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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?

2 Comments


Cheri papike 9 days ago

Hi Pastor, I had a couple of questions following Bible Study- having also read the other gospels re: the temptations if Christ, I was wondering why John doesn’t mention the wilderness? But takes Jesus on a trip with John’s disciples , then to the marriage where he makes wine then to the temple with the money changers?
In Luke, the devil (Luke 4: vs 5) the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment and said “I will give all this authority and glory if you will worship me for it was delivered to me and I give it to whom I will”. Is it mentioned anywhere who delivered it to him?
I forget... did you say Mark was oldest gospel? His temptation was the simplest.
And one more question... those that selected the books to be included in the Bible... who were they? And why do you think they selected the 4 gospels To be included and to repeat the stories?
Thanks for your input! I’m enjoying this bible study, and find it most interesting! Thanks!,
Cheri
PS... I may have missed something in my readings, thanks for your help


Rev. Marcus Lohrmann Rev. Marcus Lohrmann 8 days ago

Hi Cheri -- wow! What a feast of wonderful questions. I'm so grateful that you're engaging our work together with such thoughtfulness and curiosity. I'll only try to give a few short answers here, then take a little time next week to consider some others.

First -- yes, Mark is believed to be the oldest Gospel. I noticed his briefness in describing the temptation this week, too. Two short verses -- that's it! If you remember, Matthew is thought to have had Mark in one hand, and another source (we call "Q") in the other, in addition to his other original material. Luke is believed to have had a similar set of sources (Mark, Q, and his own experiences). It's places like these that help us identify that "Q" exists, sometimes. This is a really great example of that, in fact: where Mark is quiet and brief about a detail, both Matthew and Luke seem to share another set of narratives that inform their writing.

I also like your question about who delivered the kingdoms to the accuser (the satan). Great question. I can't say we have great scriptural evidence for a concrete answer, except to say, "all of us!" The prophets are rife with this: in fact, our reading from Jeremiah this week in church will rub up against this exact question. I wonder whether Matthew's earliest account of Jesus' birth helps us here: already we find Rome and Herod's rule over Judah as murderous and troubling from the very start of the story. Egypt is mentioned, which is another source of pain and suffering for Matthew's audience's ancestors. Babylon has also been hinted at with the Magi's arrival from the East. Even if we don't have a clear answer on 'who' gave empires into the accuser's hand, we do have ample scriptural evidence of the violent reality of empires.

I wonder why John's Gospel doesn't mention the wilderness, either! John's Gospel seems to be informed by a whole other set of influences, so that it tells the story much differently. It's a beautiful thing all on it's own: strange, difficult, and mysterious sometimes. I personally find John to be both some of my favorite pieces of scripture, and very difficult to read sometimes.

Finally, on the four Gospels and the creation of the NT -- let's save this one for in-class. I'll give a little more history on how the Bible came together as we have it today on Wednesday. If I forget, please stop me!

Thanks for these wonderful questions -- keep them coming!
Pastor Marcus


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