THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Lesson 15, Chapters 11:2-12:21
Narrative #3: Diverse Responses to Jesus' Teachings and Actions
There are times when Your plan for our lives is hidden from us, and we are uncertain which direction You mean for us to take as we journey toward salvation. Those times require us to respond in trust, in patience, and in faith that You will, in time, reveal to us those righteous choices that will move us forward on the path to salvation. It is in those times that prayer and listening for Your voice speaking to our spirits is more important than action. Send Your Holy Spirit to us, Lord, to guide us in our study of the growing opposition to Jesus and the trust and faith of the Apostles and disciples in listening with their hearts to Your Spirit and not to the aberrant and angry voices of their countrymen. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ + +
As I live, says
the Lord God, because my sheep have been given over to pillage, and because my
sheep have become food for every wild beast, for lack of a shepherd; because my
shepherds did not look after my sheep, but pastured themselves and did not
pasture my sheep; because of this, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus
says the Lord GOD [Yahweh]: I swear I am coming against these shepherds. I
will claim my sheep from them ...
Chapter 11: Opposition from the Jews
As Jesus' ministry moves forward we can see that He is becoming a cause for scandal among the people. He has already offended the Scribes and Pharisees and those Jews who thought of themselves as God's "righteous" by not seeking out their company and by eating with tax collectors and sinners (Mt 9:10). When they complained about His conduct, He told them: I did not come to call the righteous but sinners (Mt 9:13), suggesting that His mercy toward sinners reflects God's attitude toward them. He has also caused scandal by failing to observing the customary days of fasting (Mt 10:14). He has even gone so far as to forgive sins. When the Pharisees accused Him of blasphemy (Mt 9:3), Jesus told them that He was acting with divine authority (Mt 9:6) and, since sin is universal, those who pretend not to need salvation are blind to their own spiritual sins (Jn 8:33-36; 9:40-41).
Jesus' acts of mercy in forgiving the sins of those He healed presented the greatest dilemma for the religious authorities. When Jesus healed the paralytic and forgave the man's sins (Mt 9:1-8), they challenged Him by saying Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins (Mk 2:7)? Of course, in asking the rhetorical question, the Pharisees unknowingly provided their own answer. They must either conclude that Jesus is blaspheming by making Himself equal to God or they must conclude that He is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the prophet Ezekiel and is Jesus is God Himself come among His people (Ez 34:10-16). However, if they conclude that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies of Ezekiel chapter 34, they must admit that they are the corrupt shepherds of the same prophecy (see the quote from Ezekiel above; also see CCC 574-76).
Matthew 11:1 ~ When Jesus finished giving these commands to his twelve disciples, he went away from that place to teach and to preach in their towns.
Jesus' second discourse ends with a similar formula statement that ends each of His five discourses in the Gospel of Matthew, using the verb teleo: When Jesus finished [teleo] giving these commands ... (Mt 11:1). After commissioning His disciples and sending them on their first missionary journey, Jesus separates Himself from them to give them the ability to do what He taught them to do in announcing the Gospel of the kingdom and in curing the sick: he went away from that place to teach and to preach in their towns (Mt 11:1). In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, St. John Chrysostom writes that Jesus did this because if He remained with them everyone would seek Him out and would not have approached His disciples (St. John Chrysostom, Gospel of Matthew 36.1).
Jesus probably sent His disciples and Apostles out several times on missionary journeys to the "lost sheep" of the house of Israel during the three years of His ministry. St. Luke records: After this the Lord appointed seventy[-two] others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and pace he intended to visit. He said to them, "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest (Lk 10:1-2). The instructions that follow in verses 3-12 are the same instructions that appeared in Matthew 10:7-16, and it may be significant that Jesus sends them out in pairs (Lk 10:1) as the Apostles are listed in Matthew 10:2-4 (it is the only list of the Apostles in which they are named in pairs). Later, the disciples return to Jesus, ecstatic with the success of their mission: The seventy-two returned in jubilation saying, "Master, even the demons are subject to us in your name" (Lk 10:17).
