Category: Jonathan Tran

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on July 2, 2017.

In this selection, Jesus takes up the topic of whining. Which is appropriate since the parable contained within it will prove perplexing enough to elicit whining from any preacher who finds it assigned by the lectionary.

Jesus starts off by wondering out loud how to allegorize his contemporaries, what image best captures their character. What he settles on is not one of his clearer statements. Straightforwardly he might have said, “Y’all spend so much of your time whining that you miss what treasures sit right under your nose. You’re like a bunch of whining kids who fail to realize that they’ve been handed the keys to the kingdom.” Not Jesus, who goes on not only to give his not-clearest-parable ever but also to praise God’s mysterious nature, that God reveals truths by keeping things “hidden” “from the wise and intelligent” even while giving them to infants (that is, children who are not even quite children yet), such is God’s “gracious will” (v. 25 and v. 26).

Two interpretive questions arise. What is meant by the parable? And why is Jesus so squirrely about its meaning? About the parable, there are, as one might imagine, competing interpretations, but the best ones underscore Jesus’ invocation of “Son of Man” in v. 19. You will recall that Jesus’ reference draws one back to Daniel 7:13-14, where God is described “like a son of man” who rides on “the clouds of heaven” and ushers in God’s glorious and powerful kingdom which the Son of Man will rule and everyone will serve. Before one gets carried away imagining Jim Morrison’s amazingly rich baritone singing The Doors’ “riders on the storm, into this house we’re born” and catapulting oneself into Heidegger’s Geworfenheit (thrownness), we can safely say that that was probably not what Jesus had in mind. Rather, the reference to the Son of Man is meant to identify Jesus with the one about which Daniel prophesied. If that is the case, then those who might think Jesus a “glutton” or a “drunkard” or who defamed him because of his association with tax-collectors and sinners are made to look a bit silly and juvenile. Jesus is not to be judged as John was in announcing Jesus. No, Jesus brings the power and the glory, ushering in the arrival of the Kingdom and declaring his judgment of everything, including those who dared to judge him.

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Matthew 10:40-42

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 25, 2017.

This passage comes at the end of a long conversation between Jesus and his disciples, where Jesus assures them, and presumably every Christian that comes after them, of his unending presence and blessing despite the many challenges that will certainly come along. Coming at the end of that conversation these four verses can feel anticlimactic, even a little confusing. But there is an interesting logic for those with the energy to work through it. This logic reveals to us something about what it means for God to be with Christians, what blessing looks like amidst those certain challenges.

Much of the passage revolves around the notion of reception, of Jesus, prophets, disciples, and so on. A proper translation will emphasize what is being received and why it is being received, “whoever welcomes a prophet because she or he is a prophet” and “whomever welcomes a righteous person because she or he is a righteous person” such that what is being received, and hence what is being credited to the one who receives, is prophesy and righteousness. Jesus has in mind here those able to receive prophesy/righteousness because they can both identify genuine prophesy/righteousness and have room in their lives for its goods. According to this logic, Jesus seems to be saying that those are the kind of people who can make room for God in their lives. And those able to receive Jesus will also be able to receive the disciples who advance Jesus’ cause of prophesy and righteousness: “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple…” What Jesus praises is precisely the quality of identifying and receiving prophesy, righteousness, discipleship which betokens the ability to identify and receive Jesus and his disciples. In this way, v. 41-42 simply follows the logic set forth in v. 40: “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (NRSV).

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Matthew 10:24-39

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 18, 2017.

Those who think of Jesus as a kind of religious wallflower will be surprised by Matthew 10:24-39. Upon careful consideration of the passage, they will find that their wallflower image of Jesus says more about them than the Jesus Matthew portrays here and elsewhere. A wallflower Jesus allows for a wallflower Christianity. In this passage, Jesus brings the hammer to that kind of Christianity.

There are several threads running through this passage, and depending on which one wants to pull, one can go in several directions. Overall, the picture Jesus seems to be portraying goes like this:

(1) I, Jesus, do things that will get one in trouble.

(2) Inasmuch as you, disciples, do what I do, you’ll get in trouble too.

(3) But don’t worry too much about that as you’ll be taken care of.

(4) If you find yourself overly worried about getting into trouble that means you are confused in one of four ways:

(4a) that the things I do are not so significant that they should cause trouble;

(4b) that who I am is not so significant that what I do should matter very much;

(4c) that the significance of what I do and who I am do not bear on your long-term welfare;

(4d) or, all the above.

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Matthew 28:16-20

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 11, 2017.

Matthew 28:16-20 is a foundational text of Christianity, one of its most inspired statements, a summary of its faith, a mandate at the heart of its every ambition, and a profound picture of how the Christian life of mission participates in the Trinitarian life of God. Almost anyone who calls her/himself Christian will recognize it and will need to respond to it, and everyone who is not Christian falls under its purview. In these four short verses, Matthew’s Gospel anticipates the extraordinary reality of something that began as an oddball reinterpretation of a cultic religion at the dusty edge of a waning empire and became the most powerful religion and cultural force the world has ever known: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (NRSV).

It is also a principal warrant for some of the worst things associated with and attributed to Christianity. The long, sad, and continuing history of European colonization took place under the aegis of these words. It is a history that would see the decimation of whole nations of people, the ending of linguistic worlds, the evisceration of beautiful and beautifully harmonious ecologies, the cultivation of and enculturation into an economy of slavery based on body type, where human beings would be, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “thingified” in the name of Christion mission. Such practices (typically brutal, systematic, and unending) were part of what European and American Christians termed “a duty to propagate their religion among the heathens.” This duty especially when couched in the terms of Matthew 28 became the impetus to colonize, enslave, and forcibly educate. Recently, Pope Francis recognized this tendency, no doubt lamenting the church’s track record of doing the very thing Christians self-righteously attribute to others: “Today, I don’t think that there is a fear of Islam as such but of ISIS and its war of conquest, which is partly drawn from Islam… However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, regarding the same idea of conquest.”

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