Things to watch for as you read these chapters.
Monday, January 13, Chapter 6
A good Jew in Jesus’ day preformed three acts of righteousness : charity, prayer, and fasting. Pharisees and many others did all three like theatre, only with an audience present. The message from Jesus is to do these things from the heart. Giving money in our time is easy, but it separates us from those in need and most of the time does not help them. Only ten percent of charity dollars in the US actually help those in need.
When we pray, we should be listening to God. Jesus gave us a sample prayer encouraging us to pray only for the basics of life, after that, we listen.
Fasting is not very popular in the US, we prefer feasting. There are many ways to fast, but it should always be built around prayer. The whole purpose is to give up something so we can concentrate on God for at least a day. For modern Americans a gadget/electronic fast would be a good choice. Try going a Sunday without TV (after the Super Bowl) and read or go for a long walk to talk with God.
We also like to feast on money and the things money can buy. We are always on the lookout for whatever we especially like, cars, clothes, toys, what-nots. Storing up treasures is not the same as a 401k or passbook account. We live in a society where we expect to live 85 years without any help from our families, so we need to prepare for that. Storing treasures is collecting beyond our needs and focusing on that instead of God. Anything standing between me and God is darkness.
Jesus ends this section with a kind of summary. If we trust in God, all those possessions we think we need fall away. Living in trust makes life simple. The only day we can live is today.
Tuesday, January 14, Chapter 7
Judging others is another hard teaching from Jesus, for we Americans especially. We are number 1 with the best way of life possible; everyone should follow our example. As a Christian, I look at non-Christians, and fellow Christians, as not being as close to God as I am; exactly like the Pharisees.
We need open fellowship with everyone, just the way Jesus did it. Fellowship, not proselytizing or converting, until they knock on that door.
God will answer our knock at the door. He will answer our questions and help us find what we seek. Always remember that what we seek is Heaven.
Consider this passage from The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship. And it is hard to find. On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn. To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way.
Again from Bonhoeffer: There is someone standing by my side, who looks just like a member of the Church. He is a prophet and a preacher. He looks like a Christian, he talks and acts like one. But dark powers are mysteriously at work; it was these who sent him into our midst.
We must be ever watchful for false prophets, they are not just in ancient times. They are members of every church. They misuse the Word to get us to follow them, not God. Watch.
Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by reminding us to build our Faith on the Solid Foundation of the Word of God.
Wednesday, January 15, Chapter 8
Now Matthew has Jesus move into a healing ministry, taking up all of chapter 8 and most of 9. He begins with the healing of a leper, a task considered as likely as raising the dead. Note that the man knelt before Jesus, a word which often meant to worship. The man knew that Jesus could heal him and Jesus did so. The man’s faith was the important element.
Telling the man to say nothing indicates that this event did occur early in Jesus ministry. Jesus was still trying to avoid conflict with the Temple authorities. He had much to carry out before that last fateful encounter leading to the cross. None-the-less, Jesus sent the man to the Temple to asked for cleansing by the priests, showing us that Jesus was no enemy of the Temple of God, only of those who corrupted it.
The centurion’s servant is an unsual healing in several ways. Capernaum was Jesus headquarters, but was also a Greek/Roman city. This centurion commanded a cohort or century of about 80 men, one of six in a legion. The legion stationed in Capernaum was not Roman. It was working for Herod Antipas, though trained by the Romans. A centurion would equal a captain in the US Army.
He had wealth and power, but he came to Jesus in much the way the leper had, in a state of faith. While none of the men in the legion in Capernaum were Jewish, this centurion, a gentile, believed.
With the healing of Peter’s mother, we again see Jesus touching her, but nothing else. He spoke no words, made no reference to faith. Three different types of healing: a man of faith healed with a touch, a gentile’s request for another healed from a great distance, and Mary simply touched.
In verses 18-22, Jesus is again telling us to keep our full attention on God. We cannot use excuses when God asks us to do something for him. We must always do God’s work first.
Jesus gives us a great example of how to live that last section of chapter 6. He knew God was taking care of him, so he slept through the storm. The storms in our own lives continue to upset us because we are not willing to put our complete trust in God.
The demonic men on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (really a lake) present a strange picture as the demons fly into pigs. We can see that the story is more about the reaction than about the men being healed of possession. The region of Gadarenes was not Jewish, so we wonder why Jesus went there. In this account, Jesus spoke only the word, go. He traveled some distance through a storm for that one brief encounter.
Mark and Luke include the story as well and show more about the men, but for Matthew, the reaction of the people was important. They told Jesus to get out of Dodge, he had messed with their livelihoods.
Note that the disciples had just questioned among themselves who this Jesus was, but the demons knew at once and announced it loudly.
Finally, note that the death of the pigs did not mean the death of the demons, that comes at the end of time. But we do see the power of Jesus the Messiah over them.
Thursday, January 16, Chapter 9
Jesus sails back to the western shore, to Capernaum, where he meets a paralyzed man. It is reasonable to assume the man was well-known and since Capernaum was the hometown of Andrew, Peter, James, and John, it is reasonable to assume they knew him personally. In other words, he was not a plant, he could not walk. On this occasion, Jesus teaches a different lesson. He tells the man his sins are forgiven.
Only God can forgive sins, so the learned rabbis and scribes were fuming. Jesus cleared it up by healing the man. Since only God could do that, Jesus is God.
Jewish society of the day had an informal ranking of occupations, with priests and rabbis at the top of respectability and tax collectors near the bottom; hide tanners were lower and shepherds were only a little above the tax men. For Jesus to call such a sinful man to follow him was a sure way of getting kicked off the social A-list.
Jesus did fast and maybe the disciples did as well, but Jesus kept it private. There is no sign that John himself questioned Jesus. It was some of his followers.
The raising of the dead girl becomes more dramatic by having the woman stop Jesus’ progress to save her first. Back with the girl, Jesus does not make any claim to raising the dead. He insists that she is asleep. The flute players and the noisy crowd tells us that the house was already in mourning for the girl. They believed she was dead.
The woman, bleeding for 12 years, healed by touching the tassel of Jesus’ prayer shawl. Jews used the words for tassels and hem interchangeably in regard to the prayer shawl. There were four tassels representing connection with the priest and with God.
None-the-less, it was her faith that healed her.
The blind, also by their faith.
Driving out demons was becoming so common that Matthew does not bother to describe the event.
With 7 billion people in the world, we followers of Jesus have much to do.
Friday, January 17. Chapter 10
In verse 1, the 12 are disciples, and in verse 2, they are apostles. The Greek word apostolos means messenger. Jesus chose 12 for special duties from a group of a hundred or more disciples. Here, for the first time, Matthew calls them apostles and has them sent into the harvest field and be messengers of the Good News.
The rest of the chapter is a lengthy set of instructions.
Jesus’ ministry was always to Israel. After his resurrection, the 12 would be commissioned to go to the rest of the world.
On this journey, depend on the people to support you. Do not even take a change of clothes. If a town rejects you, move on.
Try to avoid trouble with the legal authorities. For Jesus, having his apostles arrested could encourage the authorities to arrest him as well.
Remember that you are my students. Do what I do, do not go your own way. Do not be afraid.
Back in Matthew 5:9, we read, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Here, he says he has come to bring a sword. It is a figure of speech. Jesus is about Peace, but that gets people upset, so they think he and his followers are dangerous. The stories in the New Testament tell us what happens; families are split, people attacked, beaten, jailed, killed. Jesus does not wield a sword, but he has brought one into play.
Our families are important, but Jesus comes first. Nothing in this life is greater than Jesus.
Be righteous and do good.