8 October 2019Matthew 12:9-21
‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen.’ (v. 18)
Psalm: Psalm 71:17-24
Scholars generally agree that Matthew’s Gospel is structured in distinct sections of five narrative blocks, each ending in an extended ‘discourse’ (set of sayings or teachings) by Jesus.
The twelfth chapter of Matthew belongs in the third ‘section’. This begins in chapter 11 and ends in chapter 13 with the third discourse, in which Jesus tells a series of parables of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13: 1-53). The narrative section in chapters 11 and 12 paints a picture of growing opposition to Jesus and his ministry in Galilee over what it meant to keep the Law of Moses authentically as part of the covenant between God and Israel. The sharp exchange over the healing of the man in the synagogue, and what it is and is not lawful to do on the sabbath, is one of these stories of conflict and growing opposition.
Matthew’s focus on tensions and questions about Jewish belief, identity and observance has led scholars to think that this gospel emerged from a community of Christians which was still part of the larger Jewish community. The stories of conflicts in the gospel are assumed to reflect actual conflicts for Matthew’s community with wider Judaism in the light of their faith in Jesus. And the question of who Jesus was, and what it meant to believe in him, was at the core of the conflicts.
So the verses about the figure of ‘the servant’ from the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament (vs. 18-21) point to this set of fundamental questions, as the earliest Christians negotiated their relationship with Judaism – questions about the identity of Jesus.
‘God’s servant’ is a strange figure in the book of Isaiah: a figure who will bring God’s blessing and justice to the world – a task assigned to the Messiah earlier in Isaiah, the King and redeemer of Israel, whom God would send (eg Isaiah 11:1-12).
If Jesus ‘fulfils’ what Isaiah promised (v. 17), this suggests that his life cannot be understood apart from God, and the hope and promise of God’s redeeming action in the world.
- Does your understanding of who Jesus is include the promised ‘Messiah’ of Israel? Why is/isn’t this important in who he is to you?
- Which of the various descriptions of Jesus in the New Testament or the language of the church best encapsulates for you who he is? Which do you find least helpful? Why – in each case?