Matthew 11:2-30 can be divided into three separate topics:
Chapter 11 marks a major turning point in Jesus' ministry. The chapter begins by addressing the impact of Jesus' words and deeds on the people and what His actions reveal about His identity. In a section that extends from 11:2 to Matthew 16:16, the focus becomes the contrast between how the people either believe that Jesus is the Messiah or how they reject Him and His teaching. The division of the first three sections in Matthew chapter 11 can also be classified thematically: (1)
The first section opens with the statement that St. John the Baptist is in prison (Mt 11:2), an event already announced in 4:12 and which resulted in Jesus relocating to the Galilee to begin His ministry. Matthew 11:2-19 can be subdivided into three parts dealing with the subject of John the Baptist:
We heard that St. John the Baptist was arrested in Matthew 4:12. Herod was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife" (Mk 6:17-18). Herodias was the granddaughter of Herod the Great, Rome's client king of Judea at the time Jesus was born. He was fond of arranging marriages within his family. Herodias was the daughter of Aristobulus, the son of Herod the Great and Mariamme (Jewish Hasmonean princess), and she was the sister of Herod Agrippa I (ruled 41-44 AD). Her mother was Berenice, the daughter of Herod the Great's sister, Salome. John the Baptist condemned Herodias' marriage to her uncle, Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great and Malchace (a Samaritan woman). Herodias caused a great scandal when she divorced her husband Philip Herod (another son of Herod the Great) and married her uncle Herod Antipas, tetrarch of the Galilee and Perea (he divorced his wife, a Nabataea princess, to marry Herodias). Flavius Josephus records all the salacious details in his histories of the Jews. It is from Josephus' account that we known the name of Herodias' daughter who danced for her step-father-great-uncle Herod Antipas and as her reward asked for the head of St. John the Baptist. Her name was Salome. (2)
Herodias' husband, Herod Antipas, is the Herod mentioned most often in the Gospels. He was the ruler (tetrarch) of the Galilee and Perea. Both John the Baptist and Jesus were his subjects and carried out the majority of their ministries in his territories "John in Perea, on the east side of the Jordan River and Jesus in the Galilee.
Matthew 11:2-6 ~ The Disciples of St. John the Baptist
Come to Jesus (Unbelief/rejection)
2 When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah [Christos], he sent his disciples to him 3 with this question, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" 4 Jesus said to them in reply, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, they dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. 6 And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me."
[ ] = literal translation.
St. John was imprisoned at Macherus, Herod Antipas' fortress in Perea, located east of the Dead Sea (Antiquities of the Jews, 18.5.2 ). He was apparently able to receive visitors while in prison. Hearing about Jesus' miracles of healing and raising the dead, St. John sent his disciples to the "Christos," which means "Messiah."(3)
Question: What did John's disciples ask Jesus?
Answer: John sent his disciples to ask the Christ if he was the "One who is to come," meaning the promised Messiah.
"The One who is to come" was not a Messianic title but in Isaiah 59:20 the same verb refers to the Redeemer: He shall come to Zion a redeemer to those of Jacob who turn from sin, says the LORD. This is the covenant with them which I myself have made, says the LORD: My spirit which is upon you and my words that I have put into your mouth shall never leave your mouth, nor the mouths of your children nor the mouths of your children's children from now on and forever, says the LORD (Is 59:20-21).
There are two interpretations concerning the significance of this passage:
Pope John Paul II interpreted the question John's disciples asked Jesus to mean that John the Baptist "had a different idea about the Messiah" (Jesus, Son and Savior: A Catechesis on the Creed, Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1996, 2.127).
Question: How did St. John describe the mission of
the Messiah in his confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for
his baptism of repentance in Matthew 3:7-12? Also see Lk 3:7-9. Compare Mt 11:11-12 with Ez 36:25-27, Jer 15:7 and Is 41:16; also see Ex 34:1-24.
Answer: It his encounter with the Old Covenant Church's corrupt leadership/"shepherds," an angry St. John warned them and the crowds of the Messiah's mission of judgment and divine retribution in which He would renew the faithful remnant of the covenant people with God's spirit. He alluded to those passages of judgment in the books of the prophets, and warned that the Messiah would single out the wicked (like them) for divine retribution.
In his confrontation with the Old Covenant "shepherds" of God's "flock" who have become corrupt, John was fulfilling his role as the last of the Old Covenant holy prophets of God. The question is can we interpret John's angry confrontation with the corrupt leadership (in which he in effect called them the "seed of the Serpent" in Mt 3:7, an allusion to Gen 3:15) to mean that John did not understand the other aspects of the Messiah's mission described by the prophets? Or, in his anger, is St. John only addressing one aspect of the Messiah's mission that is relevant to the corrupt "shepherds of Israel" (see Ez 34:1-2) who have come to him not for a baptism of genuine repentance but to test John and his understanding of his mission (see Jn 1:19-27)? John's description of Jesus' actions as the Messiah in Matthew 3:7-12 will be fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2), in the judgment on the Old Covenant Church in the destruction of the Temple (prophesied by Jesus in Mt 23:2-24:22 and fulfilled in 70 AD), and in Jesus' role as the divine judge of mankind's sins, dividing the wicked from the righteous, which Jesus describes in His discourse on the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46).
Question: What was the significance of Jesus' reply
to John's disciples in verses 4-5? See Is 26:19; 29:18-19; 35:4-6; 61:1-2
Answer: The miracles Jesus listed were also signs of the Messiah prophesied by the prophets "signs that Jesus was fulfilling.
St. John Chrysostom (344/354-407) and St. Jerome (347-420) embraced the second interpretation. John Chrysostom wrote: Jesus knew the mind of John who sent them, for he knew, as God knows, our inner thoughts. There he was, actively healing the blind, lame, and many others. He healed not to teach John, who was already convinced, but those who had come to him doubting. Having healed them he said, "God and tell John what you hear and see ..." In this way Christ drew them all the more closely to himself (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 36.2).
