Sunday, February 23
Matthew 16:13-20: This text presents the definitive answer to one of the major questions of this gospel, the true identity of Jesus: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Because this confession of faith was (and still is) regarded as the foundation stone of the Christian Church, the nickname "Rock" (perhaps closer to "Rocky" in English) was given to the man who made that confession, Simon Bar Jonah (or, in English, "Simon Johnson"). It was in SimonŐs fishing boat that Jesus was earlier confessed to be "truly the Son of God" (14:33), so that his boat becomes in the gospels a great symbol of the Church. The great prominence of this "Rocky Johnson"(Kephas in Aramaic and Petros in Greek) among the Twelve Apostles is indicated by the fact that his name appears first in every single New Testament list of the Twelve. Those early churches most closely associated with the Apostles Peter and Paul enjoyed a singular eminence and spiritual authority among all the early Christians. Chief among those were the churches at Antioch and Rome.
Monday, February 24
Matthew 16:21-28: Having made the defining proclamation of Christological faith in answer to the first great question of the Gospel ("Just who is Jesus?"), the Apostle Peter now starts to disgrace himself by resisting the correct answer to the second great question of the Gospel: "What does Jesus do?" In spite of being reprimanded here by the Lord, and notwithstanding the solemn warning that Jesus will give him at the Last Supper, Peter will continue to resist this "word of the Cross" right through to the LordŐs Passion, finally denying Him three times under the pressure of questioning. It is no small thing for a man to be called "Satan" by the One whom he has just identified as "the Son of the living God." Nor would this be the last occasion on which Peter would be obliged to suffer a public rebuke (cf. Galatians 2:11).
Tuesday, February 25
Matthew 17:1-13: The LordŐs transfiguration repeats the revelation made at His baptism, where the FatherŐs voice identified His Son. This revelation of JesusŐ unique relationship to God is the primary substance of the Christian faith, as we have just seen in PeterŐs confession. Matthew has already treated this matter in 11:25-27, and he continues the theme here. This relationship of Jesus to God is the source of the "authority" (exsousia) with which Jesus teaches and heals and forgives sins and sends forth the Church in mission at the end of this gospel. While MatthewŐs account of the Transfiguration is substantially identical to that of Mark (and both are quite different from LukeŐs in emphasis), he does omit MarkŐs (9:9f) reference to the disciplesŐ lack of "understanding" with respect to the return of Elijah. This omission fits a preoccupation that we have already seen in Matthew.
Wednesday, February 26
Matthew 17:14-23: Whereas Matthew greatly simplifies and shortens MarkŐs version of this story in the narrative parts, he actually amplifies the "saying" part of it in verse 20. He does this in two ways: (1) He inserts here the LordŐs reference to faith as a mustard seed, a dominical saying found in quite another context in Luke 17:6. (2) Jesus here speaks of the disciplesŐ "small faith" (oligopistia). We saw earlier that this New Testament expression, "small faith," either as a noun (here only) or an adjective, is found almost exclusively in Matthew; cf. 6:6; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8 (otherwise only in Luke 12:28). Faith, according to Matthew, is understood as trust in the authority (exsousia) of Jesus (8:9-13; 9:2). Miracles are said to be worked by faith (9:20-22, 28f). In three scenes where Mark and Luke do not do so, Matthew portrays Jesus as saying, "as you have believed, so be it done to you" (8:13; 9:29; 15:8).
Thursday, February 27
Matthew 17:24-27: This account, found only in Matthew, once again shows a special solidarity between Jesus and Peter, inasmuch as the taxes of both are paid by the same coin. In spite of his being called "Satan" by the Lord, then, Peter did not fall from the LordŐs favor; indeed, he was chosen as one of the three disciples who witnessed the LordŐs transfiguration at the beginning of this chapter. In this text, as in every other New Testament text that speaks of his fishing, we may wonder about PeterŐs skills as a fisherman. In every single gospel account, whenever Peter catches a fish, the event is regarded as a miracle.
Friday, February 28
Matthew 18:1-9: Here begins the fourth great dominical discourse in Matthew; this one is devoted to what may be called "rules for the congregation." It begins by the memorable scene in which Jesus holds up the faith of children as a model for adults. Far from refusing children access to Jesus until they arrive at the explicit and doctrinal faith of adults, Jesus admonishes adults to model their own faith on the more elementary faith of the child. Because children are the most in danger of being scandalized, this topic of children leads naturally into the subject of scandal, and in this connection come the LordŐs statements about millstones and self-mutilation. The latter are certainly to be understood by way of hyperbole.
Saturday, March 1
Matthew 18:10-20: This parable of the lost sheep, found both here and in Luke 15:3-7, carries a quite different emphasis in each setting. In LukeŐs setting the parable serves to illustrate GodŐs compassion toward sinners and answers the challenge thrown at Jesus in Luke 15:2, "This man receives sinners." Accordingly, in Luke the parable of the lost sheep is followed by two other parables illustrating the identical theme of the divine compassion, the account of the woman and her lost coin and the story of the father and his lost son. In Matthew, on the other hand, the parable of the lost sheep is placed in an ecclesiological setting. If we omit Matthew 18:11 (which a scrutiny of the earliest manuscripts really requires us to do), the Matthean setting of this parable has to do with the proper care of the "little ones" who, as we saw in 11:25, are the Christians. To establish this theme the parable is introduced by Matthew 18:10 (found only in Matthew), a saying of our Lord about the angelic care of the "little ones," who must not, therefore, be despised. In Matthew, then, the parable concerns the care that Christians must have for one another within the Church (a word that will appear again in the next few verses). Thus, the parable is preceded by warnings against scandal (18:6-9) and followed by an exhortation about erring brethren (18:15-17).
Verses 15-20 continue the them of life in the Church, specifically what to do respecting those members of the congregation who give the sorts of offenses covered in verses 6-10. That is to say, these verses illustrate how Christians are to fulfill the mandate implied in verse 14 Ń GodŐs will that no one of the little ones should perish. From rabbinical literature we know that the progressive procedure of fraternal correction elaborated here in Matthew was common in the synagogues of that day. We also find a specific application of it in 1 Timothy 5:19. The burden of these verses is not that we should expose sinners, but that we endeavor to save them. The message, then, is identical to the parable of the lost sheep. It is particularly to be noted that, of the three times that the word "Church" appears in Matthew (and appears in no other of the four gospels), two are contained in these verses. For Matthew the Church is preeminently the house of reconciliation and forgiveness (cf. 9:6-8).