Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Journey With Matthew - Day 12

Read Matthew 9:1-26.

An observation about this journey so far is that we cover a lot of ground each day! In the confirmation program I used to run in the parish, I asked confirmands and mentors to read the entire Gospel of Mark in one sitting OR to watch a video performance of that gospel. Either of those took about two hours or so, as I recall. Matthew is longer than Mark but I'm sure you could get through Matthew in less time than it takes to watch a nine-inning baseball game. In contrast, the gospel readings in church on a Sunday morning are much shorter. It's like we get snapshots in church, and the gospel is written more like a feature film or Broadway show.

I am reminded of that these past few days because the pace of our journey captures something of the movement better than our normal division of the gospel into pericopes.Today we get four distinct pericopes, namely:

  • The paralytic man who takes up his mat and walks;
  • The call of Matthew, the tax collector; 
  • The disciples of John coming to Jesus and the teaching about new wineskins for new wine;
  • The healing of Jairus's daughter/the woman with the hemmorrhages

I point this out because I am the sort of person who could preach a fifteen-minute sermon (easily!) on each of these four sections. I'm used to coming closer and lingering on the details. But in this "journey" we are on it feels a bit more like being on the road, and passing something and saying to the other folks in the car, "did you see that deer?" And maybe they did and maybe they didn't, because there was something else to see ahead, or on the other side of the road...

In this larger section of text one of the things that is clearer to me is to notice what is happening with the religious leaders and with the crowds as Jesus does these things. It becomes cumulative. The crowds are literally like spectators, and I think distinguished from the disciples. The religious leaders are threatened; their authority is being challenged and they feel threatened by every new thing Jesus does. So our attention is on him, but he is not alone on the stage and one can feel how "report of [these things] spread throughout the district."

These "reports" get further and further from what has happened, because they are filtered through the perspectives of the crowds and the religious leaders. Gossip and distortion and all the rest creep in. We know where this is all headed, of course. My bullet points above are, I think, accurate "headlines" and summaries but the point is this: other headlines can be written. Each of these episodes is complex and will be reported (as report of these things spreads throughout the district) in different ways by different news sources. Other headlines could be written, and are even built-in already to Matthew's narrative
  • Scribes Accuse Rabbi of Blasphemy! 
  • Teacher Eats With Sinners and Tax Collectors!
  • Jesus Calls Tradition "Old Wineskins."
  • Hemorrhaging Woman Breaks Through Crowd to Accost Jesus! 
So where are we in this story - and on this journey? In what ways does Jesus still threaten the "institutional Church" and it's leaders? (Of which I guess I am one!) In what ways do we hang back in the crowd and watch it all, rather than taking up our cross to follow him?  Where are we in the story, and how is this all "good news?"

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