St. Jerome wrote that John did not send his disciples to Jesus because he was beginning to doubt that Jesus was the promised Messiah: John asks this not because he is ignorant but to guide others who are ignorant and to say to them, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jerome, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 2.11.3). Jerome points out that St. John knew he was going to die soon; therefore, he was sending his disciples to Jesus so they could have answers to their questions, come to know Him, and become Jesus' disciples.
Jerome believed the problem wasn't with St. John "the problem was that John's disciples doubted. Notice that in 11:2 St. Matthew records that in prison John heard about the works of "the Messiah" (verse 2) and not just the works of Jesus of Nazareth.(4)
Question: What evidence is there that John's
disciples were confused about Jesus' identity? See Mt 9:14.
Answer: They were expecting that the Messiah would fast and exhibit other signs of piety like John taught them and like the Pharisees; therefore, they questioned Jesus about why He and His disciples did not fast.
Question: The question is was John's understanding of
the mission of the Messiah only limited to the prophecies of the Messiah's role
as deliverer of Israel and judge of the wicked? What does Scripture relate about
the evidence St. John had that Jesus was the Messiah? See Lk 1:5-20; Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22; Jn 1:26-34.
Answer: John knew from his father's encounter with the angel Gabriel that he was the forerunner of the Messiah, and he would have been taught all the prophecies concerning the Messiah. He also already had proof of Jesus' true identity:
St. John's address to the failed leadership of the covenant and the crowds concerning repentance and divine judgment was in keeping with his mission to call the people to repentance as God's holy prophet and the messenger who was to herald the coming of the Messiah.
Question: What did Jesus mean when He said And
blessed is the one who takes no offense at me in verse 6?
Answer: Jesus was referring to the inward offense the disciples of John were taking against Him in questioning if Jesus was indeed the Messiah.
St. John Chrysostom writes that Jesus was gently reprimanding John's disciples for doubting and being silently offended by Him: He made their case for them, leaving it to their own conscience alone to judge, calling no witness of his reprimand other than they themselves who knew what they had been thinking. For it was of their own inward offense that he was thinking when he said, "Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me" (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 36.2).
St. John's disciples, like many in Judea in the 1st century AD may have been looking for the Messiah as a new Moses or a new David to liberate their people from the oppression of the Romans.
Matthew 11:7-15 ~ Jesus' Testimony to St. John
7 As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 Then who did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. 9 Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.' 11 Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force. 13 All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come. 15 Whoever has ears ought to hear."
Jesus asks the crowds a series of six rhetorical questions. Jesus' reference to "someone dressed in fine clothing" living "in royal palaces" may be an allusion to Herod Antipas who had arrested and imprisoned John the Baptist. John wore course camel's hair for his garment and he was firm in his message of repentance; he was not a "reed swayed by the wind" of secular society.
Question: How does Jesus identify St. John in verses
9-10? See Mal 3:1-3
Answer: He identifies St. John as a prophet of God and a successor of the prophet Malachi.
Malachi was the last old covenant prophet. He lived in the post-exile period (5th century BC).(4) Jesus quotes the prophecy of God's "messenger" from Malachi 3:1 in verse 10. The passage in Malachi 3:1 repeats the promise of the precursor of Yahweh that was already promised in the "prophetic voice" prophecy of Isaiah that St. John quoted of himself (Is 40:3 quoted in Mt 3:3) and who Malachi will identify with the 9th century BC prophet Elijah in Mal 3:23. Also see Mk 1:2-3 (quotes both Mal 3:1 and Is 40:3-5); Lk 3:4-6 (quotes Is 40:3-5) and Jn 1:23 (quotes Is 40:3).
Matthew 11:11 ~ Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Question: What is Jesus saying in these two
statements concerning St. John the Baptist?
Answer: John is the greatest of the Old Testament/covenant prophets because he was chosen by God to prepare the way for the Messiah and to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom. However, since the coming of the Kingdom has not yet been fulfilled, he is still in the epic of those not yet glorified by the Passion and Resurrection of the Christ. The saints whose mission it will be to proclaim the Gospel of salvation to all mankind will have a greater mission than St. John.
There is no personal slight to St. John in Jesus' statement. Jesus' statement concerns epochs of man rather than persons "John is part of the Old Covenant and will not live to see the inauguration of the New Covenant. However, St. John will also receive the Infinite Merit of the grace of salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and will also be admitted into the gates of heaven with all the other righteous souls in Sheol who will be liberated by the Messiah's perfect sacrifice on the altar of the Cross.
Matthew 11:12 ~ From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.
There are several interpretations of this verse concerning the "violence" and the "violent":
Matthew 11:13-14 ~ All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come. 15 Whoever has ears ought to hear." See Mal 3:23; Mt 5:17-18.
Question: What significant statement is Jesus making
in verses 13-14? See Mal 3:1 and 3:23/4:5-6.
