
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Translation: "And immediately, he compeled the disciples to cast into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side while he dismissed the crowds. Dismissing the crowds, he went up into the mountain and by himself to pray. When evening happened, he was alone there. But now, the boat was many stadia away from the land, tortured by the waves, for they were against the wind. But at the fourth watch of the night, he came to them walking on the sea. But the disciples, seeing him walking on the sea, were troubled, saying, 'It is a ghost!' and they cried out from fear. But immediately, Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'Take heart, I am. Do not be afraid.'"
Background and situation: We are in "book four" of Matthew's gospel, a section which is concerned with church and controversy. (The book of Matthew has five sections, modeled on the five books of Torah. Throughout Matthew, Jesus is presented as the "new Moses," an authoritative teacher.)
Book four began with the death of John the Baptist (14:1-13), which was followed by the first feeding story in Matthew (14:14-21). Our lection follows. Mark is the source for Matthew 14: 22-27--the parallel is Mark 6: 45-50. The remainder of the passage is Special Matthew.
Several Peter stories, which appear nowhere else in the four gospels, are contained in this section. This seems curious: In Mark's gospel, the disciples, and especially Peter, never do anything right. In Matthew's gospel, which generally follows Mark quite closely, Peter looks a lot better.
In fact, it is in "book four" of Matthew that Peter is acclaimed the "rock" and given "the keys to the kingdom." In the leadership struggles of the early church, it appears that Matthew has done an about-face from his primary source, Mark, and is promoting a pro-Petrine point of view.
This would make sense for Matthew's agenda. Matthew is writing from a Jewish Christian point of view, a view that, by AD 80, was becoming increasingly endangered. (Indeed, Jewish Christianity would eventually die out.) Peter is both Jewish and the leader of Jesus' disciples, which makes him a good candidate to represent Matthew's Jewish-Christian perspective.
How Jesus responds to the death of John the Baptist in Matthew: Note the stunning turn of events that has taken place in only 21 verses: John the Baptist has been killed. His head winds up on a silver platter at an extravagant banquet held by Herod Antipas.
The people turn to Jesus for leadership (14: 13-21). Jesus likewise hosts an extravagant banquet, though a much different one that that provided by Herod--his for the many, Herod's for the few, his of love, Herod's of violence.
The feeding of the many is a paradigm for the new life offered by Jesus, one that is in marked contrast with the old ways of Herod. The feeding also helps to establish Jesus' authority in the wake of John's death.
In this week's lection, Jesus compels the disciples to get into the boat and go ahead to "the other side." Jesus then goes to a mountain, by himself, to pray. Jesus apparently stayed on the mountain through the night and into the early morning.
Keeping that context in mind, note that three things are mentioned twice in our short lection of 11 verses: (1) dismissing the crowds, (2) praying on the mountain, and (3) walking on the sea.
Dismissing the crowds is an act of authority. Not just anybody had standing to do so. That the dismissal of the crowds is mentioned twice is a way of underlining the authority of Jesus. He tells them what to do, and they do as he says.
Mountains are a place of special revelation in Matthew's gospel. That Jesus is said to be there twice adds to his mystique as a spiritual leader--he is close to God. The mention of mountains also accentuates the particular difficulty of operating in the wake of the death of the Baptist. Jesus needed time away, time to think and pray. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus is said to be in prayer only here and at Gethsemene (26 : 36-44), occasions both fraught with special dangers.
Likewise, the phrase "walking on the sea" is mentioned twice. This recalls Psalm 77: 19: "Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen." Jesus appears "lordly" and in charge. Indeed, in the verses immediately following our lection, one could be healed merely by touching the fringe of his coat (14:36).
Allegory of the church: In this highly symbolic story, the disciples are out in the boat when a storm comes up, and they are "tortured"--basanizominon--by the waves.
The boat is a symbol of the church. Navis is where we get our word for both "nave"--the sanctuary of a church--and "navy." To this day, many church sanctuaries are built in the shape of upside-down boats, particularly in traditions where seafaring has been a prominent feature of life.
The boat of the church faces difficulty from evil, which is represented by the tormented sea in the middle of the night. The church was "sailing against the wind."
If Matthew was writing AD 80-85, which is the general consensus, that may have been how Matthew saw the situation facing the church at that time. The land was trying to recover from the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. In AD 80, the church was still rather small and fragile, facing threats both internal and external. Feeling adrift in the "waters of chaos" would make sense for a nascent movement in that situation.
