Matthew’s Pastoral Concerns

This coming Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. In the posts from yesterday we reviewed the context of the gospel as used in Advent and in the larger context of a unified gospel. In today’s post we pick up the idea that Matthew’s primary concern is pastoral so that the community continues in its discipleship even if the end is delayed.

John Meier (Matthew,291) notes that a good part of Ch. 24 in Matthew is spent in attempting to calm off-based eschatological (end-time) fervor and calculation.  Something that even in our day has become a cottage industry as folks pore over Daniel and Revelation attempting to “crack the code” about the end-time when/where. The three rapid-fire parables in our gospel reading attempt to establish a proper eschatological fervor (watchfulness). The three parables (the generation of Noah, the two pairs of workers, and the thief in the night) announce the major theme of the second part of the discourse: vigilance and preparedness for the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man.

Our verses are also part of a larger pastoral theme in which believers are instructed about the manner in which we are to live as we vigilantly wait. Warren Carter (Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading, 486) writes about this fifth discourse:

Käsemann has argued that the basic question of apocalyptic material is, “To whom does the sovereignty of the world belong?” Chapters 24-25 are an unequivocal assertion of God’s ownership, God’s right to determine cosmic destiny. Judgment falls on those who do not acknowledge god’s sovereignty. Rome’s empire, or any empire, is not ultimate. Eternal Rome is not the future. cf. 4 Ezra 11:37-46). It is mortal (24:28) and subject to God’s empire.

This critique of Rome gains some force because of the material’s proximity to the struggle of 66-70 [AD]. Rome’s victory and destruction of Jerusalem suggest invincible power. But chapters 24-25 contextualize this power in God’s purposes, thereby revealing it to be limited and under judgment (see 22:7). Moreover, as U. Mauser has argued, the frequent references to false prophets and messiahs (24:5, 11, 23-26) show that the chapter rejects the way of violence adopted by those who took up arms as the means of trying to throw off Roman oppression. While the goal of liberation was commendable, the means was not. Armed revolution is a false way, just as passive compliance was rejected previously in the gospel (see 5:38-42; 17:24-27). Ultimately god will bring the promised salvation through Jesus’ return and the establishment of God’s empire (so 1:21). In the meantime, the Matthean community is to live its alternative, countercultural existence of active, subversive, nonviolent resistance in the sure hope of God’s coming triumph.

This section of Matthew begins with foretelling the destruction of the temple, (which had happened by Matthew’s time) and a two-part question from the disciples: “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (24:3). Answers to the question: “What signs?” are given in 24:4-35. Answers to the question: “When?” are given in 24:36-25:46.

Image credit: Canva, St. Francis, CC-BY-NC 

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