Answer: St. John brings the Old Testament era of the previous covenants and missions of the prophets to a close. He is the only successor of the last prophet Malachi. John's mission is a continuation of Malachi's mission and he fulfills Malachi's last prophecy as the one who comes in the spirit of Elijah in Malachi 3:23. John is the last prophet before the fulfillment of "the prophets and the law."
It is interesting that St. Matthew inverts the phrase "the Law and the prophets," which is the usual way the New Testament refers to the entire volume of Sacred Old Testament Scripture (see Mt 5:17; 7:12; 22:40; Lk 16:16; 24:44; Jn 1:45; Acts 24:14; 28:23; Rom 3:1; 3:21). The reversal may be to shift the focus to the prophets since John is the last and the greatest of the Old Covenant prophets.
Jesus concludes His teaching on John the Baptist with the statement: 15 Whoever has ears ought to hear." This and similar statements are repeated by Jesus nine times in the Gospels (Mt 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mk 4:9, 23; 7:16; 8:18 in the negative; Lk 8:8; 14:35). It might also be a warning that is an allusion to God's command in the prophecy He gave Moses and the children of Israel concerning the coming of the great prophet in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. That passage concludes with the command that anyone who does not listen to God's prophet will have to answer to Him. Jesus has come as the supreme prophet, fulfilling the prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.
Matthew 11:16-19 ~ Jesus Rebukes His generation
16 "To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, 17 We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.' 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, He is possessed by a demon.' 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is vindicated by her works."
Question: To what does Jesus compare "this
generation" in this proverb?
Answer: He compares His generation to two groups of children playing make-believe games. One group complains that the other group refuses to play either the "wedding game" ("we played the flute" as in joyful music for a bridal procession) or the "funeral game" ("we sang a dirge but you did not mourn" as in a funeral procession).
Question: How is John identified in the parable; how
is Jesus identified? What is Jesus' teaching in this proverb? See Mt 3:4;
7:20; 8:48; 9:3, 10-11, 14-15, 34;10:20.
Answer: John ascetic lifestyle, living frugally and fasting in the desert, identifies him as the "funeral" game, while Jesus came eating and drinking and identifying Himself as the Bridegroom (Mt 10:15) like the "wedding game." Those in opposition in "this generation" could not be satisfied with either John or Jesus, rejecting both John's aesthetic lifestyle, calling him crazy and demon possessed (Mt 7:20; 8:48; 10:20) and rejecting Jesus' lifestyle, making some of the same charges against Jesus (Mt 9:3, 11, 14, 34). It is clear that nothing can please the generation of John and Jesus.
In this passage, Jesus uses the word "generation" in the negative to describe those who stand in opposition to both John the Baptist and Jesus and therefore in opposition to God's plan for man's salvation (also see Mt 12:39-42; 16:4; 17:17; 23:36; 24:34).
Question: When was another generation of Israel referred to in the same negative way for similar opposition to God's plan for His
covenant people? See Num chapter 14.
Answer: The Exodus generation.
Jesus concludes His proverb with the statement: "But wisdom is vindicated by her works." In refusing to accept the example of either John or Jesus, the Jews are turning away from the wisdom of the Messiah and His forerunner whose mission is vindicated in their works.
Mathew 11:20-24 ~ Jesus' Rebuke of Unrepentant Towns in
the Galilee (Unbelief/rejection)
20 Then he began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented. 21 "Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And as for you, Capernaum: Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the netherworld.' For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."
Question: What else did Jesus and John's generation
and the Exodus generation have in common?
Answer: No other generations in salvation history had witnessed so many miracles to bring them to faith and trust in God.
In 11:20-24 the theme of unbelief continues, but now Jesus rebukes the towns where the people had not repented after witnessing His "mighty deeds." A "woe" is a curse judgment in a covenant lawsuit issued by a prophet of God against people or places who refused the prophet's warnings to repent their sins.(5) Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida are important towns at the north end of the Sea of Galilee (also see Lk 10:13).(6) These three Galilean communities not only had the privilege of hearing the Son of God preach and witnessing His miracles, they actually had the opportunity to see Him, to talk to Him, and to touch Him, a gift very few people would receive in salvation history. Each of these towns received a "corporate" judgment, but that does not mean that those few within the communities who accepted Jesus were condemned.
Matthew 11:21b-22 ~ For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.
Tyre and Sidon were two prosperous pagan trading centers on the Mediterranean coast north of the Galilee. They were originally prosperous Phoenician cities where human sacrifices to Baal were offered, but after the conquest of Alexander the Great they became Hellenistic trading centers on the Mediterranean.
Question: Jesus' statement that if He had performed
the same miraculous works in those Gentile towns the people would have repented
and demonstrated their repentance by wearing "sackcloth and ashes" recalls the
repentance of what pagan people who were warned of God's impending judgment by
an 8th century BC prophet from the town of Gath-hepher in the
Galilee?(7) See 2 Kng 14:25 and Jon 1:1-2; 3:1-10.
