Friday, March 21, 2014

...Like A Gentile Or Tax Collector (part 3)

Shortly thereafter, Matthew reports that “Jesus went throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of disease and sickness among the people” (4:23).  This, again, is the region to which Matthew refers as “Galilee of the Gentiles,” which would certainly play into the statement about the covenant community treating an individual like a Gentile or tax collector.  In addition, the Matthean author adds, “So a report about Him spread throughout Syria” (4:24a), which was also a Gentile area.  Accordingly, owing to all that Jesus was doing and saying, “large crowds followed Him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan River” (4:25).  Nearly from the outset, Jesus’ ministry, as presented by Matthew, is intimately connected with Gentiles. 

In the fifth chapter, Jesus is heard to say: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven… For if you love those who love  you, what reward do you have?  Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they?  And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do?  Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?” (5:43-44,46-47) 

The juxtaposition of “enemy” and “those who persecute you,” with “tax collector” and “Gentile” are undeniable.  It would appear to be clear that they are to be taken as one and the same.  What is also undeniable for the purposes of this study, is that such a juxtaposition is firmly ensconced within Jesus call to love them and pray for them.  This would most definitely serve to inform an audience as to what it means to treat somebody as a Gentile or tax collector, would it not?

Moving to the eighth chapter then, it is said that “a centurion came to Him asking for help: ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible anguish.’” (8:5b-6)  This centurion, a Gentile, was part of the oppressive, occupying Roman military machine.  It is likely that he would have been treated with contempt by the citizens of Israel, and a presumed Israelite messiah-figure would be expected to take up an adversarial role with such a person.  The role of the centurion Gentile, among other things, was to keep the people of Israel in submission.  How did Jesus respond?  Did He refuse the request of this Gentile oppressor of Israel?  On the contrary, “Jesus said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’” (8:7) 

The record of chapter nine of Matthew records that Jesus “saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth” (9:9b).  A tax collector---a Jew that collaborates with the oppressors that are keeping Israel in exile from the promises of its covenant God---would attract a special type of scorn from his fellow countrymen.  So here is another opportunity for Jesus to shun one of these dastardly collaborators with the hated Romans.  Yet Jesus instead says “Follow Me” (9:9c).  After Jesus pulls this tax collector into His growing band of disciples, He has a meal with Him. 

Now, whenever Jesus, who is going about offering up messiah-like actions (at least in the eyes of His contemporaries), and who is clearly being portrayed as the Messiah in the stories told about Him by the early new covenant community (with this being the obvious pre-disposition of the author of this Gospel), sits down at a meal, the thoughts of “messianic banquet,” which indicated the coming of the kingdom of the Creator God (which Jesus consistently announced), would not have been trailing far behind.  Those who participated in the messianic banquet, which can only be understood with the context of the Creator God’s covenant with Israel through Abraham, were those that would rule in that God’s kingdom.  It is in that context that the author writes “As Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and His disciples” (9:10).         

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