Category Archives: Matthew

Doctrine to Comfort

NRSV Matthew 12:29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 

NRSV Mark 9:38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 

NRSV Luke 9:49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.”

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After reading several versions of these passages and looking at commentaries written by people at various levels of prestige from St. Augustine to names I didn’t recognize this is my #1 question.  Is Jesus speaking more about people outside the disciple’s experience of faith rather than those in opposition to Jesus?  Is Jesus challenging us to check the balance of our focus on the relationship between doctrine and comfort?

Apparently doctrine is an age-old conflict.  What if Jesus is speaking of people who operate outside the body of faith as we know it but don’t actually oppose Him?  What if Jesus’ emphasis is about “tying up the strong man” with dependence on doctrine, rather than Himself.   Can that be what makes the “strong man’s house” vulnerable to plunder?  What if these three passages reveal the very words of Jesus that lead us from doctrine to comfort?

That makes sense to me when I read the Mark and Luke versions of this passage.  I feel like I can read between the lines of John’s words in Mark.  Sure the man is “casting out demons in your name” but how can what he’s doing possibly be OK “because he was not following us”?  John’s concern for the corporate integrity of their ministry was real.  Jesus matches his assurance to John with the same group-inclusive pronoun, “us.”  “Whoever is not against US is for US.”  

John’s invested his own life and identity in Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus knew the question of integrity was still very personal to John.  John’s own conflict was finding the comfort between doing things the way they “should” be done [doctrine?] and his commitment to the ministry of Jesus.  Jesus words from Luke challenged John to move from doctrine to the exclusive assurance of comfort of a personal pronoun, “you.’  “Whoever is not against YOU is for YOU.”

Second Chance: Matthew 2

√ Re·new·al: the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken

It did occur to me I could read through all the second chapters of the New Testament but it wasn’t until the first few inspirational thoughts this morning that “what’s next” became “why not?  If those “Firsts” during Lent and Easter were God’s theme to direct my thoughts toward the goal of Easter – renewal – then maybe these second chapters are God’s Second Chance to explore the mystery of how renewal happens.  You already know this story so here’s the cliff notes from Matthew 2.

Matthew 2:1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem…Magi from the east came…2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him”…3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed…8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him”…11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him…12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route…16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

We’ve come from the victory of Easter Sunday only to be reminded  of the reality of a worn out, run-down and broken world…then.  The magi were powerful men who dedicated themselves to search for the King of the Jews: God’s provision that would renew the heart of a whole nation and ensure it’s survival.  Their desire was to become part of that renewal and worship “that” King.  Herod was a powerful king who’s only desire for renewal was to make certain of his own survival as king of the status quo. Fast forward from that star and the dreams that guided them to the worn out, run-down and broken world…now. 

There is a definite relationship between desire and survival that can misdirect our continuing need for  renewal.  Renewal is the lifelong challenge of being dedicated to developing the ability to judge desires and circumstances of our world in accordance with God’s will [discernment].  Discernment is our guide today and it’s God’s provision that will renew the heart of a whole nation and ensure it’s survival. 

He is Risen Indeed!

Christ is Risen!  Lent has reached it’s apex.  Thanks to Pastor Carl Franzon for sharing this meaningiful writing from Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE. It’s the ultimate revelation of the truth of Easter.  We have a Savior who will not remain buried even by the whims of our humanity and the reality of a broken world. 

“Wherever we bury Jesus, he comes back to life. We can bury him in the Bible or in stained glass windows. We can bury him in creeds and formulas and the heritage of our own tradition. We can bury him in movies and plays and music. We can bury him in our past. We can even bury him in bread and wine. And each time from each place he rises from the dead. He sheds the words and images and walks right on out into the world.”

Matthew 28:6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. [NIV]  

The Firsts – Matthew

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah…Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

Most of us just skim-read Matthew’s  genealogy list.  Abraham’s there √ and Jesus who is called the Messiah is there √.  There are other recognizable names in between but  I was surprised to discover why that genealogy is important.  Maybe you will be too.  We live in an age when we can know about anything and everything, even ancestry through Google and DNA results that connect us with the past and long-lost family connections.