Answer: God sent the prophet Jonah to call the people of the great Assyrian city of Nineveh to repentance (the book of Jonah). The people repented their sins and were spared.
Wearing course "sackcloth and putting ashes on one's head (Jon 3:6-8; 2 Sam 13:19) were outward signs of inward repentance and contrition. Jesus statement also prefigures the acceptance of Jesus' Gospel of salvation by future Gentile communities.
Question: Which of the three Galilean cities receives
the harshest rebuke? Why?
Answer: Capernaum received the harshest rebuke because it was Jesus' headquarters for His Galilean ministry and where He performed most of His miracles.
Of Capernaum Jesus said: 23 And as for you, Capernaum: Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the netherworld.' The "netherworld" is Hades in the Greek text, which means the "abode of the dead."
Question: What was Jesus saying about the future of
the people of the town? See Mt 10:32-33.
Answer: Had the town acknowledged Jesus' Messiahship and carried His message of the coming of the kingdom to the other towns of the Galilee because of what they had witnessed, their salvation would have been assured (see Mt 10:32-33). However, their failure to repent and to accept Jesus will contemn them to the grave.
In Hebrew "the grave" was Sheol. It was a place of purification where the wicked were punished for their sins and the righteous banqueted in the presence of Father Abraham (the "bosom of Abraham") while they awaited the coming of the Messiah (see Jesus' description of Sheol in Lk 16:19-31 and CCC 633).
Verses 23-24 contain the second reference to Sodom (and an implied reference to Gomorrah).
Question: When did Jesus speak of the Last Judgment
and compare communities to the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah earlier in
Answer: Mt 10:14-15: Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words "go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. 15 Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town."
Matthew 10:14-15 is the reason Jesus cursed the three Galilean towns; however, this does not mean that the people of these towns were condemned to hell. They were still under the old Law in which the wicked were purified of their sins in Sheol and they still had the opportunity of repentance and conversion before the members of the communities died. Those who did die before Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross also had the opportunity to come to salvation when Jesus descended to Sheol to preach the Gospel of salvation and to liberate souls who heard His message preached to them there and who were still able to have His Infinite Merit applied for the sake of their salvation (CCC 632-37, 678).
Matthew 11:25-30 can be divided into three subsections:
Matthew 11:25-27 ~ Jesus' Prayer to the Father in
25 At that time Jesus said in reply, "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. 26 Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.
Question: Who are those of childlike faith for whom
Jesus gives thanks?
Answer: Those who have accepted St. John's baptism of repentance and who have, by the grace of God the Holy Spirit, experienced the conversion of heart that is necessary to open their minds and hearts to welcomed Jesus.
The Catechism teaches that what moves us to belief is not just being convinced of revealed truths that are intelligible in the light of our natural reason, but we believe "because the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived." Moved by the Holy Spirit, our faith is more certain than our human intellect because it is founded on the Word of God who does not lie and is Himself "Truth" (see CCC 154-157).
Question: What great theological truth does Jesus
reveal in this prayer that has not been revealed before? See CCC 73, 221,
Answer: He reveals that He was revelation of the Father; He and the Father are One.
Notice that Jesus offers the Father vocal prayer. We often focus on meditation and silent prayer and forget the necessity of vocal prayer. Vocal prayer was not only an essential element of liturgical life in the Synagogue and in Temple liturgy for the Old Covenant people of God, but it is an essential part of New Covenant Christian life (CCC 2701). This is not the first time Jesus has prayed aloud to the Father. Jesus taught His disciples the great vocal prayer that unites was as children in the family of God—the Lord's Prayer (see Mt 6:9-13). Jesus will offer a vocal prayer at the Last Supper which is usually called Jesus' "High Priestly Prayer" (Jn 14-17; CCC 2604), and He will also speak aloud His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane in His time of agony when His soul cries out to the Father.
Matthew 11:28-30 ~ Jesus' Invitation to Come to Him
28 "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Jesus' invitation recalls one of the reoccurring images of the Old Testament prophets for the people in covenant union with God: domesticated animals obediently following the commands of their master (see the complete chart "Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets" in the chart section).
examples in Scripture
animals obedient to the Master's yoke
Is 40:10-11; 65:25;
Resist the yoke; run away and become wild
Ex 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9;
Dt 9:6, 13;
Is 50:6; 53:6;
Jer 5:5d-6; 8:6b-7; 23:1-2;
Ravaged by wild beasts/birds of prey
Jer 8:15-17; 50:6-7;
Ho 8:1-14; 13:6-8
Rescued by their Master
Jn 1:29, 36; 10:1-18;
Rev 5:6, 13; 7:9-17; 14:1-10; 19:2-9; 21:9-23; 22:1-3
Question: In the Old
Testament the rebellious Israelites were often accused of being "stiff-necked"
by God and by His prophets. Keeping in mind the imagery of domesticated
animals in the covenant imagery, what comparison is being made and what does
"stiff-necked" refer to?