The image of the restless sea, buffeted by winds and rain, was a rich one in ancient Israel. The Book of Genesis tells of chaos in the beginning of creation--the creation was "without form and void." Genesis describes the act of creation as God bringing order out of watery chaos.
Ancient Israel had a primordial fear of these "waters of chaos." They feared that this chaos might again engulf the world and undo the order that God had imposed upon creation. (It was important, then, to help God keep the "waters of chaos" in check, which one could do by living according to Torah.)
During the "fourth watch," which was from 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.--the deepest part of the night, in other words--Jesus came walking on the sea toward the beleaguered church.
The disciples were "agitated"--etaraxthesan, or "troubled," "disturbed"--and they believe they're seeing a ghost--Fantasma estin! They "screamed because of fear." It is at this point, when fear in the face of difficulty threatens to overtake the church, that Jesus lets them know that it is him. Tharseite--"Take heart," or perhaps "Have courage," Jesus says.
Why should they "take heart"? Because, Jesus says, "Ego eimi"--"I am," which is the Greek version of the Hebrew tetragrammaton, YHWH, which is the divine name of God (Ex 3: 14). The Lord God took control of the "waters of chaos." By walking on the water, Jesus likewise demonstrates his power over the forces of nature. The power of Jesus is the same as God's power. Therefore, church: "Do not be afraid."
Peter walks on water too, sort of:
28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
Translation: "But Peter answered him, saying, 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." But he said, 'Come.' And going down from the boat, Peter walked upon the water and he came to Jesus. Seeing the mighty wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, 'Lord, save me.' And immediately, Jesus stretched forth the hand, taking hold of him, and saying to him, 'You little faith, why did you doubt?' And when they went up into the boat, the wind ceased. The ones in the boat worshipped him, saying, 'Truly, you are son of God.'"
To this point, Matthew has been following Mark (6: 45-50). Now, he switches to his own source, generally called "Special Matthew," i.e. the stories only Matthew tells.
Peter addresses Jesus as "Lord"--kyrie. Score one for Peter. He gets the title right. Peter wants to be able to do what Jesus does, and he asks to be commanded to do it. Jesus says simply, "Come." Peter climbs down out of the boat, and the text straight-forwardly says that Peter did indeed walk on the water.
Even then, however, it is not the same as what Jesus had done. Peter walks on water--udata--while Jesus walks on the sea--thalassan. Matthew is being careful to put Peter at least at one remove from what Jesus himself is capable of doing.
Then, in a poetic and insightful phrase, Peter "sees"--blepone--"the mighty wind." He didn't feel it; he saw it. "Seeing" means that he understands the situation. The church is buffeted by the mighty winds of internal and external opposition.
Peter succumbs to fear, and starts to sink. He cries out to Jesus. This has universal application. In the face of the real difficulties of following Jesus, the Christian becomes afraid, begins to be engulfed, and cries out to Jesus for help. (See also 8: 23-27, also a story of a storm on the lake, where, likewise, the disciples cry out, "Lord, save us.")
Immediately, Jesus "stretched forth the hand," which is reminiscent of YHWH in Psalm 18: 16--"He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters"--and Psalm 144: 7: "Stretch out your hand from on high; set me free and rescue me from the mighty waters."
Jesus then "takes hold" of Peter, and, while still out on the sea, calls Peter a "person of little faith," one who becomes fearful in the face of crisis. In Matthew's gospel, the disciples are referred to as being "people of little faith" five times.
Compare that with the story of the Canaanite woman in the next chapter (15: 21-28). Matthew resurrects the word "Canaanite"--the word had not been used for hundreds of years. Matthew wants to associate the foreign woman as being an ancient enemy of Israel.
Yet, by the end of the story, Jesus calls her faith "great." What a contrast between the "great" faith of the foreign woman and the "little" faith of the church!
When Jesus and Peter get back into the boat, the wind ceased. All is safe when Jesus is present with his church in times of difficulty. The disciples worshipped and said, "Truly, you are son of God."
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
Translation: "Hearing, Jesus withdrew from that place in a boat into a deserted place by himself, and hearing, the crowd followed him on foot from the towns. And going out, he saw a large crowd and was moved with compassion for them and healed their illnesses."
Background and situation: The original source is Mark--see Mark 6: 30-42.
