Matthew 7:1-29

Readings:

Matthew 7:1-12
Matthew 7:13-23
Matthew 7:24-29

Devotion 1

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

Read: Matthew 7:1-12

The first part of today’s reading concerns judging others. While this is often taken as judging someone’s character or actions, it seems that given the way that Matthew has arranged this passage between other texts concerning economic relations (Mt 6:19-34; 7:2-12), this is what is primarily in view. In ancient agrarian societies, communal relations were based on reciprocal exchanges. Family or close village relationships were based on a principle of generalised reciprocity, where resources were shared openly based on generosity or need, and return was often postponed or forgotten.1 With the breakdown of communal relations, as would have happened when people were removed from their land by war or dispossession, this kind of sharing of resources would no doubt have been disrupted. In addition, the view that resources were limited, meaning one person’s gain was another’s loss, would have meant a community like Matthew’s may well have viewed one another as potential competitors or threats.

Into this social situation, Jesus speaks a new word: “Do not judge.” Rather, live graciously and generously with one another, thinking more about the measure you might give rather than being anxious about the measure you will get. The comical image of a log in one’s eye would surely have helped break down the suspicion of others with a good dose of humour—but it is an important and timeless truth, and one which we must urgently put into practice today at personal, national and international levels.

Ironically, Jesus’ teaching, “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine,” is often taken as a justification to judge others’ worthiness to receive Jesus’ good news. Glen Stassen, however, invites a different reading.2 Dogs and pigs, in traditional Jewish teachings refer to Gentiles and, in particular, pigs are used to refer to Romans. Giving them what is holy is about giving one’s loyalty to a dominating and exploitative system. It is about living out of the ways of empire in order to pursue wealth, honor and power. “Giving loyalty and trust to the Roman Empire,” says Stassen, “in search of prestige, power, and wealth, was a temptation much present in the first century.3

The alternative to throwing pearls before swine, then, is to practice generous reciprocity. If you need something—ask! If you are without a place to stay—knock! In the end, as we seek to practice the kind of generosity and hospitality that is characteristic of God’s reign, then God, the ultimate Giver of good things, is our final guarantor. And as communities live out this kind of reciprocity—doing to others “as you would have them do to you” God’s reign is expressed on earth as it is in heaven.

Reflect:

  • What words or ideas strike you in today’s reading?
  • In what ways might you be able to creatively express today’s reading in your neighbourhood?
  • Are there challenges or encouragements which have emerged for you?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

1. Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), Kindle loc. 851.

2.  Here I am drawing on Glen H. Stassen, Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance (San Fransisco: Jossey Bass, 2006), Kindle loc. 2586.

3. Stassen, Living the Sermon on the Mount, Kindle loc. 2621.

Devotion 2

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

Read: Matthew 7:13-23

In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount thus far, Jesus has taught his disciples about just and generous communal relations and use of economic resources, as well as peaceful resistance to those with power over them. Now, at 7:13, Jesus begins to conclude, emphasising to his disciples the difference between following God’s way and following the way of those who rule by, or who try to imitate, imperial power. Jesus’ way, as he has taught it in the rest of the Sermon, will no doubt be difficult. It is a narrow path, but only on this path will those who walk on it find life.

Verses 15-20 rekindle a word that was spoken by John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees: “every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3:10). Here, Jesus speaks about the fruit of “false prophets.” It is unclear who Jesus is referring to, but given the way that elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel he speaks of the “fruit” of Pharisees (Mt 12:33), it is likely that he has them in view. In the background of Matthew’s telling of the Jesus story, we need to hear the controversies of Matthew’s community, which had sharp disagreement with Pharisaical groups over how to follow the way of God.

In speaking of a tree and its fruit, Jesus warns his hearers to be discerning about the words and actions of those who say they proclaim God’s way. It is not immediately apparent what kind of fruit a tree will bear—sometimes it is impossible to discern. It is only when the fruit comes that the true nature of a tree is revealed. In the same way, Jesus’ hearers are to be discerning about what they hear from those who claim to teach the way of God. What has been the outcome of their teaching and actions? What outcomes will their teaching lead to? Disciples are to ask discerning questions.

Verses 21-23 envisage a scene similar to the judgment scene of Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus separates the sheep and the goats. As in that story, here those who are deemed not to have done “the will of my Father in heaven” are unaware of it. They have assumed that their prophecy, casting out of demons and other “deeds of power” were the will of God. Their actions though, raise the same question first raised in the temptation episode (Mt 4:1-11) and will be contested throughout the rest of Matthew’s Gospel: How are Jesus’ disciples to use their power and authority? Here, at the conclusion of Jesus’ first major discourse (there are five throughout Matthew’s Gospel), the question is raised. It will linger in the air throughout the Gospel, and finally be decisively answered at the conclusion of the final discourse (Mt 25:31-46).

Reflect:

  • What words or ideas strike you in today’s reading?
  • Are there ways in which you have experienced “false prophets” whose fruit turned out to be “bad fruit”?
  • What do you think are practices that might help us to be able to discern the “goodness” of voices in our lives, whether personal (e.g. other people, leaders) or impersonal (e.g. media)?
  • Take a moment to consider whether there anything that God is prompting you to do differently or better from today’s reading.

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

Devotion 3

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

Read: Matthew 7:24-29

Today’s reading forms the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. It is a tale of two ways, of wisdom and foolishness, of following God’s way and disregarding God’s way. In closing the Sermon on the Mount with this story of two ways, Matthew echoes the Torah, and its closing blessings and curses (Deut 28). According to Deuteronomy, diligently obeying God’s commands will bring blessing from God, while disobeying God’s commands will bring curses sent from God. This theology was very important for the Israelites in exile under Babylon, as it explained their situation and asserted that God was still in control. It explained that the exile was God’s just punishment for the people’s sin: “The Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other; and there you shall serve other gods, of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known” (Dt 28:64). This was a subversive claim for those now under the power of foreign rulers who imagined their power to be given by their own gods.

However, as the Israelites returned to their land, those who gained some measure of wealth and power—the ruling elite—interpreted such theology as delegitimating those who were suffering poverty, sickness, or other misfortune.

“The blessings and curses were supposed to function as sanctions to motivate the people to keep the basic commandments, but they easily slipped over into an explanation of people’s fortune or misfortune. If people were suffering poverty, hunger, and disease, it must be because they had sinned and broken the covenantal laws; they were therefore receiving the curses.”4

Jesus’ story of the two houses subtly subverts this thinking. It affirms that living God’s way as Jesus has taught it in the Sermon will provide a firm foundation for life, while on the other hand, disregarding God’s way will bring consequences. This differs from Deuteronomic theology, which says that obedience or disobedience will bring blessings or curses from God. Not living out God’s way, says Jesus, has consequences. The consequences of hating your enemy, for example, will be being caught up in an ever-increasing spiral of violence. Or the consequences of greedy acquisition at the expense of your neighbour will be the breakdown of social relationships necessary for the survival of Galilean villages, or struggling urban communities. Actions have consequences, and the Sermon on the Mount teaches us God’s way so that we might not only know it, but that we might live it out, for only then will the outcome, for us, our community, and our world, be life as God created it to be.

Reflect:

  • Reflect on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7. How have you seen consequences of disregarding its teaching?
  • Is there a teaching which you find most difficult to live out?

Pray for one another

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

4. Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and the Powers: Conflict, Covenant, and the Hope of the Poor. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011), 138.

 

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: Incarnational Presence

Read: Psalm 23:1-6

Ask: In what ways have you experienced God’s presence this week?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer