18 January 2008

St. Matthew Bible Study - Lessons 13 and 14

Have been so busy lately that I haven't had the time and energy to sit down and type up my class notes from bible study. Now that I look at my notes from last week, I wish I would've done them sooner...but here goes.

Father started out talking about how Jesus begins to preach in parables (called the parable discourse), departing from His more straight-forward manner. This coincides with the rise in hostility and opposition He receives from the scribes and Pharisees who resent Him because He is stealing their thunder on teaching the Law. Jesus was seen as a great teacher and they felt threatened. Now Jesus takes His message to the streets and is no longer preaching in the synagogues.

This shift to parables is an important distinction to note. From the class notes it says that "to understand why Jesus does this, it's necessary to look at two prominent Old Testament parables -- one involving Jotham (Judges 9:1-57) and the other involving the prophet Nathan (2 Sam 12:1-15). In the first instance, Jotham addresses the people of Shechem after Abimelech has killed 70 of the sons of Jerubbaal and made himself king. Jotham, the lone surviving brother, tells a parable about a bramble who was made "king of the trees" after other, worthier trees were passed over. That bramble in that parable represents Abimelech. In the second instance, the prophet Nathan tells david a parable about a rich man who stole and slaughtered a poor man's only lamb. When David replies: "The man who has done this deserves to die!" Nathan answers the king: "You are the man!" and he then spells out David's sins of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah the Hittite. In the Old Testament, both of these parables were told in circumstances where leaders had become corrupt.

Father talked about how those with faith understood the parables and could relate to them, but those against Christ just didn't get it. Parables were not meant to exclude but were to help people accept Christ, but those not open to Jesus' message often times didn't get what He was alluding to since they were hardened of heart. In a way, the parables separate Jesus' followers from the opposition -- one group hears and understands (internalizes the parables) whereas the other group does not.

The class notes say that the "majority of Jesus' parables focus on the kingdom of heaven -- its small beginnings, its immense scope, and its unfathomable value.

Looking at the text
The boat that Jesus preaches from to in verse two is a symbol of the Church and salvation (like Noah's ark). His posture of sitting is that that a rabbi would use in teaching.

In verse ten, when the disciples ask Him why He preaches in parables, Jesus replies:

"To you it has been given to know the secrets (Father said secrets = mysteries) of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand."

We see the idea of a "super abundance" in the next chapter when Jesus performs the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The scribes and the Pharisees are the ones referred to in this passage. Father said for he who has ears there is something required to understand...not so much a secret code, but grace of faith. Obviously, the scribes and Pharisees have squandered this grace. We also see this with Pharoah in the Old Testament, where God withdrew His grace from Pharoah and Pharoah became so hardened of heart and dull of intellect that he almost destroyed his own people because of it (Moses and the plagues).

The parable of the sower
This parable shows the different reactions people have to Jesus' message. Those with the grace of faith will hear and be fruitful, but those with hardened hearts will be lost. The message is the same to all, it's just the difference in the person that determines whether the message will take root or not.

Several things are hidden in this chapter. Good wheat hidden among the weeds (verses 24-30), the mustard seed (31-32), the hidden flour (33), hidden pearl (44-46), and the net that scoops up good fish obscured by the bad (47-50). Also, the earlier reference to secrets (mysteries) in verse 11. Jesus says in verse 35, "I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world." Here Jesus is calling His kingdom and the Church that which has been hidden. Father also said that what is small and hidden will become great. This is part of the problem Jews of the time had with Jesus. They were expecting a king like David who would rule, have a temple, armies, etc. Jesus' kingdom is more hidden, not so visible or physical.

The house
In verse 36, Jesus leaves the crowd and goes into a house. The house symbolizes the Church. From the notes it says, "Just as Jesus explained the meaning of his parables while in a house, it's only WITHIN THE CHURCH that the mystery of Jesus can even begin to be understood."

Jesus' brothers and sisters
For the skinny on this, see the Catechism, paragraph 500, which says:
Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, "brothers of Jesus," are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls "the other Mary." They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.

