Matthew 15-17

Chapter 15

We get a recounting of the lessons on rituals and purity from Mark 7, embellished a bit. V 12-13, about insulting the Pharisees, are new. The Pharisees were ultra-observant of the OT laws and traditions, which is why Jesus’ words would have ticked them off. He adds that their concerns can be disregarded because they are nothing but plants that will be uprooted – I guess Jesus believes that the Pharisees are among the ‘weeds’ from chapter 13 who will end up in hell. He does not appear to be promoting ‘love thine enemy’ here, does he?

There is lots to say about v 21-28, a repeated story from Mark 7.

First, Jesus heads to the coast of Lebanon and visits Tyre and Sidon. According to Ezekiel 26 and 27, Tyre shouldn’t even be there.

Second, a woman approaches and asks for healing. In the KJV she is Canaanite, but the NLT changes that to ‘Gentile’ – is that to make her seem less ‘foreign’ and soften the story for our modern sensitivities? Because what’s important to the story is that she is a ‘foreigner’. Jesus doesn’t give her the time of day – he is only there for his fellow Jews, and to heck with everyone else. In fact, he refers to her as a ‘dog’. He really doesn’t practice ‘love thy neighbor’, and his choice of words doesn’t show much love or respect for animals, either. But after she completely debases herself by begging and groveling, he gives in and heals her daughter. And for that we’re supposed to worship him? I can find better role models.

Third, v 27 is disturbs me, because it is used in the Prayer of Humble Access in the Book of Common Prayer, which I recited every Sunday for years. (Don’t ask me why…. I can’t imagine now.) Here is the prayer, which dates back to 1549; the wording below is from 1662 and still in use. Note the groveling and demeaning language.

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.”

The chapter ends with a repeat of the ‘feeding the 4000’ story from Mark 8. That’s 4 times now that Jesus has fed multitudes of 4 or 5 thousand. (Or perhaps there were multiple oral versions of the same story circulating, so they got repeated because the bible didn’t have very good editors?)

Chapter 16

Now we have the Pharisees asking Jesus for some kind of evidence to prove his authority (good for them). This is a replay of Mark 8, ramped up a bit. In this telling, Jesus not only refuses, he mocks them and calls them evil. Next, the almost exact retelling of Herod and his yeast from Mark 8.

After another brief episode of confusion about who Jesus is (John the Baptist, Elijah, possibly even Jeremiah – seriously???), the next section is new and significant. In v 16, Peter declares Jesus to be Christ (or the Messiah), the son of the living god. And in v 17-19, Jesus “founds the Catholic Church, makes Peter the pope, and gives him the keys to the kingdom of heaven”, as the SAB so eloquently puts it. “All the powers of hell will not conquer the church’? Maybe not, but the scandals and abuses associated with it might.” And apparently the use of the word ‘church’ in this passage is a dead giveaway that Matthew was not written until many years after Jesus died. The word ‘church’ would not have been in use when Jesus was still alive and did not come into use until much later.


The last part of chapter 16 is a repeat of Jesus predicting his own death. Mostly it’s unchanged from Mark 8. ‘Get thee behind me Satan’ is in there again (v 23). When I looked that verse up, I found it’s actually a song title! OMG!

But there are two important additions at the end of the story. First, “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds” (v 27) – certainly an argument that salvation can come from works rather than faith alone. This is important for Christians, supported by the Catholic church and opposed by most Protestants. And second, “some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.” (v 28). We’re still waiting.

Chapter 17

Here’s a retelling of the transfiguration (see Mark 9). There are only a couple of additions that I noticed – the “in whom I am well pleased” (v 5) (I’d guess that’s for emphasis); and v 13, making it clear that Jesus is talking about John the Baptist, just in case someone doesn’t get it. The next story is the one about the boy with seizures (from Mark 9). Interestingly, the story is much abridged here, in contrast to most other stories which are shorter in Mark and embellished in Matthew. Is this an attempt to make Jesus appear more refined by leaving out the histrionics and magic tricks? The version in Mark would be right at home on daytime TV, whereas in Matthew there’s no fuss, no muss. But there’s one nasty difference here – in Mark the child was referred to only as ‘dumb’, whereas in Matthew he is a ‘lunatic’ (but only in the KJV – modern translations steer away from that loaded word).

The last story in the chapter, about the temple tax, is new, and the translations vary quite a bit. In v 25 the money collected may be duties, taxes, tolls, customs, tributes, tariffs, etc. And the people potentially paying can be the king’s sons, children, family, non-specific ‘others’, those who have been conquered, strangers, subjects, foreigners, etc. That’s quite a variety of interpretations. Jesus figures he should be exempt, but agrees to pay anyway, just to keep the authorities happy. And he comes up with quite a novel way to do it – hahaha.

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