Read Matthew 11:25 - 12:21.
A friend of mine talks about climbing up hills of Assisi and feeling like you aren't getting anywhere, and putting one foot in front of the other and then noticing how steep it is and how far you have to go. But then stopping for a moment to look back and realize how much progress you have made. It is, she says, a metaphor for the spiritual journey. Sometimes it feels like we are on a treadmill, walking in place. It helps every now and again to pause and reflect on the past - not as a matter of nostalgia but to embrace how far we have come, and take heart for the journey that lies ahead.
So, too, in this journey. We are almost a third of the way through Matthew's Gospel. We still have a long way to go. But whether or not we've ever read Matthew from beginning to end, we know where this is headed: to a cross on a hill outside of the holy city. And beyond that, to the empty tomb.
Too often, however, we skip through the stuff that leads to that event. Our "theology of the cross" must never be disconnected from what led to that death sentence. Why did the religious leaders feel so threatened by Jesus? What caused that breakdown in communication, and those irreconcilable differences? It's worth noticing because it happens in our own lives, and in congregations - where people find themselves entrenched in their "positions."
Today's reading is only in one sense about healing on the Sabbath. It's about a conflict that has been escalating between those whose job it is to protect the order and Jesus who keeps pushing against the status quo. We have to be careful here, however. It is too easy for us to caricature the scribes and Pharisees as people focused on the "letter of the law" and Jesus on the "spirit of the law." That adds fuel to Christian anti-Semitism; it's also just not historically accurate. We need to learn how to see the polemics in the text and not simply read it at face value. One of the best guides I've found on this is Amy Jill Levine.
This is not about being "politically correct." It is about seeing how religion works - and what we tend to do to the prophets. So it's worth asking, "what's at stake here for the Pharisees - and what are they so scared of?" Asking this may help us deal with our own fears, and with navigating Spirit-led change in the Church.
But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. Whatever the reasons, they find this rabbi to be a threat.
And notice one thing more - it seems a turning point for a new sense of clarity about the Gentiles. Jesus said not too long ago, "only the lost sheep of Israel." But now Matthew is quoting Isaiah and pointing us to the Gentile mission, and a bigger vision.