Summary Matthew Chapter 22
This is a chapter full of what the corporate world might call “coachable moments”. These are moments when Jesus is able to, or at least attempts to coach some thick-headed interlocutors into a better understanding of his teachings. Ostensibly, the events described all take place the day after the Cleansing of the Temple. After the big brouhaha, Jesus spent the night in Bethany, cursed the fig tree on his way out, and returned to the Temple, and has been there since the middle of Chapter 21. When looking through a red-letter edition of the the NT, starting in Chapter 20 and running through Chapter 25, this is a very long stretch of Jesus doing a lot of talking. Then Chapter 26 starts with the Last Supper and begins the Passion Narrative. In fact, this is probably the longest stretch of nearly-continuous talking by Jesus in the gospel. Of course, it’s the teaching of Jesus that most sets Matthew apart Mark. One reason this stretch is so long is that the corresponding section of Mark also has Jesus teaching a great deal, whereas the earlier sections of Mark contain narrative, usually revolving around wonders that Jesus worked, and there is much less of that here.
This emphasis on Jesus teaching in Mark coincides with the section of Mark’s narrative that deals with Jesus as the Christ. I would use this as further evidence of the unlikelihood of Q. This hypothetical document has been created as a repository of Jesus’ teachings, and yet we find that these teachings have attached themselves to the Christ narrative. More, when we have examined each of these teachings individually, the conclusion (well, mine, anyway) is that none of them are likely to have originated with Jesus based on the internal evidence of the stories themselves. It would be hard to overstate the significance of this conclusion. If the stories that involve the teachings of the Christ post-date Jesus’ actual life, taken with the fact that Paul tells us Jesus became the Christ only at the resurrection, this is pretty powerful evidence that the Christ-legend did not attach itself to Jesus during his lifetime in any significant manner. This, in turn, has all sorts of implications, including the reasons Jesus was executed, largely puncturing the story told in the Passion Narrative.
It is tempting to say that this helps drive a stake through the heart of Q, but it really doesn’t. There is no reason that teachings could not have been collected separately just because neither Jesus nor his followers portrayed him him as the Christ. But, I think the fact that most of these teachings we’ve read in the past two chapters do not seem to date back to Jesus should make us wonder out loud about whether any of the sayings attributed to Jesus actually trace back to him. Personally, I believe the Parables of the Sower and the Mustard Seed are the most likely candidates. And note that they do not talk about retribution or politics, but about the Kingdom of God/heaven/the heavens. And note that we are told this is what John preached. And note that these parables are decidedly non-violent in their approach and content. Unfortunately, assessing whether a story could be traced back to Jesus was not one of the criteria for judgement that I was using as we examined a lot of these stories, but it is something that should be, and will be, done. And retroactively to everything covered.
Again, since so much of this was covered in Mark, two interesting points come up when we see what Matthew has omitted that is found in Mark. The first we discussed, the man’s realisation that following those two commandments was more important than all the burnt sacrifices in the Temple. We discussed this in the chapter, so I don’t think it warrants going over again. The other missing piece of Mark is the story of the Widow’s Mite, the old woman who gives her last two coins to the Temple. Jesus then remarks that she has given more than all of the rich folk have, for these latter gave only from their excess while she gave basically all she had. This story has always disturbed me, and I have considered it a bad precedent for setting her up as an example of piety. Too many people without resources are too often hectored into giving more than they can afford, when they are the ones, perhaps who need help.
But why was it omitted? Because it sets a bad precedent? Somehow, for reasons I can’t entirely explain, I don’t think that’s it. If you look at Strong’s words, you realize that “poor” in all its forms is not a popular word among the evangelists, Luke perhaps excepted. This just does not get the amount of attention we–or I, at least–think it does. Jesus does not talk about the poor all that much, and this is something that I would have said was one of the major themes of Christianity. And then, much of what Jesus says about the poor is not really outside the tenets of mainstream Judaism going back to the book of Ezra, or even further (if there is a further back in time). Did Matthew simply not value the story as–let me rephrase that. Matthew did not especially value the story, which is why he didn’t include it. One temptation is to take this as a reflection of his pagan attitude, that social justice didn’t loom as large for him as it had even for Mark.
Since there is no groundbreaking material to analyse, since the most important thematic consideration is what was omitted, the last question to ask is how, or perhaps whether, this chapter gives us any insight into the development of the message of the proto-Christian assembly. The answer appears to be negative.
So, in all, this is not a chapter that teaches us much about how all was progressing. It is a chapter of stasis, of the status quo, hearkening backward rather than looking forward. But note that this chapter sits approximately in the middle of a very long section of Jesus’ teaching. In fact, this section is longer than the chapters that start with the Beatitudes. It seems like this is significant, but the question is how? Of what does the significance consist? So much is made of Q, of how it is the repository of Jesus’ teaching; but, in fact, we have more of Jesus’ teaching here, and in the corresponding sections of Mark, than we do in the Q material. This is especially true if we limit Q to the actual sayings of Jesus, and do not include things like the Baptist’s “brood of vipers” harangue, or the temptations of Jesus. Due to this, the idea that there existed an entire book of sayings of Jesus that circumvented Mark becomes a little less convincing, I think; although God knows I’m pretty much convinced.
In all, this was a difficult chapter for comment. I’ve spent a lot time in this chapter sitting and staring at the screen, probably more than I actually spent writing.
Posted on April 12, 2016, in Chapter 22, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel, Summary and tagged Bible, Bible commentary, Bible scholarship, biblical scholarship, commenting, gospel commentary, gospels, Historical Jesus, mark's gospel, Matthew's gospel, New Testament, NT Greek, religion, St Mark, St Matthew, St Paul, theology. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.