Matthew 4:1-22

Readings:

Matthew 4:1-11
Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25
Matthew 4:18-22

 

Devotion 1

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, allowing space for God’s voice to be heard.

Read: Matthew 4:1-11

In the preceding story of Jesus’ baptism, we heard the voice from heaven announce, “This is my Son”. Now, however, another voice—the “tempter” (4:3) or the “devil” (4:5,8)—calls into question Jesus’ status as Son of God. Is Jesus the Son of God? What does it mean to be Son of God? These are the two questions this story poses.

In Matthew’s world, writing probably some fifty years after Jesus, the title Son of God was used by the Roman emperor Domitian, like other emperors before him. He ruled through violent conquest and economic exploitation, all the while claiming to bring the “peace” of Rome to all the world and security to those loyal to Rome. Meanwhile, Jews both in Palestine and scattered throughout the empire still hoped for a leader, an anointed heir to the throne of David—who also was also called a son of God in Jewish tradition (Ps 2:7)—in Jerusalem who would lead them out of such foreign domination and back to national glory. This mix of subjugation and national hope is the backdrop for our story today.

In these three temptations, Jesus is invited to exercise power in the paradigms of these other “Son of God’s”. The temptation to turn stones into bread recalls for Matthew’s community the way in which the imperial powers exercised total control over the food supply, and hence the people, in the urban centres. The temptation of Jesus to throw himself from the highest point of the temple in the holy city of Jerusalem—the city of David—invited Jesus to meet the hopes of the Jews for a nationalistic hero. And finally, the temptation to rule “all the kingdom’s of the world” lays bare the source of imperial power as satanic.

As the episode ends, Jesus has refused to play the game, to prove himself through economic exploitation, nationalistic heroism and political domination. Matthew’s story will show that to be “Son of God” is not about these things. The “Son of God” in this story will live out a different way.

Reflect:

  • What resonates with you in this story?
  • We have seen how Jesus is tempted by economic exploitation, nationalistic heroism and political domination. In what ways can we be tempted by these things?
  • What do you feel holds the greatest temptation for you? Share with the group or in pairs.

Pray: Pray for one another about what you have shared.

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

Devotion 2

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, aware of God’s presence in a broken world.

Read: Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25

Today’s reading encompasses two passages which form a frame around our reading for tomorrow. As we pick it up, an ominous note is sounded. With the arrest of John the Baptist, who was preaching exactly the same message as Jesus (Mt 3:2; 4:17), we begin to see where following Jesus might lead.

We find Jesus again in Galilee, which is once more pictured in the context of imperial domination. The story of Isaiah 7-9, where Israel’s King Ahaz is under threat from foreign powers, is invoked for the second time, here referring to “Galilee under the Gentiles”—that is, subjugated by the imperial power of Rome.1 It is into this world that Jesus begins to proclaim the message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (4:17). The “kingdom of heaven” is opposed here to the “kingdoms of the world” (4:8)—that is, in Matthew’s world, Rome’s imperial rule. For those Jews whose homeland had been smashed by Roman military forces only a decade or so before, this is definitely good news.

But if we can begin to see that Jesus’ good news might mean liberation for Jews under Rome, we can also find hints that Jesus’ message might be good news for other peoples as well—throughout Syria and in the non-Jewish areas of the Decapolis and beyond the Jordan (4:24-25). Jews were definitely not the only people subjugated by the Roman empire. For a people who had come to believe that they were God’s “special” people, we can start to see that this “good news” might prove to challenge its hearers beyond comfortable boundaries!

Reflect:

  • How do you think those on the underside of the empire would have heard Jesus’ message that the kingdom of heaven has come near?
  • How do you hear it?
  • In what ways can the inclusion of “others” other cultural groups into our community or church make us uncomfortable?
  • Are there ways that God is challenging you through this reading?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 1. Warren Carter, Matthew and Empire: Initial Explorations (Harrisburg: Trinity, 2001), 105.

 

Devotion 3

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of repentance together, aware of our inadequacy and God’s grace.

Read: Matthew 4:18-22

In between yesterday’s two “wide-angle lens” readings, we zoom in to Jesus’ encounter with two sets of brothers. Jesus is walking “by the Sea of Galilee”, again invoking the marginal setting. On the shores of Lake Galilee stood the city Tiberias, built by Herod Antipas around 18-19 C.E., and with the new city came a much heightened Roman presence in the area around the Lake. What this meant for people like Simon, Andrew, James and John, was that the fishing industry had become increasingly exploitative, with the demands on fisherman much greater in order to feed the occupying forces, and the returns for fishermen much leaner. “This was an industry that apparently brought great wealth to some and great misery to others.”2

When Jesus speaks the words to the fishermen, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people”, he is calling them out from under the weight of exploitation, into something infinitely greater. He invites them to participate in the liberative purposes of God, to participate in the own liberation, and that of others. No wonder they responded immediately!

Perhaps it is significant also who Jesus does not call to be “fishers of people.” He does not call those in dominant positions—scribes, priests, Pharisees. Rather, he calls those on the underside. It is they who must be the the first involved in God’s liberative purposes. They must be cast as the main characters, not extras, in God’s redemptive story.

Reflect:

  • Who do you think Jesus would say these words to today?
  • Think about the kinds of people we’ve met in Matthew’s Gospel so far. With whom do you most identify?
  • In what ways might you respond to Jesus’ call to “fish for people” this week?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

2. Richard A. Horsley & Neil Asher Silberman, Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution that Transformed the Ancient World (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), Kindle loc. 345.

 

Devotion 4

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of gratitude together, giving thanks for the ways you’ve experienced God’s loving kindness.

This week’s Common Value: Advocacy

Read: Exodus 3:1-12

Ask: How might we amplify the voices of the poor and oppressed this week?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer