Matthew 13:54-58 – 14:1-21

Gospel Readings:

Matthew 13:54-58
Matthew 14:1-12
Matthew 14:13-21

Devotion 1

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

Read: Matthew 13:54-58

As we pick up the story this week, Matthew has just finished narrating a series of parables usually called the “parables of the kingdom”, told to a struggling community on the underside in order to help them to see the legitimacy of their faith in the face of opposition, and to imagine their alternative way producing a “hundredfold” harvest.

Jesus now comes to his hometown of Nazareth and teaches in “their synagogue”. Strikingly, he finds no acceptance there. Rather than rejecting him as demonic though, like the Pharisees, the people of Nazareth reject him because he is one of them! More specifically, he is Jesus, the carpenter’s son. In the ancient Mediterranean world, to step above one’s assigned social status was looked down upon:

To be recognized as a “prophet” in one’s town meant that honor due to other persons and other families was diminished. If someone gained, someone else lost. Claims to more than one’s appointed (at birth) share of honor threatened others and would thus eventually trigger attempts to cut the claimant down to size.1

Moreover, the people of Nazareth seem to take exception to Jesus’ “wisdom” and “deeds of power.”2 It seems that Jesus’ teaching is too different to the accepted wisdom of Nazareth. Perhaps it is too inclusive. Perhaps too generous. Perhaps too “enemy-loving”. Perhaps his call to nonviolent resistance is too confronting. So they write him off. It seems that this is not the Jesus they once knew, who grew up among them with his family. This Jesus has broken the bounds of cultural expectations and accepted wisdom and engaged fully in a different narrative—a narrative not of bitter acceptance of current exploitative power arrangements and hardened mistrust of others, but one of embracing the power to change their situation and joyfully collaborating to make it happen.

Reflect:

  • In what ways have you experienced the pressure of living up to cultural expectations or other people’s conceptions of who you are?
  • Are there ways that you sense God has shaped who you are which go against other’s expectations?
  • Are there ways in which God’s Spirit is encouraging or challenging you today?

Pray

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

1. Bruce Malina & Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992: Kindle loc. 1698)

2.  “Astounded” (ekplēssesthai)” in 13:54 can be taken as positive or negative.

Devotion 2

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

Read: Matthew 14:1-12

Throughout Matthew’s Gospel the narrative has maintained a central focus on one character—Jesus. Today’s reading, though, interjects a story in which for the only time in Matthew’s Gospel the spotlight swings away from Jesus and onto another character, that of John the Baptist. We might be alerted, then, that this story must play a significant part in the narrative as a whole.

The story centres around John’s critique of Herod, who had taken his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. Carter tells us that “[r]uling elites used intermarriage to build alliances, expand territory, and increase power.3 As well as being in contravention of the Torah (Lev 18:16; 20:21), John likely opposes this consolidation of power. In the tradition of the prophets, he has dared to speak out against the powerful, and now he will taste their wrath.

We are here given a chilling insight into the machinations of Herod’s court.4 The forces of political calculation, sexual pleasure, simmering hatred and desperate honour-saving are all mixed together in a toxic cocktail which will end in a gruesome death—the death of the political prisoner, John.

The story of John’s death sounds an ominous note for those aligned Jesus in the narrative, as  well as for Matthew’s community some fifty years later. Is this where discipleship will lead? What will become of John? What will become of those who dare to critique the power of empire? We will have to continue the story to find out.

Reflect:

  • In what ways do you see this story of the machinations of the powerful play out in the world around you?
  • How might we be challenged to live out this story?

Pray for one another

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

3. Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2000), 303.

4. It is possible that this is an account provided by someone “on the inside.” Luke’s tradition tells us that the wife of one of Herod’s stewards became a follower of Jesus (Lk 8:3).

Devotion 3

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

Read: Matthew 14:13-21

With the terrible news of John’s death ringing in his ears, Jesus withdraws to a place in “the wilderness”—a place associated with John’s ministry. Here, a feast takes place which is a stark contrast to the feast just narrated.5 That feast took place in a palace; this one, in the wilderness. At that feast there was no doubt food served for “conspicuous consumption” in order to display wealth and status; at this one, a simple peasant meal of bread and fish is served. At that feast, desperate rulers tried not to lose their grip on power; at this one, power is given away as the disciples, barely knowing what is going on, are given the task of serving the miraculous meal. That feast ended in death; this one brings healing and sustenance for life.

Matthew’s community would certainly have been no strangers to hunger. Added to the daily struggle for subsistence, in which one bout of illness or piece of bad luck could have catastrophic results, the city had known earthquakes, famines, and floods which would have severely affected its food supply.6 Most likely some in Matthew’s community would have been driven to Antioch from its surrounding rural areas because of the lack of food and resources in the first place.

For this community, Jesus’ feast in the wilderness is an incredible picture of things being “put right.” The miraculous multiplication of five loaves among five thousand men (and, as the text puts it in its androcentric manner—“besides women and children”) was a harvest not of a hundredfold, as Jesus had invited his hearers to imagine (Mt 13:23), but a thousand! It is a story which might remind Matthew’s community that God’s reign is experienced not in palaces and amongst the machinations of the powerful, but on the margins and in the sharing of what resources the people have. For in this sharing they might experience God’s abundance.

Reflect:

  • Where do you hear God’s voice in this story?
  • In what ways might this story challenge our conceptions about God’s presence and activity?
  • How might this story challenge our economic practices?
  • How do you sense God’s Spirit inviting you to live out this story?

Pray. 

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

5. Ben Witherington III, Matthew: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2006), 286.
6. Carter, Matthew and the Margins, 24.

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: Reconciliation

Read: Romans 12:1-21

Ask: How might we practice reconciliation today?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer