Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
Sundays after Trinity (3)
Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30 :
The Way of Wisdom
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Can you think of someone who you would describe as a ‘wise person’; someone not concerned about public opinion or popular views but who would quietly speak the truth as they see it with grace and humility?
Reflection on the text
To get the drift of meaning here we need to read these verses in the light of verses 2 to 15. John the Baptist called people into a way of life marked by the Old Testament principle of Jubilee.
Just as Jesus lived this out (v5) with his community of disciples so too are Matthew's communities. The lifestyle of Jubilee is the very opposite of a lifestyle of self-indulgent luxuriant living (v8).
These verses present a major challenge to us (as church) and to wider society as to what kind of communities (= households) we are creating? Are they communities of justice or something else?
Are we ordering our relationships according to Good News principles? Are we immersed in ministry among today's blind, lame, leprous, dead and poor? Notice how all these conditions relate to poverty and exclusion. Relationships and resources in the households of faith are to be reordered to ensure that the oppressed poor are embraced, provided for and protected. Good News comes to people incarnate in the life of the Jesus community not detached from it. No-one outside the Christian community will be convinced about the truth of the Gospel if it is not embodied in relationships of love, acceptance, justice and reconciled forgiveness etc.
It is sometimes said that when a section of scripture is taken our of a lectionary reading then we should put it back in. Verses 20 to 24 are important here. Jesus has a real go at three cities which failed to heed the call to convert to a lifestyle founded on justice. Chorazim and Bethsaida failed to turn from patterns of economic injustice. Capernaum didn't listen. The fate of societies based on injustice is one of ultimate destruction.
So what is the appropriate response? It is to come to Jesus the one whose teaching provides the map for living wisely and justly (v28). We are to put on the 'yoke' of Jesus' teaching, collectively and as individuals. The common lifestyle 'yokes' of the first century weighed people down and crushed them but the 'yoke' of Jesus lightened and lifted the load.
In coming to know Jesus and his teaching we come to know God and the Way of wise living that brings 'rest'.
some questions for group discussion:
- To what extend are the resources in your household of faith, both material and spiritual, used to benefit the poorest and most vulnerable? Are inequalities and injustices being ignored? What reordering is needed in your community and how might you go about it?
- Would you describe your personal and communal lifestyles as luxuriant and self-indulgent? What would you need to do to change that ?
Write up on a flip chart the prayer concerns of the group using the headings – thanksgiving, confession and requests. Then ask people to take a tea light candle and, in turn, to light it using the central candle and then to pray for one of the concerns listed.
Conclude your time of prayer with the words of the grace together.
More background information
Leviticus 25 v 8ff outlines the nature of Jubilee – a society of justice marked by right relationships seen in the equitable distribution of resources.
- Michael Crosby points out that in Matthew Jesus refers to God as 'my Father' and himself as 'the Son' (v 27) rather than as ruler or king. His followers were sisters and brothers called to live under the Father's authority. Those who remain united to the Father's will, expressed in a collective way as a community or household of justice, enter God's reign. This is quite different from the notions of God and the people in Judaism at the time. See House of Disciples page 221.
Crosby point to the way Matthew thinks of God's reign as being manifested in the life of the house churches through the redistribution of material resources (e.g. debt cancellation) as well as the spiritual resources of salvation. Sitting down at table for a meal with those whom society excludes and marginalises and sitting down at table with enemies are signs that God's reign has arrived in the community.
- God's reign is expressed not through violence or greed but through meekeness (11 v 29). Matthew is the only gospel writer who uses this Greek word (praus). Crosby defines it as 'an attitude which moves people to desire to order their lives and all reality not according to individualistic and self-seeking human plans but according to God's will.' (Crosby, House of Disciples, page 159). Some scholars suggest that in some of Matthew's households life was being organised in such a way that some who already had wealth were becoming richer and those who had little or nothing were being shut out – left to eke out an existence as street people. Matthew's Jesus urges that his households to welcome everyone.