Matthew organized his book into five major sections. His agenda is to present Jesus as the New Moses (who is also greater than Moses). If Moses had five books, so would Jesus.
Book Three of Matthew's gospel had centered on teaching and parables (13: 1-53). Book Four, the major theme of which is Jesus' formal expression of his coming passion, opened with Jesus' difficulties at Nazareth (13:54-58), and the death of John the Baptist (14: 1-12).
Our text opens with "when Jesus heard this." "This" refers to the death of John the Baptist, assassinated by Herod Antipas, the ruler of the Galilee region, and the son of Herod the (so-called) Great. On hearing the news, Jesus withdrew to a "deserted place"--eiremos--somewhere on the lake. He needed to ponder his next moves in light of this new and disturbing information.
Jesus takes center stage: The crowd, also "hearing," made their decision immediately. In the wake of the death of the popular leader, John, the people rally to Jesus.
Jesus was moved by their plight--"he had compassion for them." The word translated as "compassion" is esplagxnisthe, a word indicating great depth of feeling, an exceptionally strong form of compassion. Jesus' compassion issues in healings--he "cured their sick." In the new reign of God, healings break out.
Matthew's source is Mark, but Matthew makes a few changes to Mark. Mark, like Matthew, has two feeding stories. The first, Mark 6, is about the incorporation of Jews into the New Community. The second feeding story, Mark 8, is about the incorporation of gentiles into the New Community.
Matthew's agenda is different. Matthew's first feeding story takes place on the shores of a lake. The second is on a mountain. Both groups fed were, apparently, predominantly Jewish. Galilee had a mix of Jews and gentiles, as well as a mix of different strains within Judaism. (Even so, there are several universalistic notes in both stories, and especially in the second feeding story.)
Matthew makes a few other changes. Mark has the disciples get in the boat with Jesus. In Matthew, Jesus goes off by himself. He is set apart. Matthew leaves out Mark's comment that the crowds were like "sheep without a shepherd." Matthew has already used that line (9: 36). Instead of teaching them, as in Mark, Jesus heals diseases.
Incidentally, there is a bit of a play on words here. "Hearing" about John, Jesus went off by himself in a boat--ploio--while the crowds, also "hearing," followed him on foot--paxe. Also, they followed him on foot from the towns.
If you'll notice, Jesus spent very little time in cities. His connection was nearly entirely with people in towns and villages. Why? Were cities dangerous?
15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Translation: "When it became evening, the disciples came to him and said, 'This is a deserted place and the hour is now passing by. Release the crowds so that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.' Jesus said to them, 'They do not need to go away. You give to them to eat.' But they said to him, 'We have nothing here except five loaves and two fish.' He said to them, 'Carry them here to me.' And he ordered the crowds to lay down upon the green grass. Taking the five loaves and two fish, he looked up into heaven, he blessed, he broke, he gave the loaves to the disciples, and these the disciples to the crowds. And all ate and were satisfied. And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets full. And the ones who ate were about five thousand men and women and children."
Get your food from the store: The disciples can't help themselves, and unwittingly reveal that they think in terms of the old paradigm.
They go to Jesus and say the crowds are here, it's late, we don't have food. Let the people go participate in the regular market system to get food for themselves. The word agorasosin means something like "hang out at the marketplace and do business there." The disciples encourage "business as usual." They want to participate in the system.
Jesus says explicitly, "They do not need--ou xreian exousin--to go away. In fact, you--you disciples--give them something to eat." The disciples have five loaves and two fish, which might have been just enough to feed about 13 people. It was customary for people to carry a ration of food with them, and this was probably about the daily ration for the disciples and Jesus.
A "deserted place" with "green grass": Jesus wants the loaves and fish to be brought to him, then ordered the people to lie down on the green grass--xortou, a word associated with grazing and food. They were in a "deserted place"--eiremos, which is also translated as "wilderness," or even "desert." Where did the "green grass" come from? It's a sign of the new reign of God. In God's kingdom, the desert becomes a place that can sustain life.
The people sit down. Matthew changes Mark on this point. Where Mark has them sitting down in ranks of 50's and 100's, like the Hebrews of old in the wilderness, or perhaps like a military formation, Matthew says nothing like this.
One wonders, too, what happened to the fish? In Mark, the fish are also "divided among them all," but at the point of giving the food to the disciples, Matthew mentions only bread, perhaps an underlining of the eucharistic association of the meal.