Herod Antipas and John the Baptist
This chapter starts off by talking about Herod again. Those Herod fellas were not nice dudes. This Herod, the tetrarch, was one of the sons of Herod the Great. Herod the Great was an evil and wicked man, and the one responsible for the Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents. When this bad actor leaves the scene, Augustus Caesar breaks the kingdom into three because he fears a strong leader being in control of the area. Herod the Great's three sons, Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas and Herod Philip, take over, ruling the pieces of Israel from south to north, respectively.

In this chapter we are dealing with the sterling Herod Antipas. John the Baptist has been publically condeming Herod Antipas (HA) and his lovely and charming wife, Herodias, because HA is now married to Herodias, who is really Herod Philip's wife. Antipas stole her away from his own brother. Charming bunch of guys. Herod Antipas' prior wife high tails it out of Israel because she knew HA would kill her to get her out of the way so HA could have Herodias.

It only gets worse. For HA's birthday, which Father said was really a drunken orgy, no cake and candles here, Herodias' daughter dances for Herod. The dance was quite provocative and enchants HA soooo much (can you imagine a mother encouraging her daughter to do this!) that he promises with an oath to give her whatever she asks for. Herodias, who if it's even possible was probably more evil than HA, tells her daughter to ask for John the Baptist's head on a platter. Herodias was full of vengeance to want the tongue of the man who had publically denounced her. HA, who supposedly was "sorry" to have to do this, but after all and oath is an oath and he had to save face, had no problem beheading a man he KNEW was righteous and even like to listen to preach. Talk about bad seed.

In those days, beheading was not usual, stoning was. John's death here prefigures Christ (righteous and innocent man put to death for vengeful reasons). Here we clearly see the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the new. John's martyrdom "sets the stage for the beginning of a totally new way of relating to God."

Our group leader mentioned that supposedly a mystic had a vision that Herodias' daughter supposedly slipped and fell on some ice and was herself beheaded in the fall. Fascinating story, but don't know where it comes from. Will have to check into it.

Father and our notes pointed out that immediately after John's martyrdom, Jesus withdrew to what is called a "lonely" place. Father said it really should be translated as "desert" place. Jesus withdrew to the desert, which was lonely, but it signified the wandering in the desert of the Israelites. The notes say that, "Immediately on the heels of reporting the beheading of John the Baptist, Matthew records the miracles of the loaves and fishes. The Evangelist deliberately begins the narrative section that will lead to the discourse on the Church with the story of a miracle that clearly prefigures the sacrament of the Eucharist. This is fitting, since after Jesus' Passion, death and Resurrection, this sacraments of sacraments will become the source and summit of the Church's life and faith. Matthew presents Jesus, the Bread of Life, feeding the multitudes -- which allows this story to be read liturgically from an ecclesial, or Church, perspective. Although Jesus could have performed this miracle many other ways, he instructed his disciples to distribute the loaves and fishes. Not only are the crowds satisfied, but the 12 disciples, acting in Jesus' name and by His power, produce bread in such abundance that there are 12 baskets full of food left. The end of the Old Covenant is marked by the death of the last prophet, and the beginning of the New Covenant shows the 12 disciples as the ones who are going to be sent by Jesus to feed the lost sheep of the house of Israel -- the descendants fo the 12 tribes."

Father spent a few minutes talking about the German Rationalist movement. Briefly, it is used to find a "rational" way to explain what happened in the bible. It denies the divine and has no time for miracles. The MIRACLE of the loaves and fishes is diminished to that old "sappy" tale (to use Father's word) of people sharing the food they had hidden in their garments. The "miracle" was that the people shared what they had, not that Jesus performed a real miracle. Yeah.Right.

Storms and sea
It is in this chapter that we see Jesus walking on the water. The disciples are being tossed about in the boat. Peter, who is later scolded by Jesus as having "little faith," shows incredible faith by asking Jesus, "Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water." Peter then got out of the boat and started walking, demonstrating his incredible faith. It wasn't until his humanity kicked in that he began to doubt and then started to sink. However, as Peter starts to sink, he does the right thing and calls for the Lord to help him. From the notes, the boat is an icon of the Church because just as the boat struggles against the wind and waves in the water, the Church struggles against the waves of history and the persecuting forces of powers and principalities bent on its destruction.


tara said...

Thanks for the Bible study notes--I read Matthew Lesson one last week, and will read them every week before Bible Study--gee--I'll be the smartest one in class :)

love said...

thanks for the notes! it will help me for tomorrow's quiz! :D