Matthew’s genealogy list was the early cliff notes version of that.   Those lives and names validated their pedigree and became a memory device to help them remember the details of their history. They  were time-stamped code words for them.  God had chosen those ancestors to be part of the creation of a new nation,  Somehow their descendants preserved the nation  through disaster and they’d endured the shame of their exile into slavery.   Finally that remnant of people saw the restoration of their freedom through the birth of Messiah  and that would turn tragedy into triumph.  

It’s mind boggling to imagine the volumes of information represented by the simple connecting thread of those names.   I wonder if the purpose of that geneology is to remind us of a timeless truth: the sovereign God works His Story THROUGH people…not because of them.

That truth of God is still part of our DNA.  Maybe that helps explain the current explosion of curiosity about ancestry and finding the surprises it may hold.  I know that’s happened to me and my list of “begats” has grown in ways I never expected.  My pedigree is not a list of purity of line but proof that by God’s design the barrier between saint and sinner is down.  My list of ancestors persevered in their lives and became my opportunity to recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of God who could turn an ordinary life of daily events, good and bad, into triumph.  

That’s the pedigree I want to be part of the ancestry of my own descendants.

This Then…Yours is the Kingdom

6. Matthew 6:9 This, then, is how you should pray:..[“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”]

I was surprised to discover the familiar last line I know of the Lord’s Prayer is only footnoted in many versions of the Bible.  There’s a complicated issue of texts, dates and translations but the bottom line is many Christians have used it in worship since about 90AD when the Bible was completed. [click here for more details]

The words “familiar” and “complicated” in the same paragraph seem important to me. Familiar is comfortable and that’s what makes it complicated.  I’m often quite comfortable in this complicated world.  It’s easy to remember this is definitely not heaven…but forget it’s still part of God’s kingdom.  He’s given familiar things to remind me His glory can be found even in such a complicated place.  There’s comfort in the power of his Word and prayers to strengthen my desire to pray for the assurance he will unite our today with His forever.

This Then…Lead Us

Matthew 6:9 “This, then, is how you should pray:…13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Here’s my question for today. Do you believe God uses temptation to see what you’re made of?  My immediate answer was “no.”  I think that’s the right answer but temptation and evil are real and Jesus prayer recognizes that.  I want my answer to be real too, not just a gut reaction.

My observations:
Sometimes our focus is more on praying the devil out of our life than praying the Triune God into it to change us.  That seems like giving that evil one more power than we should.  Sometimes the devil is a convenient excuse for the bad behavior of broken people in a broken world doing awful things. 

The Santa Claus Theology: Job 1:9 “Satan replied, Would Job worship you if he got nothing out of it?”  Temptation is Satan’s power to destroy faith by convincing us God’s blessing is only a bribe for good behavior.

The Need Theology: James 1:13 “When tempted, no one should say, God is tempting me.  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”  God doesn’t waste his power tempting us.  He’s focused on building faith first, then behavior. That faith has the power over temptation to reveal our broken desires to US so when we pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” we’ll finally understand  “desire” for the Triune God IS the blessing and gift.

This Then…Forgive Us

4. Matthew 6:9 “This, then, is how you should pray:…12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

• debt: something that is owed or due, a feeling of gratitude for a service or favor, obligation
• obligation: an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound;

A dictionary definition can bring up a less commonly used word like “obligation” as part of “debt.”  It’s a tool that helps me think about what I’m reading in a broader way.  That one word “obligation” reminded me of Romans 8:12: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.” That’s truth, right?

The terms of a debt are usually not ours to set but once agreed upon they are a contract.  We owe…we pay…”we have an obligation.”  What I’m pondering is why that truth is obviously grace when we pray Jesus’s words “forgive US our debts” but becomes an obligation to repay it when we add “as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  

We recognize our indebtedness. We want his forgiveness.  Our debt is too big to pay without it, but it’s easy to forget we’ve agreed to all the clauses of that contact.  That obligation is where Jesus’s prayer model meshes together with Romans to become the confession he meant it to be for us.  Lord help us to recognize your forgiveness of our debt has such an important relationship to our struggle to recognize our obligation to forgive.