Answer: Domesticated cattle wear a yoke when being directed by their master. Obedient oxen do not strain against the yoke but follow the direction of their master. Disobedient animals are "stiff-necked" when they refuse to yield and be guided by the master's yoke, like the Israelites who refused to be obedient to God their divine Master (see Ex 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Dt 9:6, 13; 10:16; 2 Chr 30:8; Acts 7:51).
Question: What promise
does Jesus' make to us in His invitation to "Come to me" and to take up His
yoke of obedience?
Answer: He promises that His yoke will not cause us distress and we will find "rest" in Him.
Question: Jesus' promise
of "rest" recalls what event on the seventh day of Creation? (See Gen 2:1-3). What
is the command concerning the Sabbath obligation for the members of the Sinai
Covenant in Exodus 20:8-11; 34:21; 35:1-3; Dt 5:12-15? What is the
significance of the Sabbath? What is the link to Jesus' invitation and promise
Answer: On the seventh day of Creation, God "rested." The Sabbath was a day of "rest." The purpose of the Sabbath was for members of God's covenant family to enter into His "rest" and to have fellowship with Him. Jesus' invitation to "come" to Him is followed by His promise that those who come to Him and obediently "wear His yoke" (follow the teachings of Jesus "the Master") will have "rest"/fellowship with God the Son.
Jesus' promise is an allusion to the New Covenant Sabbath. The Hebrew word for the seventh day of the week is the noun sabbat, and it is from the Hebrew root sbt [sabat], the verb which means "to rest" or "to cease." The combination sabbat sabbaton, "Sabbath of compete rest," is used for the seventh day in Exodus 32:5 and Leviticus 23:3, for the feast of Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement] in Leviticus 16:312; 23:32, for the feast of Trumpets in Leviticus 23:24, and for the Sabbath year in Leviticus 25:4 (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, "Sabbath," page 849). In the next chapter Jesus will address the true application of the Sabbath "rest" obligation in the lives of the covenant people.
Chapter 12:1-14 ~ The Pharisees Challenge Jesus
Then he said to
them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. That is why the
Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.
Woe to you,
scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before
human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those
trying to enter.
Chapter 12 repeats the three-part thematic division of chapter 11 but is presented in two 3-part divisions:
Since Sacred Scripture was originally written without any chapter or verse divisions, it is possible to view the thematic divisions in chapters 11-12 as a triad.
Matthew 12:1-8 ~ Picking Grain on the Sabbath
1 At that time Jesus was going through a field of grain on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the Sabbath." 3 He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry, 4 how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat? 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent? 6 I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."
The words, At that time..., that begin this chapter in verse 1 are a repeat of the same words in 11:25 that began the passage in 11:25-30 and point to the link between the two passages. The allusion to the Sabbath "rest" in 11:28-30 serves as a bridge to the first two events in chapter 12 in which Jesus explains why His "yoke" is a lighter burden than the heavy "yoke" of the Pharisees (for Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees' "heavy yoke" see Mt 23:13-36). The next two sections concern Jesus and the Sabbath:
Together with the sacred meeting place between man and God (the desert Tabernacle and later the Jerusalem Temple), the Sabbath obligation was one of the two signs of the Sinai Covenant "a covenant that was continued in sacred time in a sacred place (see the Chart on "Yahweh's Eight Covenants"). The one holy altar of sacrifice in the Jerusalem Temple and the holy Sabbath day separated the Jews/Israelites from the pagan communities who worshipped at many shrines and did not enter into God's "rest" on a special day set aside from all the other days of the week for fellowship and communion with the One True God.
Matthew 12:1 ~ At that time Jesus was going through a field of grain on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. It was not unlawful for the hungry to pick and eat some grain from a farmer's field while traveling (Dt 23:26). The problem as the Pharisees saw it was that Jesus and His disciples were in violation of the prohibition against working on the Sabbath (Ex 20:8-11; 34:21; 35:1-3; Dt 5:12-15).
Question: What two examples of lawful work associated
with what is holy does Jesus give them from the history of the covenant people?
See 1 Sam 21:2-7; Lev 24:8; Num 28:9-10.
Answer: When David was hungry and in need, he was allowed to eat the sacred "bread of the presence (of God)" from the table in the Holy Place of the Sanctuary. In their ministerial service in the Temple, the priests "work" in making offerings and sacrifices in the Temple on the Sabbath.
However, the example of David that Jesus gave did not take place on a Sabbath. Jesus' point, which He will elaborate upon in verses 11-12, is that the incident with David set the precedent that when mercy is a necessity it outweighs the letter of the Law. In the second example Jesus points out that the priests at the Temple violate the letter of the Law by working on the Sabbath serving God in the Temple, but the necessity of their ministry outweighs the violation. Jesus' disciples were hungry and He allowed them to eat on the Sabbath so that they might continue their ministry in proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom.
