29 August 2017

Matthew 14:1-12

“At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 11


There is no Gospel which begins the story of Jesus' public ministry without first telling the reader about the life and ministry of John the Baptist.

His life and his story are bound up with that of Jesus. Nevertheless, in some ways, this sudden and graphic interruption in Matthew's Gospel to tell the story of John's death seems to make little sense as it suddenly appears here, between the series of parables in Matthew chapter 13 and the feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14:13-21). What is it doing here? Why does the author of the Gospel tell this story now?

The series of parables in the preceding chapter ends with Jesus' rejection at Nazareth (Matthew 13:54-58). And perhaps the recounting of John the Baptist's death here points us to another rejection to come. The description of how John's life ends almost reads like a mini Passion narrative: he, too, is arrested because he represents a threat to powerful interests; there is an unwillingness to execute him; his death is unjust, the result of human sin and folly; his disciples are permitted to take his body and they lay it in a tomb.

The Gospel centres on a death, and the audience for which Matthew's account was written knew this. Many if not all would have been baptized believers. That Jesus died was not going to come as a shock to readers of this Gospel. And the language of being "baptized into his death" (Romans 6:3) was current in early Christian understanding of discipleship and the life of faith.

The story may also contain another foreshadowing: Herod's assertion about Jesus, "This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead" (v. 2) hints at the inseparable Gospel reality, into which believers are also baptized, which is the resurrection of the rejected and crucified Christ.

The unsettling way that God works in the world is the way of death and resurrection - seen in the shape of Jesus' life, and the shape of the lives intertwined with his, from John the Baptist to the community for whom Matthew's Gospel was originally written and those by whom it is read through all the ages.

To Ponder

  • What does it mean to you to be baptized into Christ's death and into his resurrection?
  • How would you explain it to someone wanting to know about the Christian life? What things might you express differently?

Bible notes author

The Revd Carole Irwin

Carole is a presbyter in the Methodist Church. She has served in circuits in Folkestone and Bradford, and is currently Director of Studies at Wesley House, Cambridge.