Thanks for a wonderful study on the Gospel of Matthew once again, everyone. It is a joy to share this time with you each week.
Noticing that we meet John the Baptist in the wilderness, we began by inviting reflections and stories about wilderness places, what these mean, both symbolically and physically. Together we heard members of the group reflect on wilderness as a place where renewal, contemplation, testing, and awe take place. We heard stories of wilderness as exploration, loneliness, and solitude. Some remarked that wilderness places are vast and awe-inspiring, a place untouched and untouchable by human systems, and that we go to wilderness places to get away from the violent mechanisms of human society. We heard that all wilderness places are different in their own way, and that wilderness is sometimes “what you get out of it.” It was a rich conversation.
From there we listened as other images cropped up in our short selection from Matthew’s Gospel. Not only do we see images of wilderness and desert, but other deep and beloved scriptural images are embedded in these few verses. To name a few, in the beginning of Chapter 3 we are brought back to the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, as the Baptist’s clothing and description are reminiscent of the prophet Elijah’s. John reminds listeners that God is still working in the prophets (truth-tellers) among us. We also heard of fire, Spirit, and water, central and important elements to our life as a community of faith.
We also took some time to understand the context of Matthew’s characters a little better, stopping to learn the difference between Sadducees (temple/priestly leaders) and Pharisees (synagogue/rabbinic leaders), among other religious sects of the time (Essenes, Sicarri).
What a feast! One of our members remarked that scripture is like great wine: complex and rich, worthy of taking our time to embrace, study, and imagine. Thank you all for the ways you bring this depth to our work together.
For next week we’ll finish Chapter 3. Go ahead and read Matthew 4:1-11. We’ll find ourselves back in the wilderness, oddly enough. Just as soon as he's Baptized, that's the first place the Spirit of God takes Jesus.
On Chapter 3: for extra reading, check out the other Gospel accounts of both John the Baptist Jesus’ baptism: Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:29-34. As you read, notice the similarities and differences in the way the stories are told. How is John the Baptist similar or different in these accounts? Why is this important? Pay particular attention to the Baptist’s presence in the early narrative of John’s Gospel, (John 1:19-34).
For even more reading (on the temptation of Jesus), check out the other Gospel accounts of Jesus’ tempting in the wilderness: Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13. What’s different? What’s similar? Why might Matthew’s Gospel decide to tell the story in this particular way?
We've thought through what it means to be in the wilderness. Now, the question as we gather will be, what does it mean that God's beloved, Jesus, is sent there right away? What might that mean for the rest of the story?