Matthew 12:22-50

Gospel Readings:

Matthew 12:22-37
Matthew 12:38–45
Matthew 12:46-50

Devotion 1

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

Read: Matthew 12:22-37

This week’s reading opens as “they”—presumably the crowds—brought to Jesus “a demoniac who was blind and mute.” The last time Jesus encountered someone who was blind, Matthew raised the question of Jesus’ relationship with David, the Israelite king who “hates” the blind and the lame.1 It’s no surprise then, that here the same question resurfaces. The question on the lips of the crowds, introduced by the participle mēti, expects a negative answer—Surely this can’t be a leader like David, who slay his “blind” enemies in military combat, can it?2 It seems the crowds are beginning to see that Jesus’ liberative activity is more than they expected, and they are “amazed.”

In a timeless rhetorical strategy, the Pharisees respond to Jesus’ growing popularity with the crowds by labelling him as a deviant. It is the strategy of those desperate not to lose their tenuous grip on power, used in order to convince and control a gullible populous. If they can show that Jesus is acting in the power of evil, not good, then they can write him and his vision of the reign of God off and get back to business-as-usual. In this strategy, the truth matters little—what matters is winning the hearts and minds of the people. And even if what they say is absurd—as Jesus points out it indeed is—an uncritical population may still take the bait.

This encounter raises the question first posed in Matthew’s Gospel by John: what is good?3 The image of a tree and its fruit alerts us to the slippery nature of the question; good will not always be immediately discernible. We may not always be able to tell what is good by appearances. Though it might be unclear immediately to those in Matthew’s story world whether Jesus or his opponents are good, it will be exposed, eventually, by their fruit.

Reflect:

  • Where have you seen labelling used to write a person or their point of view? Have you experienced being labelled in this way?
  • Why do you think Jesus uses the image of fruit to talk about what is good?
  • Where do you hear God’s voice in this story?

Pray

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

1. Matthew 9:27-34, cf. 2 Kings 5:6-10.
2. Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2000), 271-272.
3. Matthew 3:10.

 

Devotion 2

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

Read: Matthew 12:38-45

The Pharisees and scribes here ask Jesus for a sign to prove his authority. But in their stubborn refusal to accept Jesus thus far, they have refused to see any sign of God’s activity in Jesus even though others can see them everywhere! The irony is rich. The tragedy is that their ideological blinkers will prevent them from seeing reality as it is—the view of the elite, rather, is constructed in order to maintain their power and privilege.

Jesus will indeed offer them a sign, but it will not be a sign that those aligned with imperial hegemony would expect. Rather, the sign that Jesus will offer will be that of his death at the hands of imperial powers. This is a sign that only those with eyes to see the alternative way of God’s reign will be able to accept.

Verses 43-45, when read in light of the Pharisees’ accusation of Jesus’ alignment with Beelzebub (12:22-32), function to confirm the Pharisees’ total inability to escape from what they accuse Jesus of. It is they who are controlled by unclean spirits. We must not miss the link here between uncleanliness and Rome. The Pharisees, whose concern with purity was a way of asserting their identity over against subjugating Roman forces, have only managed, in their strict observance of purity laws at the expense of “mercy” (cf 9:13; 12:7), to internalise imperial ways of power and domination. Horrifically, they have become the enemy.

Reflect:

  • What do you think Matthew’s community might have heard in today’s reading?
  • Where have you seen today’s story enacted in your world?
  • What encouragement or warning do you hear in this reading?

Pray for one another

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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 12:46-50

The community in which Matthew’s Gospel took shape was likely located in an urban centre of the Roman empire; many scholars for good reasons suggest Antioch in Syria. Antioch, like other urban centres, saw a “constant and substantial stream of newcomers” moving from the rural surrounding areas,4 often because they had lost their land and livelihood. Antioch would also have seen an influx of people fleeing from the Jewish war in 66-70 C.E., about ten years before Matthew’s Gospel was written. It’s no stretch to say that most in Matthew’s community likely had been separated from their land and families, and now lived a precarious existence in an urban centre “filled with misery, danger, fear, despair, and hatred.”5

Matthew’s community, then, would have been based not on patriarchal family relations, which reflected on a micro scale the dominating ways of empire, but on “voluntary associations”—households and communities which were more egalitarian and who often came together around a common interest.6 They created a “fictive kinship”—kinship not along blood lines but shared commitments and struggles. They were a community living in an environment shared with other ethnic groups—also on the underside of Roman rule—but between whom there was fighting and division. It was an environment where the struggle for survival was a daily reality.

It is in this context that we need to hear Matthew’s Jesus speak. It is a context where family separation is assumed, and where patriarchy is the norm. Reading these verses, then, we can hear a critique of the norm of patriarchal relations and households—family life in which women, children and slaves were marginalised. Notice that Jesus leaves no room for fathers in his communities except God! We can also hear, perhaps more to the point for Matthew’s community, that it is a strong affirmation of the households of Jesus-followers. It is they, insofar as they are communities of generosity, inclusion and justice on the underside, who are doing “the will of God.”

Reflect:

  • What strikes you in today’s reading?
  • How is your context different or similar to that of Matthew’s community?
  • In what ways do you sense God inviting you to live out this passage?

Pray. 

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

4. Rodney Stark, “Antioch as the Social Situation for Matthew’s Gospel,” in Social History of the Matthean Community: Cross Disciplinary Approaches, ed. David L. Balch, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 196.
5. Stark, “Antioch,” 198.
6. Michael H. Crosby, House of Disciples: Church, Economics and Justice in Matthew (Maryknoll, Orbis, 1988), 30.

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: Partnership

Read: Mark 5:30-43

Ask: How might we partner with God and with our neighbours in participating in God’s shalom, justice and hope this week?

Pray

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer