You will find an introduction to the “Gospel According to Matthew” and an outline, here.
A prayer from the Book of Common Worship, to use before your reading,
Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, “Peace I give to you; my own peace I leave with you:” Regard not our sins, but the faith of your Church, and give to us the peace and unity of that heavenly city, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, now and forever. Amen.
11:1 Concludes Jesus’ discourse to the disciples. This is Matthew’s third summary of Jesus’ work. (4:23; 9:35) Now Matthew shifts from describing what God is doing through Jesus to Israel’s response to that work.
III. Responses to Jesus’ Ministry:Israel’s Repudiation of Jesus 11:2-16:20
A. A Negative Response 11:2-30
11:2-6 John’s Question About Jesus’ Authority: Given what John says about Jesus in 3:14-15, does John’s question strike you as odd? Does Jesus’ reply answer John’s question?
11:7-15 Jesus’ Statement About John’s Identity: There were reeds in the Jordan Valley, so they would be an expected sight. Also the reed was found on some of Herod’s coins. The reed was also (3 Macc 2:22) an image of God’s punishment of a Ptolamaic ruler. Reeds in the wilderness could also evoke the hearers memory of the Sea of Reeds (Ex 13:18) blown by wind in the Exodus. Herod had palaces (Herodium, Machaerus, and Masada) in the wilderness.
11:16-19 The Negative Response to and Rejection of Jesus and John
11:20-24 Woe on Towns: Failure to Repent:Three cities where Jesus performed miracles are contrasted with three pagan locations (Tyre and Sidon, Isaiah 23, cf. Ex 26-28, Joel 3:4-8; Sodom, Gen 18-19) As bad as these cities were, even they would have been changed if they had experienced what Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernum had.
11:25-30 The Revelation of Jesus’ Identity to the “Infants”:The audience of this prayer are the crowds (v 7). In the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, “Yoke” was a commonly used metaphor for servitude and was used to refer to oppressive rulers and serving God through Torah. “Rest” does not mean ease, or relaxation but was a way of speaking about the Sabbath and God’s reign. Verse 30’s “easy” would be better translated “kind” or “good”.
B. Open Conflict 12:1-50 Remember that the chapter divisions are latter additions to the text. Sometimes they help clarify and sometimes they obscure meaning. Try reading from 11:20-12:14 ignoring the chapter break. Does your understanding of the text change?
12:1-14 Jesus, the Sabbath, and Access to Food: It is important to think about the role of Sabbath in Jewish life. Often Christians think about Sabbath observance as legalistic, rule following. But for Jews in the first century, Sabbath was a joy, a time of rest from work, a time to eat and drink. It was a sign of one’s allegiance to God. Sabbath also had social justice implications as servants and slaves (and animals) also participated in Sabbath rest. Jesus does not do away with or denigrate the Sabbath. Jesus is telling us about proper observance of the Sabbath. Verse 7 “mercy not sacrifice” comes from Hosea 6:6. It does not mean sacrifice is done away with but is a culturally shaped expression that is about priorities- mercy over sacrifice.
12:15-21 The Ministry of Jesus, The Suffering Servant: This quotation from Isaiah was, in Matthew’s day, considered to be about the Messiah.
12:22-37 Conflict: The Source of Jesus’ Ministry: Scholars differ about what the unforgivable sin is. Some think this is not a statement about unforgivable sins, per se, but is a statement of judgment against the Pharisees. Others think that it means continuing rejection of and opposition to God’s work. “A word against the Son of Man” suggests an event ( like Peter in 26:75, but 28:7,16) and “speaking against the Spirit” suggests continued opposition to God’s will.
12:38-45 Jesus Announces Doom on this Generation: When people call Jesus “teacher” in Matthew’s gospel they are not disciples. Disciples call Jesus “Lord”.
