View Article  Matthew 23-25

April 17, 2011 – “The Parables of Holy Week” (continued)  -- led by John Weicher


Matthew, Ch. 23-25


In the remaining three chapters before Good Friday, Jesus starts with a strong denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, blaming them for the bloodshed of the righteous starting with Abel and ending with Zachariah son of Barachiah.  He foretells the destruction of the temple, the persecution of the disciples, the coming of false messiahs, and finally the coming of the Son of Man.  He finishes with five parables, two of which are also in Mark and three in Luke (The Lesson of the Fig Tree and the Necessity for Watchfulness in both, the Parable of the Talents in Luke).   These parables appear to be intended for his disciples, while the parables in Ch. 21-22 are pointed responses to the Pharisees and Sadducees. 





View Article  Matthew 20-22

April 10, 2011 - “The Parables of Holy Week”  -- led by John Weicher


Matthew: Ch. 20-22


Having finished Justin Martyr’s First Apology three weeks before Easter, the class turned to the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and what happened immediately afterwards.  Matthew’s is the gospel that cites all sorts of prophecies from the Hebrew Bible, but doesn’t quite make sense of some of them – most notably, what Jesus rode as he entered Jerusalem.  Matthew has him riding on both a donkey and the foal of a donkey, somehow, not recognizing that Zechariah is following the common Hebrew Bible practice of “Parallelism,” saying the same thing twice, in different words. 

Neither Mark nor Luke have any problem with this; they say he rides on a colt, period.  Neither does John, quoting Zechariah simply as referring to a donkey’s colt.  (For that matter, neither does Justin Martyr, fond as he is of quoting Matthew.)  John, however, is the only writer to mention “palm leaves.”


Peter has called our attention to the oddity of Jesus knowing where to send the disciples to find the donkey, and the apparent password that “The Master has need of him.”  In The Man Who Would be King, Dorothy Sayers imagines a plausible story to explain this.  The leader of the Zealots (Baruch, not a historical person, but imagined by Sayers) sends Jesus a message, asking whether he comes in peace or in war – if in war, the Zealots will rise up and follow him; if in peace they will wait for another Messiah.  Jesus is to respond by sending disciples to a particular house, where there will be both a horse and a donkey, saddled and ready to ride.   If he comes in war, he should ride the horse; if in peace, he should ride the donkey.  And thus Zechariah ‘s prophecy is fulfilled in the ordinary course of events.


Once he arrived, Jesus was very busy: first cleansing the temple, and then having 10 verbal encounters with the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the priests, a lawyer – one after another.  As Dottie said, “they are at him and at him.”  All of his responses are pointed criticisms of his questioners.   One can imagine the increasing frustration and fear of the scribes and the Pharisees.


Eight of the 10 passages in Chapters 21 and 22 also appear in Mark, the exceptions being the Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32) and the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14), and they are in the same order.  Six are in Luke, also in the same order; he omits the cursing of the fig tree and the greatest commandment, as well as the two omitted by Mark.  






View Article  Justin Martyr Chapter 61

April 3, 2011 – “How Christians Worship”  -- led by John Weicher


Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 61; 65-68



Dottie offered a summary judgment about Justin, quoting from The Rise of Christianity by W.H.C. Frend (1984), p. 237:

"Compared with him [Diognetus], Justin Martyr was verbose, inconsistent, and not always convincing.  A Platonist before he became a Christian, he never grasped the essential incompatibilities between Platonism and Christianity.  There is no evidence that he was influenced by any of the writers of the New Testament.”


To which the class said, “Amen.”  (Although he does know quite a bit of the New Testament, particularly Matthew but more than Matthew.)


But at the end of the First Apology, Justin switches from doctrine to practice.  What do Christians do when they assemble and worship?  First, they baptize (Ch. 61), cleansing the convert of his sins.  Then they bring him “to the place where the brethren are assembled” (Ch. 65), and they pray for the one who is baptized, and for themselves, and “for all others in every place.”  Then they have communion, in both kinds.



There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen.


Then the deacons bring it to everyone; and the bread and wine, blessed by their prayer, is the body and blood of Christ (Ch. 66).  The deacons take the bread and wine to those who are unable to attend.  “And this food among us is called the Eucharist.”


When they meet on Sunday morning (Ch. 67), “the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits” (how long is that?); then the president “verbally instructs” the assembly; they pray; they have communion; they take up a collection and give succor to the poor.


This service should sound very familiar.  Our services add only one more activity: singing hymns.  But we know from Pliny’s letter to Trajan about 50 years earlier, that Christians sang hymns as part of their devotions.  It is refreshing to think that our services today can be linked to the services of our religious forebears some 1950 years earlier. 


According to Justin, Christians engage in two activities – Baptism and the Eucharist – which we now know as Sacraments.  He makes no mention of the other five Catholic sacraments.  Almost 1500 years later, Martin Luther considered that there were only these two sacraments, because only they have Biblical authority.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Lutherans venerate Justin Martyr, even though he by no means believed in predestination.