The Pharisees were strict adherers to the Law and saw Jesus' actions as a violation of the prohibition against doing a "work" on the Sabbath (Ex 34:21). Then Jesus makes two significant statements: First He says: 6 I say to you, something greater than the temple is here... and quotes from the prophet Hosea (Ho 6:6): 7 If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned these innocent men. This is the second time Matthew quoted from Hosea 6:6 (see Mt 9:13). The quote from Hosea speaks of God's desire for the life of the humble and repentant offerer that was symbolized in the sacrifice of the animal. It is the spirit of the Law and not the letter of the Law that matters.(8)
Question: When Jesus says "...something greater than
the temple is here," to what is He referring? Give several possible
Or His statement may be referring to all three.
Jesus was not hostile to the Temple; He completely supported the Jerusalem Temple and the Temple liturgy and rituals that were part of God's plan for man's salvation (see CCC 586, 590). However, He was opposed to abuses against the spirit of the Law by the Pharisees and the Temple hierarchy that resulted in abuses against the Temple and the people.
Jesus concludes this part of the confrontation with the Pharisees with the statement "For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees in stronger in Mark 2:27-28 Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath." "Son of Man" is Jesus' favorite title for Himself. He uses this title for Himself about 30 times in the Gospel of Matthew alone (Mt 8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40; 13:37, 41; 16:13, 27, 28; 17:9, 12, 22; 18:11; 19:28; 20:18, 28; 21:28; 24:27, 30 (twice), 37, 39, 44; 25:13, 31; 26:2, 24 (twice), 25; 26:64; 28:19). It is a title that not only refers to His perfect humanity but also to His identity as the divine Messiah of the vision of the prophet Daniel (Dan 7:13), which Jesus will identify as Himself (Mt 24:30; 26:64).
Question: What claim is Jesus making in these
Answer: Since God created the seventh day Sabbath as a day set aside for fellowship between man and God, Jesus is revealing His identity as the divine Messiah who has the authority to interpret the Law, even the Law associated with the keeping of the Sabbath.
Matthew 12:9-14 ~ The Man with a Withered Hand
9 Moving on from there, he went into their synagogue. 10 And behold, there was a man there who had a withered hand. They questioned him, "Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath?" so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, "Which one of you who has a sheep that falls into a pit on the Sabbath will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable a person is than a sheep. So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." 13 Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and it was restored as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and took counsel against him to put him to death.
Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples attend the prayer service at the local synagogue of the Pharisees who had challenged Him. The Pharisees are not willing to let the debate rest and ask Jesus if it is lawful to cure on the Sabbath "hoping to trap Him so they can again accuse Him of rejecting the Law.
Question: What is the basis of the argument Jesus
presents to them?
Answer: Giving the example of an animal that has fallen into a pit, He makes the point that an act of mercy is acceptable on the Sabbath. Then he concludes that the humanitarian act of mercy shown to a fellow human being is even more desirable, even on the Sabbath.
To demonstrate His point, Jesus then heals the man with the deformed hand. It appears that whether or not it was lawful to rescue an animal on the Sabbath or to perform a humanitarian act that could be defined as a "work" was a debated point of the Law in Jesus' time. The 1st century AD document from the community at Qumran takes the position that it was not lawful to lift out an animal from a pit on the Sabbath (Damascus Document, 11:13-14). A later rabbinic document states that it is permitted to save an animal on the Sabbath (b.Sabb. 128b; b. Mez. 32b) and the Jewish Talmud (c. 200 AD) concludes that it is permitted to do good on the Sabbath in certain cases: A case of risk of loss of life supersedes the Sabbath (law) (Mishnah: Yoma, 8:6). However, the man's withered hand could not be concluded to be a risk to life. Jesus' stand is that an act of mercy, whatever it is, is permitted on the Sabbath.(9)
In these passages Jesus, as the authoritative teacher who is Lord of the Sabbath, answers the question concerning "work" on the Sabbath through two principles:
After Jesus' Resurrection, the Jewish (Saturday) Sabbath that was established on the last day of the first creation (Gen 2:1-3) was replaced by the "Lord's Day" (Sunday), the first day of the new creation in Christ Jesus (Rev 1:10). It was a day of "rest" in which Christians joined together in the celebration of the Risen Savior and in the participation of the sacred meal of the New Covenant, the Eucharist. The Didache, the Church's first Catechism written sometime in the mid to late 1st century AD, speaks of the Lord's Day as a time for Christians to gather together, break bread, and to offer thanksgiving for Christ's give of salvation (Didache, 14:1). Christian bishop, Ignatius of Antioch (m. 107 AD), urged his mixed Jewish-Christian and Gentile congregations to set aside the Old Covenant Sabbath observance and to keep the Lord's Day of the New Covenant: ...no longer observing Sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord's Day (Letter to the Magnesians, 9:1). The same acts of mercy Jesus defined as acceptable for works under the Old Covenant Sabbath were then observed in the New.
