Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
3rd Sunday of Advent
Matthew 11. 2-11: Exclusion or Embrace?
Begin by using the Study Guide Method as outlined
What causes you to doubt – to doubt yourself, doubt others, doubt what they are telling you, to doubt your own belief?
Have you ever doubted or become disillusioned with a leader or the church? What were the reasons for this?
Reflection on the text
When John the Baptist, languishing in Herod’s prison, sends his team to Jesus he is clearly having doubts about who his cousin really is. Jesus has become a threat to the Establishment and there is real danger in following him. He openly provokes resistance, and the powerful are protecting their interests. But ask him, John says, “Are you really THE ONE we’re all waiting for?” He doesn’t appear to be the sort of Liberator everyone had been expecting.
This may reflect similar feelings among the communities Matthew was writing for. In our own time it brings to mind the discontent some people feel towards God, and the church, when prayers go unanswered, miracles don’t happen, leaders let them down.
As so often, Jesus doesn’t answer John’s question directly. By this point in the story we should no longer be under any illusion. Jesus is very clear what John needs to know.
Tell him, he says, about how I am working with all the people who have been left out, who are uncared for – the blind, the lame, those suffering horrible skin diseases, and the deaf are all cured; the dead are raised to life and the good news proclaimed to the poor.
Jesus is expecting people to be discerning. God approves of this activity and those who can understand that – and don’t have a problem with what Jesus is doing – are blessed. This is the Jesus Society – it’s what Jesus means by the kingdom of heaven.
(See also, "More Background Information")
- If someone came to your Christian community and asked whether you are truly a community of Jesus the Messiah or should they look elsewhere, how would you answer? How do you show the world that you are God’s people committed to God’s reign, on earth – as it is in heaven?
- Who are the excluded ones, those who have been left out, who are uncared for, that Jesus wants your community to reach out to and share good news with?
- How does, and how should, your community go about caring for those who doubt, or are disillusioned?
(See also, "Going Deeper")
Recall some of the concerns you have in your church, or community, about people on the margins, excluded from a normal life, forced to live on the edges of society. Mention them aloud by name and then say, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?’ to which everyone, after a pause, replies, ‘Lord you have the words of eternal life.’
Remember together in silence anyone you know who doubts or is disillusioned in their faith. Pray for them, together with all prisoners of conscience and the persecuted church, throughout the world.
Close with the Lord’s Prayer.
More background information: reading Isaiah
The book of the prophet Isaiah was by far the best known Old Testament book in the time of Jesus. For example, the Dead Sea Scrolls included scrolls of Isaiah and, in their own writings, the Qumran community refer to Isaiah and quote from it more than any other book.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus quotes from fourteen chapters of Isaiah when he preaches. Four of the passages speak about the coming of God’s reign and one about the reign of the Messiah. So what did Isaiah understand this reign to be? There are at least seven marks of God’s reign (= the Jesus Society) that we can identify.
God’s presence as light and Holy Spirit (Isaiah 60:1-2,19; Isaiah 42:1-3)
Deliverance, salvation, redemption (Isa 43:1-19)
Peace (Isa 11:6-13; Isa 40:1-2; Isa 53:7-9; 60:17-19)
Healing (Isa 35: 5-10; Isa 42: 6-7)
Joy (Isa 35: 8-10)
Return from exile (Isa 35:10)
Justice (Isa 9: 2-7; Isa 32:1,15-18; Isa 42:1-7; Isa 51:1, 4-7
Going Deeper - (if time allows)
Spend time alone or together reading through the passages listed above and reflect on them
Consider the following description of the Jesus Society (i.e. the reign of God):
The Jesus Society is a whole new world order
marked by right relationships of justice, love and peace.
In full group, share together your view of this definition. Consider other ways of describing it and, as a group, create a definition of your own.