Matthew 14-16

Good morning! With today’s reading (Matthew 14-16), we pass the halfway point of the first gospel and get ever closer to the story of Jesus’ final days. What I especially notice in these chapters (beyond the miracles, which already seem commonplace!) are the cost of leading a countercultural life, and the way that Jesus himself has his eyes opened by an encounter with a Canaanite woman.

Chapter 14 opens with the death of John the Baptist, whose killing foreshadows Jesus’ own fate. John the Baptist has the nerve and the poise to name as sinful what everyone knows is going on: Herod the ruler has taken his brother’s wife Herodias as his own. Since she doesn’t appreciate hearing her sins called out either, Herodias seizes an opportunity and finds a way to get the head of captive John on a platter. The story demonstrates how righteousness can fall victim to unscrupulous leaders for the sake of political or personal gain. This same dynamic of safeguarding power and punishing those who challenge it will also lead to Jesus’ crucifixion. Foreshadowing this, Jesus warns at the end of Matthew 16 that to follow him is to risk betrayal by the bad while serving the good. Nevertheless, he invites followers to embrace the challenges and crosses of discipleship because “those who lose their life for my sake will find it”. Furthermore, when the universe is turned right-side-up by the Son of Man’s arrival, a proper accounting will prevail and the righteous will be vindicated.

Between the opening and final passages of this reading, however, an outsider woman challenges Jesus to expand his understanding of who is righteous. We read in Matthew 15:21-28 of a Canaanite woman seeking help for her demon-possessed daughter. She calls him by all the proper names, “Lord, Son of David”, and recognizes his Jewish origin. But he declines to help her, saying instead that he’s only responsible for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Here’s where her tenacity wins out over his orthodoxy. She kneels in front of him, willing to do anything to preserve her daughter’s life. When he demurs yet again, she challenges him to simply share some crumbs of divine grace, even though she’s neither male nor a Jew. This brazen courage for the sake of someone she loves wins the woman praise from Jesus at last. We learn that even the one whom Christians revere as the incarnation of divine love can still learn something new from another of God’s wise, tenacious people. Happy reading!

Read Matthew 14-16.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Matthew 17-19. Thanks for reading!

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