Monday, January 28, 2013

Gospel Blog: Matthew 3:1-12

Note: See Introduction for context of this series on the Gospels.

Summary of Matthew 3:1-12
Years after Jesus and family settle in Galilee, Matthew introduces John the Baptist. John baptizes many from all over Israel, but chews out the religious leaders when they come to be baptized too.

Detailed Thoughts about Matthew 3:1-12
There is a lot to unpack in these 12 verses (doing the whole chapter in one blog post was too much). Forgive me if these thoughts are a bit disjointed. Frankly, I have more questions than answers.

People were coming from far and wide to get baptized by John the Baptist. It gets really interesting when, in vs. 7, John starts speaking to the religious leaders of the time--the Pharisees and Sadducees--who also came to be baptized. He starts by calling them a bunch of snakes.

Ooh. Already, we're seeing an impatience and downright anger to current religious leaders. It doesn't sound very loving, does it? It makes me wonder if the real, Christian way to engage with the Dobsons, the Driscolls, the Pipers, et al, is actually one of scorn. Pointing out their hypocrisy and the damage that they do. Doing this seems to follow the example of John the Baptist, at least. It opens a whole other can of worms: who has the moral authority to call these people out? I'm mindful of passages about judging and eye-planks. I don't have the definitive answer.

One of the things I'm keeping my eye on as I read through the Gospels is how Jesus (and others close to him) interact with people who are in power--especially religious power. In this passage, at least, John doesn't show any deference!

I also wonder if some of the Pharisees and Sadducees that came to see John were actually shocked at his words to them. Were all of them arrogant and proud, or were there some who were sincere and followed the law as best as they could? Maybe some of them (most of them?) sincerely believed their way of life and their worldview was THE way to please God? I group myself with them. I used to think this way, too. I feel great conviction from these words. My hope is that these words broke through to some of these men (I'm assuming they were all men at this point, but perhaps not?), especially those whose hearts were seeking, questioning, and humble--stuck in this hierarchy without yet consciously knowing it.

Backing up to verses 1-6 (espec. vs 6): I wonder for what "sins" the crowds are sorry? I always thought of sin as a lack of spending time with God, not witnessing for God, and sexual impurity. (For more on this, see yesterday's post on guilt.) Were they thinking of breaking specific law, or were they thinking of not taking care of the poor and oppressed? Of greed?

My final thoughts on this passage have to do with the judgment that John talked about when he addressed the religious leaders:
  • John said, "Who warned you to run from the coming judgment?" What judgment does he mean?
  • John also gave a metaphor of a tree: The ax will cut you down if you do not bear fruit.
  • He also said that Jesus would separate the wheat from the husks, and the husks will be burnt in a fire that would never burn out.
Arg! HELL! Literally! This passage frightens me. It brings up all the fears I've had (and still have) about eternal torture. It's small comfort that he is directly addressing the religious leaders at this point. As much as I don't like them (or their present-day doppelgangers, the Religious Right), I don't think anyone deserves ETERNAL torment. I can't help but think he is using hyperbole to show the evil of hypocrisy and people who use power over others to oppress. At least, that's what I'm choosing to take away from this passage.

1 comment:

belongfellow said...

Enjoyed your observations and analysis, and I identity with pretty much all of your reactions to this passage, notably, "who has the moral authority . . ." (not me), and the fears that are stirred by images of an axe and a branch and burning chaff. I hadn't thought of hyperbole applied here, but realizing a number of years ago that Jesus often used this method of speaking (cut off your hand, camel through the eye of a needle, etc.) was a welcome insight.