First Attempt: Critical explanation of Matthew 10:5 – 15

One of the requirements of my current theology course is a critical examination of some portion of a Gospel.  This is where my writing concentration has been for the past couple of weeks as the semester comes to a close.  Vocabulary here is a bit more advance, but Word tells me I’m still only at Fleishe-Kindade writing level of tenth grade on this one.  It should be readable to all except maybe my grandkids.

April 2014

Exegesis of Matthew 10:5 – 15

The work of this project is meant as an exercise in the practice of exegesis, “the critical explanation or interpretation of a text or portion of a text, especially of the Bible“(dictionary.com). Accomplishing exegesis is an important exercise for all who read the scriptures. A better comprehension of the words and stories is provided by reviewing the culture, the historical context, and the literary formats. This leads to the opportunity for improved application of the scriptures to one’s personal life and to the moral principles of the social fabric. These themes are in focus as this first effort is attempted.

The story of these verses in Matthew is of the first charging by Jesus to the Twelve to go out and practice what they have learned from Him. Preceding this commission in Matthew’s work, the Twelve have been gathered from their various professions in the Galilee region and followed Jesus in His mission. Matthew’s overall Gospel story is academically divided into the following sections; The Infancy Narratives, The Proclamation of the Kingdom, Ministry and Mission in Galilee, Opposition from Israel, Jesus the Kingdom and the Church, Ministry in Judea and Jerusalem, and the Passion and Resurrection (Senior, D. New American Bible, the Gospel of Matthew). The verses reviewed by this exegesis come directly in the middle of Ministry and Mission in Galilee. “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10:5, 6). The Galilee area of Biblical Palestine covered the area of the Northern tribes of the Israelite nation brought forth from Egypt by Moses. Jesus’s ministry spirals out into this area from His home in Nazareth. Having proclaimed His message and conducted his mission in this northern region, He sends His disciples out to further present and exercise what is described by Him as the kingdom at hand to all except those perverted by the pagan worship of the Samaritan government formed after the breakup of Israel following Solomon’s reign.

Some words and phrases take on special meaning in the Gospel stories. These are worth some additional attention. Some may be particular to Matthew alone, others used by multiple writers. These words and phrases become common threads that bind all the stories and enter the vocabulary common to the larger general society as coming from the Gospel stories.

“The Twelve” is an important term that indicates Jesus selected a limited number of men to be his closest confidants. To these He would explain His parables in detail and give the unique skills required to carry on His mission to broader territories. Matthew lists “The Twelve” in the verses immediately preceding the topic of this discussion. Matthew uses the term to distinguish these from the broader group of Jesus’ disciples five more times in his Gospel. “The Twelve” relates to the twelve tribes of ancient Israel as those who will occupy twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes (Matt 19:28). Jesus takes them aside explicitly to discuss the upcoming events in Jerusalem where He will suffer and die (Matt 20:17) Twice Matthew points out that it is one of these twelve, Judas, who will betray him (Matt 26:14, 47). Finally, it is with these twelve Matthew describes Jesus joining for his last meal (Matt 26:20).

“Samaritan” is a word that features prominently in the Gospel. The prohibition concerning entering a Samaritan town is a prominent direction in this commission. Notably, this is the only time Matthew mentions the Samaritans. Matthew’s audience was familiar with the culture and knew of the Samaritan issues. Luke’s audience was Greek, however, and the story of the Good Samaritan plays an important role in Luke’s description of Jesus’s ministry. For John’s Gospel it takes even more prominence when Jesus speaks alone to a Samaritan adulteress in the story of the woman at the well. Introduced above as perverts of the worship of Yahweh, Samaria was a city built as the center of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, lead at one time by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. These two infamous royals brought the worship of Baal fully into practice and prescribed it in all ten of the Northern tribes of Israel under their tutelage.

“Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” (Matt 10:8). This is the mission of Jesus up to this point in Matthew’s Gospel. This mission serves first the physical and emotional needs of the people of Israel. He comforts them and heals them so they may be relieved of their physical plights and be able to focus on the kingdom proclaimed. It is a theme permeating all the Gospels, Acts, and the remaining books of the New Testament.

This passage is the first assignment from Jesus to the disciples and the first time Jesus is presumably left to Himself for respite. Some amount of time has passed since Jesus gathered these specific men to follow Him and to learn from Him. It is time for them to see what they have learned and what they can do on their own. It is a test of faith. “Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; (Matt 10:9). They were to take no money. Which of us would venture out of the house today without our wallets, without our credit or debit cards, without any means of supporting the journey we are taking? “…no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals…” (Matt 10:10). Who among us would go overnight without a change of underclothes or appropriate dress to complete a speech or attend a business meeting? “…or walking stick (Matt: 10:10). It is prudent for us to recall that traveling in ancient times was dangerous. Walking sticks were tools necessary for climbing steep ravines and rocky roads. They were necessary for fending off attacks, by men as well as wild beasts. Truly, these directions were a test of whether the Twelve believed what they were taught, even before they took one step away from their inner circle.