12:46-50 The True Family of Jesus: The Alternative Community of Disciples:
C. The Parable Discourse: The Third Discourse 13:1-53: There are 7 parables in this chapter. “Parable” in Greek means “something cast beside” or “to throw alongside”. Parables are comparisons. They are not allegories. Parables are a way to compare, notice how often in this chapter the parable starts, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”. Sometimes parables can be “decoded”, as Jesus does in verses 36-43. Sometimes a parable is more like a painting or music, it is not reducible to non parable- like language.
13:1-9 Jesus Addresses the Crowds (with Disciples) Seeds and Soils:
13:10-23 Jesus Addresses the Disciples: Why do you think Jesus’ explanation of why he speaks in parables is located by Matthew between the parable of the sower and the parables explanation?
13:24-35 Jesus Addresses the Crowds (with Disciples) The Weeds: v33 Three measures of flour is enough to feed a hundred people.
13:36-53 Jesus Addresses the Disciples:
What do these 7 parables tell us about the reign of God and about discipleship?
D. Ministry in a Hostile Environment 13:54-16:20
13:54-58 Jesus’ Rejection by His Hometown Synagogue: Are people in Jesus’ hometown defining him by his biological family and social status and thus unable to “see and hear” who he really is?
14:1-12 The Murder of John the Baptist: What motivates Herod?
14:13-21 Jesus Feeds More Than Five Thousand: this banquet contrasts with Herod’s banquet of the previous verses. It also prefigures the Last Supper with the actions of taking loaves, blessed, broke, gave and ate. It also recalls other times God has fed God’s people in the wilderness (ex 16). In 2 Kings 4:42-44, Elisha feeds people after the death of Elijah and has food left over.
14:22-33 Jesus Walks on the Water: The is the first time in Matthew the disciples go someplace without Jesus. In Biblical writing, mountains are places of divine revelation and presence. Additionally the sea is a place of chaos, dangerous and threatening. Traditionally, the church has been likened to a boat. In ancient stories, only a god could walk on water- overcome the power of chaos. Jesus statement “It is I” is “I am” God’s statement about God from Exodus. Peter, calls Jesus “Lord” and asks permission, (Command me) and is obedient. But he notices the violence of the storm and water and he fears. The word translated at “doubt” suggests vacillation not skepticism. The disciples worship Jesus as the son of God.
14:34-36 Jesus’ Compassionate Healing: Notice how often in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus heals everyone who comes to him. What do the crowds think of Jesus? They know he is a healer, but do they recognize him as more than a healer?
15:1-20 Jesus Denounces the Religious Leaders: The “tradition of the elders” was an oral tradition which the Pharisees considered authoritative. Other Jewish groups did not consider it authoritative. Hand washing before meals was not part of the Biblical instructions for lay persons. This was a practice of the Pharisees.
15:21-28 Jesus and the Canaanite Woman: The region of Tyre and Sidon was traditionally Gentile. Canaanites were “enemies” of Israel. Notice she calls Jesus “Lord”. The magi (2:1-11) the centurion (8:5) and this woman cross ethnic boundaries to seek Jesus.
15:29-31 Summary of Jesus’ Healing: Again Jesus heals.
15:32-39 Jesus Feeds More Than Four Thousand: This story has a similar pattern to the earlier feeding story, first people are healed, Jesus speaks with the disciples and then the feeding. But there are differences as well. Notice this takes place on a mountainside. Jesus again, takes break, gives thanks, breaks bread, gives and they eat. We do not know where Magadan is.
Read More About It:
Boring, M. Eugene, “The Gospel of Matthew: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, Leander E. Keck,ed. (Nashville, Abingdon Press)1994.
Carter, Warren, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll,New York: Orbis Books) 2001.
Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis:Fortress Press) 1999. Chapter 8 “The Gospel of Matthew”.
Powell, Mark Allan, “Matthew” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, rev. ed.James L Mays, ed. (New York: Society of Bible Literature) 2000.
Tilden, Elwyn E., Bruce M. Metzger, “Matthew” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy eds. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.