The ‘parable’ of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25

The gospel reading in the lectionary for the last Sunday before Advent (now known as ‘Christ the King’) is Matthew 25.31–46, the so-called ‘parable of the sheep and the goats’. But it isn’t actually a parable (since there is no suggestion that ‘the kingdom of heaven is like this’), and isn’t really about sheep and goats … Continue Reading

Taking up the cross in Matthew 16

The lectionary gospel reading for Trinity 12 in Year A is Matthew 16.21–28, in which Jesus declares he is heading for Jerusalem to die, Peter rebukes him, and Jesus counter-rebukes Peter. It follows on from the strong commendation of Peter by Jesus after his confession at Caesarea Philippi, and offers a contrast with it at … Continue Reading

The feeding of the 5,000 in Matt 14

The Sunday lectionary reading for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity in Year A is Matt 14.13–21. We have now moved beyond the third section of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, on the kingdom of heaven in chapter 13, and are immersed once more in Jesus’ ministry and engagement with those around him, which extends to the … Continue Reading

Disciples as the presence of Jesus in Matt 10

The gospel read for Trinity 3 in Year A of Matt 10.40–42 is perhaps the strangest choice in the whole lectionary—at only three verses! And yet this short passage has some really significant features that offer enormous potential for reflection: a. They are very clearly structured as a unit, with an opening and matching conclusion, … Continue Reading

Staying faithful under pressure in Matt 10

The gospel reading for Trinity 2 in Year A continues to work through Jesus’ teaching on mission in Matthew 10, but has jumped across from the specifics of his sending out the Twelve to more general teaching about being faithful under pressure. 

It is easy to see that Matthew has here drawn together teaching of Jesus from several contexts, and integrated it thematically, for at least three reasons:

a. The beginning of this section appears to recount a particular occasion, when Jesus sends out the Twelve, but from Matt 10.16 the context changes to a more general one, and appears to make reference to later challenges in ministry after Jesus has gone, even looking towards the completion of the ministry in Israel in v 23. 

b. The material in the later parts of this chapter has parallels in several different places in the gospels, mostly in Luke. So the sending of the Twelve is found in Luke 9.1; the saying about the secret and hidden comes in Luke 12.2; Jesus’ bringing of division rather than peace comes in Luke 12.51, and so on. Some of the later sections of this chapter also reiterate teaching from the Sermon on the Mount earlier in Matthew—and there are several sayings which are unique to Matthew.

c. Though this is presented as continuous discourse, there are some sudden changes of subject, language and focus (for example, at Matt 10.24, 10.26 and 10.34) so that commentators differ on how to understand the overall structure of this section. 

Because of this, there is a wide diversity of material, and different elements of the text raise some large and important issues. The challenge in preaching on this passage as the lectionary will be to find a coherent set of issues that relate to the contemporary context of preacher and congregation. 

Before looking at the text within our lectionary reading, it is worth just noting the extent of the previous discourse up to verse 23. Jesus’ general description of opposition, division and persecution ends with a prediction that the disciples’ mission to ‘all the towns of Israel’ will not be complete ‘before the Son of Man comes’. There is a long history of Christian interpretation of this text which understands this as a reference to Jesus’ return—but this would make not only Jesus mistaken about the imminence of his parousia, but Matthew also either mistaken or happily recording that Jesus is mistaken, which would be rather odd. In fact the quasi-technical term parousia does not occur here (and in fact only occurs in Matt 24 in all the gospels); instead, Jesus is alluding to the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ in Daniel 7.13, in which this human figures comes not to the earth but to the throne of God in heaven, and is vindicated by being given authority and a kingdom. As with Matthew 24, this phrase is therefore Matthew’s way of talking about what Luke describes as Jesus’ ascension.