Matthew 12:14 ~ But the Pharisees went out and took counsel against him to put him to death. The opposition of the Pharisees has taken a decidedly evil turn. These men, who believed in a strictly literal interpretation of the Law, are now planning on how to have Jesus killed.
The setting aside of the seventh day of the week as a day holy to God extends back to the first week of the Creation event, but the command to worship on the Sabbath was not fixed until the formation of the Sinai Covenant (Ex 20:8-11) when the Sabbath obligation became a "sign" of the covenant: Yahweh then said to Moses, Speak to the Israelites and say, "You will keep my Sabbaths properly, for this is a sign between myself and you for all your generations to come, so that you will know that it is I, Yahweh, who sanctify you (Ex 31:12-13, NJB). It is at this time that profaning the Sabbath became a death penalty offense but that sentence was to be imposed on someone who intentionally profaned the Sabbath and rejected the sanctity of the Sabbath day which was not Jesus' intention.
Matthew 12:15-21 ~ Jesus, the Chosen Servant of God (Invitation/acceptance)
15 When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place. Many [people] followed him, and he cured them all, 16 but he warned them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: 18 "Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight; I shall place my spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 19 He will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. 20 A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory. 21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope.
It is uncertain where the confrontation with the Pharisees took place but it may have been in Capernaum. When Jesus read the wicked hearts and thoughts of the Pharisees, He left the Synagogue and perhaps the town, but He continued to heal many people.
Question: Why did He warn the people He healed not to
make His healings known?
Answer: Opposition to His ministry is already reaching a crisis point and He must prolong His proclamation of the kingdom and the Gospel of salvation until the time is fulfilled for His Passion.
The Old Testament prophecy quoted in verses 18-21 is another of the "fulfillment statements." This time the quote is from Isaiah 42:1-4 and is from the first of the four "Songs of the Servant":Song #1: Is 42:1-7 (5-11); Song #2: 49:1-6; Song #3: 50:4-9 (10-11); and Song #4: 52:13-53:12. Read the entire passage in Isaiah 42:1-7, NJB translation: 1 Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have sent my spirit upon him, he will bring fair judgment to the nations. 2 He does not cry out or raise his voice, his voice is not heard in the street; 3 he does not break the crushed reed or snuff the faltering wick. Faithfully he presents fair judgment; 4 he will not grow faint, he will not be crushed until he has established fair judgment on earth, and the coasts and islands are waiting for his instruction. 5 Thus says God, Yahweh, who created the heavens and spread them out, who hammered into shape the earth and what comes from it, who gave breath to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk on it: 6 I, Yahweh, have called you in saving justice, I have grasped you by the hand and shaped you; I have made you a covenant of the people and light to the nations, 7to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.
The word rendered "judgment" (see underlined word in the passage) in the Hebrew text is mishpat (translated krisis in the Greek Septuagint). In the Old Testament the Hebrew word mishpat signifies the divine statutes governing the relationship of God with mankind in so far as it is known through divine revelation. Jesus is the prophesied "Chosen Servant of Yahweh" who will be given authority to bring justice the nations of the earth, not just to Israel. Verse 6 reads: I have grasped you by the hand and shaped you; in the Hebrew text the word translated "shaped" is the same word as in Genesis 2:7 to describe God forming the body of Adam "Jesus, the Chosen Servant, has come as the new Adam. See CCC 713.
Question: How is the Chosen Servant in Isaiah 42:1-7
Answer: The Chosen Servant is presented as a prophet chosen by God who has God's Spirit (vs. 1) and whose divine destiny is the mission to teach the entire world gently (not bruising the vulnerable and not quenching the faith of the faltering) and firmly as he presents fair judgment (vs. 2-3). In spite of opposition (vs. 4), he is to be the bearer of Yahweh's covenant (vs. 5-6) and a "light" to the nations as he heals the afflicted and liberates those in "darkness"/sin (vs. 7).
Question: How is the passage fulfilled in Jesus?
Answer: This passage if perfectly fulfilled in the mission of Jesus, the Redeemer-Messiah:
Questions for group discussion:
Jesus said the judgment for failure to recognize the Messiah as Savior and Lord would be harsher on the covenant communities of the Galilee where He preached and worked miraculous signs than on Gentile communities that never heard Him or saw His works (Mt 11: 20-24).
Question: What impact does that statement have on members of the Universal Body of Christ today as opposed to those who have never received the true Gospel of salvation? Question: How will those who never heard the Gospel of salvation be held accountable at their Individual Judgments? See Rom 2:12-16; CCC 846-8.
Question: How does Jesus statement "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more" (Lk 12:48) impact the Christian individually and the Christian community?
Question: What command did Jesus give that takes effect for all Catholics at the Sacrament of Confirmation when one becomes an adult apostle of Jesus Christ? How are you fulfilling that command? See Mt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; CCC 1286-89, 2471-72
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2012 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for Matthew chapters 11:2-12:21 (* indicates Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation).
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151*, 240, 443*, 473*