The main thing

I think it is very possible to drift through life, or at least parts of your life. Looking back into my life, I certainly find that to be true. Over the years listening to people chatting with me on the sidewalks, in the office, in the confessional and more – it seems to be quite common. Maybe it is during a time when there are too many things that you are trying to juggle. Or during a time when one thing occupies a huge amount of your attention and energy. Or maybe it is just a part of your life that is in cruise control so to speak – maybe like Tesla’s autopilot. Your attention is just elsewhere.

My dad used to say that the main thing is making sure that the main thing remains the main thing. Continue reading

A Final Thought

Matthew’s account is devoid of the graphic violence, the blood, and prolonged description of the suffering endured.  There is no emphasis on the saving efficacy of the act of crucifixion (as in John and Paul). Matthew’s intent seems to be to affirm his most basic themes:

  • This truly is the Messiah, the Son of God
  • The one who was rejected by opponents and abandoned by disciples – forming humanity’s response.
  • But Jesus has formed a people called out (ekklesia) – Jews and Gentiles alike – who are formed into the people of God in the forgiveness, and

The center of their faith is Jesus, the righteous one who modeled the right relationship with God the Father in life, in word, in act and even in death.

Jesus’ Tomb Is Sealed and Guarded

62 The next day, the one following the day of preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that this impostor while still alive said, ‘After three days I will be raised up.’ 64 Give orders, then, that the grave be secured until the third day, lest his disciples come and steal him and say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ This last imposture would be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “The guard is yours; go secure it as best you can.” 66 So they went and secured the tomb by fixing a seal to the stone and setting the guard. (27:62-66) Continue reading

Jesus is Buried

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. 59 Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it (in) clean linen 60 and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed. 61 But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb.  (27:57-61) 

In Matthew’s account, the faithful women have viewed from a distance. Their appearance at this point of the narrative emphasizes their key role of witness after all the men have fled. Only later do others appear, namely Joseph of Arimathea (cf. John 3), who in Matthew is not mentioned as a member of the Sanhedrin. Thus it is not a sympathetic member of the opposition who buries Jesus, but a disciple of Jesus.  Jesus is buried in a known place of a prominent man, not a place where there would be confusion regarding its location. And at the end of it all, two women remain, keeping watch.

Jesus is Crucified

33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of the Skull), 34 they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall. But when he had tasted it, he refused to drink. 35 After they had crucified him, they divided his garments by casting lots; 36 then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37 And they placed over his head the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. 38 Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and the other on his left. 39 Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, (and) come down from the cross!” 41 Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him and said, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 The revolutionaries who were crucified with him also kept abusing him in the same way.  Continue reading

Simon Is Compelled to Carry Jesus’ Cross

32 As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross. (27:31b-32)

In Roman executions, the vertical crucifixion stake was permanently fixed at the place of execution; the condemned man was typically forced to carry the heavy crossbar himself. In this spare rendering of the Way of the Cross, we hear the echo of Jesus’ declaration that everyone – himself included – must carry his own cross (16:24); such is the nature of discipleship.  Simon the Cyrene (modern Libya) was pressed into service (cf 5:41) to assist in carrying the cross. In the Matthean narrative he is the only person present at Golgotha whose name we know. That a stranger carries Jesus’ cross (a) emphasizes the abandonment of the disciples and (b) anticipates the coming Gentile mission.

The King Is Scourged and Mocked

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him. 29 Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him. (27:26-31a)

Where the religious trial ends by mocking Jesus as the Christ, the secular trial ends with Jesus being mocked as king with a scarlet cloak (a soldier’s cape) parodying the emperor’s purple robe, a reed representing a royal scepter, and the crown of thorns. Jesus is thus enthroned as king, and offered the homage of kneeling which a Hellenistic ruler required.  In this scene Matthew continues to redefine what kingship means.  If this scene is a coronation, then the cross will be the throne.

Jesus Is Condemned

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and he questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12 And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he made no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they are testifying against you?” 14 But he did not answer him one word, so that the governor was greatly amazed.  Continue reading

The Death of Judas

3 Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” 5 Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself. 6 The chief priests gathered up the money, but said, “It is not lawful to deposit this in the temple treasury, for it is the price of blood.” 7 After consultation, they used it to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. 8 That is why that field even today is called the Field of Blood. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of a man with a price on his head, a price set by some of the Israelites, 10 and they paid it out for the potter’s field just as the Lord had commanded me.” (27:3-10) Continue reading

Jesus Is Transferred to Roman Authority

1 When it was morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. 2 They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. (27:1-2)

At the conclusion of their all-night hearing the religious authorities must now find a way of having their verdict implemented. The death penalty could be imposed only by order of the Roman governor and a charge of ‘blasphemy’ would carry no weight with him. It was therefore necessary that the elder  took counsel over an appropriate charge, and also, no doubt, over appropriate persuasive tactics. They could not expect an easy time of it, as Pilate the governor (ad 26–36; his official title was ‘praefectus’) was notorious for his obstinacy in refusing to accommodate to Jewish prejudices, his portrait in non-Christian Jewish sources being considerably less flattering than that in the Gospels (See Josephus, Ant. xviii. 55–62, 85–89).