The scene obviously recalls the eucharist. Jesus "looked up to heaven," a move which is still done by some priests, even though the actual language of the eucharist (1 Cor 11) does not include it. Then, "he blessed, he broke, he gave the loaves to the disciples." This is eucharistic language.
One feast compared with another: This "good eucharist" follows what what you might call a "negative eucharist"--Herod's "black mass."
Herod Antipas threw a great party--a sumptuous feast, no doubt, although Matthew does not mention the meal itself. The only thing mentioned as being on a platter was the head of John the Baptist. Herod's feast is for the few, the big shots and the rich, and is accompanied by violence.
Jesus' feast is egalitarian, for "the crowds." It is preceded by compassion, not followed by violence. It is not a sumptuous feast, but "all ate and were filled." Moreover, the feast is faciliated by the active role of the disciples. They are the ones who actually give the bread to the crowds.
The other issue relates to the food itself. A good chunk of the law of Moses had to do with food. You had to know where the food came from and what was in it. You can do that by actually being in the kitchen preparing, or watching it being prepared, or you can trust the host to make sure that the food is appropriate.
The people receiving food from Jesus, by way of the disciples, had no way of knowing if they should really eat it. Yet, Matthew gives no hint that the crowd had any reservations. Though not stated directly, their trust in Jesus is implicit.
Secondly, there's no way that 5000 men--and another few thousand women and children (not mentioned in Mark)--would sit down and eat dinner with just anybody. Total strangers provided this food, which was handed to the disciples, who handed it off to yet others. Who knows how many other hands touched it before it came to you? Who knows what those hands had touched before they touched the bread? Eat impure food, and you would be impure too.
Yet, at Jesus' meal, all these considerations are apparently tossed overboard. They ate the bread, with each other, in the company of each other, without regard to status, wealth, or the alleged "purity" of their compatriots. There was enough left over to fill 12 fairly large baskets--one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Image: Dan Erlander
Gov. Duval Patrick of Massachusetts delivered these remarks on Friday. Good to see Cardinal O'Malley with the Governor, and dressed as a parish priest to boot! Best part at the 6 minute mark.
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’ He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
Translation: Another parable he placed before them saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard that someone took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds of the field, the smallest certainly of all the seeds, but when it is grown it is greatest of all vegetables and becomes a tree so that the birds of the heavens come and live in its branches.' Another parable he spoke to them, 'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and mixed in with three gallons of flour until it was mixed whole.'"
Matthew's source for the parable of the mustard seed was Mark (4:30-32), though Matthew gets the "tree" part from Q. The parable of the leaven appears to come from Q--see the parallel in Luke 13:20-21. The gospel of Thomas also includes both parables. Similarly, Matthew 13: 44-52 appear to be Special Matthew, included also in Thomas.
The word for "parable" is parabole--literally, "thrown alongside." Parables are stories "thrown alongside" life, you might say, which prompt comparisons and contrasts between the story and life as we know it. Paul Tillich had his "method of correlation" which called for points of contact and comparison between the faith and the world. Parables do something like that.
Parable of the mustard seed: The parables of Jesus sometimes use hyperbole, as in the parable of the mustard seed. A mustard seed is small, but it is not the smallest of all the seeds.
In this story, the mustard seed first grows into a laxanon, which means either "garden herb" or "vegetable." Laxanon refers to a plant that was planted on purpose. Matthew adds that this vegetable grow into a "tree". (The tree does not appear in the original version of the story we have in Mark.)
Perhaps Matthew didn't think a garden vegetable was a grand enough comparison for the kingdom of heaven. More likely, Matthew is making a hyperlink to Daniel 4: 10-22, particularly verses 11-12, which use a tree as an image for the great kingdom of God which is visible to all and for all:
11The tree grew great and strong,
its top reached to heaven,
and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth.
12Its foliage was beautiful,
its fruit abundant,
and it provided food for all.
The animals of the field found shade under it,
the birds of the air nested in its branches,
and from it all living beings were fed.
Likewise, see Ezekial 17: 22-23 where the Lord God takes a sprig "from the lofty top of a cedar" and will plant it on the "mountain height of Israel" where it will produce fruit and become a "noble cedar":
Under it every kind of bird will live;
in the shade of its branches will nest
winged creatures of every kind.