I have to admit, studying St. Matthew's gospel was not my first choice. I doubt if it would've even been one of the books I would've considered studying in bible study. But, we are really getting to some of the meat and potatoes. However, each chapter seems like meat and potatoes and it just keeps going and going. I learn more about readings I have heard at Mass and now I have a new appreciation for them, understand the context, the people, the times, the fulfillment and even the message with greater insight and understanding. Still, there are times I wish we were studying a different chapter of the bible. These two chapters however, chapters 16 and 17, haven't disappointed. I just wish Father Echert had more time to cover things in even greater detail since we covered the Sign of Jonah far more than Peter being the ROCK than I would've preferred.
Father briefly spoke about the Sadducees and that very little is known about them. They were very different from the Pharisees. The Sadducees didn't believe in an afterlife nor did they believe in a Resurrection. Members were generally of the aristocracy and they typically aligned themselves with the Romans. At one time, they were a powerful priestly group, but became more and more of a political group. Supposedly, their origins are from Zadok (Sadoc => Sadokite => Sadducee), the High Priest, who lived during the time of David and Solomon. This is much debated, however.
Chapter 16 starts out with the Pharisees and Sadducees trying to find a way to trap Jesus in false teaching. So, they ask Him for a sign from heaven. Jesus remarks that they are able to see and understand many natural signs but fail to see all the supernatural things He has been doing before their eyes: "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah." (Matthew 16:2-4)
Sign of Jonah
Poor Jonah. He's an unwilling participant in God's salvation plan. Then there's that getting eaten by a whale thing that probably wasn't too much fun. I had never heard that people thought Jonah was a coward since he ran away when called by God. Father also mentioned that this isn't just a cute fairy tale, but most certainly happened since it certainly paints the Jewish people in a bad light. Previously, the prophets God sent to Israel were ignored or harassed or worse. The people didn't even listen to God's own prophets, but here we see God sending Jonah to the Ninevites, a foreign people, and they repented. Also, Jonah knew that the Ninevites would destroy Israel and he doesn't want to assist God in saving the people who will bring about Israel's ruin. Being a prophet isn't all fun and games.
According to our class notes:
"In reality, Jonah wasn't cowardly, he was patriotic. Called by God to serve as a prophet, Jonah knew where he was supposed to go, what he was supposed to do, and even the most likely outcome of his mission -- Jonah was expecting God to show mercy to the Ninevites. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the most ruthless and brutal military foe the Israelites ever faced. When Jonah is sent by God to call the Assyrians to repentance, he heads the other way -- not out of cowardice but because he desperately wants to see Assyria destroyed. Jonah's fear isn't that the Assyrians won't listen to him, but that they will. Jonah knows that should the Assyrians repent, they're quite likely to be spared God's wrath.
So deeply does Jonah hate the Ninevites and Assyria that when the ship he's booked passage on in an attempt to escape from God runs into a deadly storn, Jonah prefers to be thrown overboard rather than risk returning to shore where he might fulfill his God-given mission."
"Eventually, Jonah does fulfill his mission to the Ninevites, and when the people repent, Jonah throws a temper tantrum (note: he also asks God to take his life!). Why? Jonah knows that God has spared the Ninevites only because He plans to use them as the axe to chop down the kingdom of Israel. Jonah is no dummy. Among the prophets, his contemporaries are Hosea, Amos and Isaiah -- all of whom have foretold that God intends to use Assyria to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel. This is, in fact, exactly what happens in 722 BC, fewer than 40 years after Jonah's mission to preach repentance to the Assyrians."
There are parallels being drawn here between Israel and Assyria during the time of Jonah, and Israel and Rome during the time of Jesus. Parallels are also being drawn between Jonah and Jesus.
Jesus and Jonah were both "dead" for three days, Jesus three days in the earth and Jonah three days in the belly of the whale. Both are "swallowed up" for three days - Jonah in the whale and Jesus at His crucifixion. Both "come back," Jonah gets spit out by the whale and Jesus by His Resurrection. The Assyrians and Romans are both considered wicked, but both are spared by God (Rome by the blood of the martyrs) and bring about the downfall of Israel nearly 40 years after the prophets' missions -- Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom nearly 40 years after Jonah and Rome destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem nearly 40 years after Jesus' death.
More bad leaven
Again, we see Jesus warning the disciples to be careful of the leaven of the Pharisees. Jesus is referring to the leaven of the Pharisees as the spread of corruption -- an infection on a moral and intellectual level. The disciples, true to form, think Jesus is literally talking about bread and also forget the miracles Jesus had just performed in multiplying the loaves and fishes. Here we find the famous quote, "O men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread?" Ok, this passage makes me laugh, but I'm sure I wouldn't have done any better than the disciples. Sometimes we all need a good smack upside the head!
I wish that Father had more time on this part of Chapter 16, since it's all about establishing Peter as the Pope. So critical.
Like Abram before him, Peter gets a name change. Simon is now called Peter, just as Abram's name was changed to Abraham...reflecting their new role and responsibilities (Peter is now the chief patriarch, like Abraham was). Father Echert said that the translation is poor and Matthew 16;18 should read, "And I tell you, you are ROCK, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it." Substituting "Peter" for "rock" kind of loses something in the intent and magnitude of what Jesus is trying to convey although I understand why it's done.
Moreover, the thing I learned that was interesting is the allusion to the rock has great meaning. From our class notes it says, "At the time of Jesus, Jews regarded the Temple foundation stone as the 'lid of the netherworld.' Called Sheol (in Hebrew) or Hades (in Greek), the netherworld referred to an interim state where both good and bad souls awaited the coming of the Messiah. As the foundation stone of Jesus' Church, Peter is given the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" and told that the "powers of death" won't prevail against the Church. The keys are an image from the prophecies of Isaiah, in which the keys of the house of David are given to Eliakim, making him the chief royal minister, or "prime" minister. 'And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open and none shall shut; and he shall shut and none shall open'. (Isaiah 22:22)
Peter is told by Jesus: 'Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' Peter is entrusted with the keys of the kingdom that not only enable people to go up (as the foundation stone enables the Temple to be built up) but that open the gates of the netherworld (through which people will go down). Jesus will entrust this spiritual authority to all of his apostles, but particularly to Simon peter. It's an authority that renders binding decisions in such Church matters as excommunication, but it applies especially to liberating people from sin."
It is interesting to note that Jesus no more than immediately and directly appoints Peter as Pope, than Peter stumbles and Jesus rebukes him saying, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men." The Greek word that is translated as "hindrance" is skandalon, which means "stone of stumbling." The notes say that this detail shows that Matthew is making the point that the Church will be built on Peter, but only on Jesus' terms.
Will get to Chapter 17 a bit later....