That this passage is practical as a teaching tool and leadership exercise should be plain in this twenty-first century. Matthew’s work indicates these men have been listening to and following Jesus around for some amount of time. Exercising the skills they have learned is essential to their personal growth and future success in proclaiming the kingdom of God. They will look to be accepted. “Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave (Matt 10:11). They should expect to be rejected. “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words – go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet” (Matt 10:14). This latter lesson would be foundational to later lessons Jesus teaches concerning His own rejection and execution. However, this lesson will be misunderstood until after the resurrection.

This is the beginning of the pivot point in Matthew’s Gospel. To this point in his work, Matthew has looked at the wonder of Jesus’s coming, the Messiah of God arriving as foretold in scripture. In the Infancy narrative, Matthew traces the royal lineage of Jesus and includes an honorary visit by men of wisdom from outside the nation Israel once was. Matthew retraces the history of Israel in the flight to Egypt and return from Egypt and settles His family in the heart of the ancient kingdom. John the Baptist is Matthew’s scriptural herald of the coming of the Messiah and Jesus begins His mission through the baptism of John. Matthew shows Jesus teaching all those who will listen that the kingdom of God they all seek through their history is present in each of their lives and reviews with his audience the Law through his presentation of Jesus’s stories. The Twelve have been with Jesus to this point. Now it is their turn to preach the same message.

Immediately following the verses of this exegesis Matthew expounds on the difficulties the Twelve will face. Jesus’s comments include “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves;” (Matt 10:16) and a subheading that details how the Twelve must be courageous under persecution. Chapter ten concludes with how Jesus has come to sow division before clarifying the conditions of following Him and the rewards for doing so.

Matthew’s chapter ten transitions the story of Jesus from one of a kingdom of caring for individuals to the opposition to that kingdom of the world of His time. Matthew tells the story of Jesus moving His ministry south into Judea into closer proximity with the heart of civil and religious politics of Judea centered on the Temple. Jesus’s work and words counter the accepted vision of the Sanhedrin and is corrupted to the advantage of the Zealots. It is in this mix that His nature and mission get lost by the general population and outright rejected by those leaders of the day. Matthew tells of Jesus revealing Himself before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest, and from their collective seats, He has blasphemed and deserves death. The mystery of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God is completed in the crucifixion by the Roman garrison in Jerusalem by the collaboration of the procurator with the Sanhedrin. All is necessary to set up the resurrection, where Matthew describes how the civil authority of the time witnesses to the divine power of God and the commissioning of the Twelve and all disciples to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19).

I am both a teacher and a leader in my personal and professional life. I hold myself to biblical principles as a guide in conducting myself through all of my responsibilities. Matthew’s recording of Jesus’s teachings in chapter ten becomes a checklist for review and a template for comprehending the other teaching and leadership lessons of the biblical library. This chapter becomes the clear direction of what to do with and what to expect from my family, in the work place, and among all those I encounter each day. There are two verses of particular note at the time of this exegesis.

“Without cost you have received. Without cost you are to give” (Matt 10:8). This is only part of the verse but the one that strikes me as I look to profess the Gospel of Christ to others. I labor for wealth in other venues to earn my sustenance, a lesson of the patron of our current Pope, St. Francis. The rule of the Franciscan Order in the twelfth century was that they would labor in the fields and towns during the day, accept nothing from those they served, and go to others at night begging for their food. So too have I labored since my youth in the Church, helping present the kingdom to others in my youth and modeling the kingdom to my family and my peers as I grew. I am disturbed these days by the lack of support of Catholic schools by the Church, diocese-by-diocese, and by those Spiritual Directors that charge fees.

“Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words – go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet” (Matt 10:14). I have wondered about doing just this action in certain religious and social circles for several years. Two parishes I have been associated with have been ‘country clubs’, concerned more with the social activity of the community rather than repeating the actions of the Gospel. This has been an error on my part. I have learned through this short study that I should have been concentrating on the following: “As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it;”( Matt 10:12-13). So my own lessons continue, studying this pivot point of Matthew’s presentation and reviewing and seeing anew the requirements of discipleship.

Works Cited

Dictionary.com. http://dictionary.reference.com/. Dictionary.com, LLC. 2014. On-line.

Senior, D. GenEd. The Catholic Study Bible. New York. Oxford University Press. (1990) Print.

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