Scripture Reading: Matthew 12:33-50 (NRSV)
These verses are ideally taken in context with the first part of chapter twelve as it continues a conversation with the Pharisees.
We see the following seemingly unrelated passages in today’s reading:
- Good and bad fruit
- Examples of Jonah and Solomon
- A returning to possession by an unclean spirit
- The expansion of our notion of family
While these may seem distinct, I believe that they relate overall to the ministry of the early church as adopting the call of God to be a light to the nations. This means a broadening of how Jewish Christians related to Gentiles.
Earlier in this chapter, Matthew has Jesus quoting from the first four verses of chapter 42 of Isaiah. It may be no coincidence that Isaiah 42:6 goes on to state:
Alternatively, the Pharisees were trying to lift up Holiness as the way for people to embrace their faith. This should not be a surprising response considering that they were living under the occupation of Gentile “unclean” forces. In order to keep our own identities, sometimes we double-down on the practices that make us unique. Jesus seems to critique this practice in that it was straining out the mercy that was so intrinsic in Biblical teaching.
In this context, we see that his words of good and bad fruit would refer to the teaching of the Pharisees that were exclusive.
His examples of Jonah and Solomon were instances of ministry with Gentiles.
|Siblings don’t always see eye to eye.|
The return of an unclean spirit might be that the Pharisees have cleaned out all of the riff-raff who were unable to obey all of the Law and may find that their house is now occupied by a lack of compassion which is more deadly than with how they started.
Finally, Jesus expands the Christian understanding of family. Our brothers and sisters can include Gentiles. We are happy to covenant with people who will covenant with us. The idea that to follow Jesus is more important than circumcision emerges in the understanding of Christian baptism and the entrance into the body of Christ.
So as I examine this for my life, I need to think about the words I have spoken that have caused division. I need to think about how I have disassociated myself with some to order my own house. And I need to think about how I might truly embrace the whole family of God rather than just the ones with whom I agree.
Which of these needs resonates with you?
Prayer for the day:
God, we want to be the true followers of Jesus.
We see how Jesus critiqued the Pharisees and we justify our own dissolution with various factions.
Help us to see the irony in this stance.
Move us to cultivate good fruit from which all may feast.
Remind us that sometimes we fight with our brothers and sisters the most.
Photo by Wayne S. Grazio via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.